How to be a Superhero While Scuba Diving
Few communities are more passionate about safeguarding the ocean than divers. After all, divers are a group of sports enthusiasts, naturalists, scientists, and explorers who see firsthand the incredible ecosystems, biodiversity and beauty that’s found beneath the waves. That appreciation often inspires divers to become ocean advocates—and it doesn’t take much to be a superhero.
Seventy percent of our planet is covered by water. Only a fraction of that is routinely explored by divers, yet the impact of mankind reaches down to the very bottom of the deepest trench. In southern Florida we are fortunate to be able to dive on the nation’s only coral reef and see plenty of incredible marine creatures. But many of the animals we see are endangered, and others are invasive species that if left unchecked could tip the balance of our ecosystems. Certifying agencies all discuss how divers can minimize their personal impact, but in addition to the “do no harm” aspect of diving, there are plenty of ways divers can make a difference—and ensure it’s a positive one.
If you’ve ever tried to identify a fish, marine creature, or coral, you are probably already familiar with the photography of Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach. In addition to their identification books, the two banded together and started the nonprofit Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). As part of its mission, REEF compiles information on marine fish populations collected by volunteer scuba divers and snorkelers into a comprehensive database which is made available to researchers and resources managers. After all, who better to count fish than the divers who are already looking at them?
Clean Up Dives
Sadly, every diver has encountered trash while diving. Some of it is large, some has become new habitat, and some of it could prove to be dangerous or fatal if a marine animal became ensnared by it or ingested it. Jupiter Dive Center hosts Pier and Reef Cleanup dives throughout the year—and while you don’t need a specific day to pick up trash, it’s a great way to help keep our dive sites safe for its occupants (and divers, too!).
Lionfish are an invasive species that when left to their own devices reproduce rapidly, are voracious predators of other reef life, and have few natural enemies. Fortunately, they make a fabulous dinner. Identified by their flamboyant striped appearance and showy fins, they have several venomous spiky fin rays that can pack a mean punch. Unlike other fish, the harvesting of lionfish doesn’t require a fishing license and there is no seasonal, size, or take limitations. Even if you decide not to keep the fish for your own dinner, the local groupers will be happy to eat them for you. Watch for lionfish derbies throughout the year, or help reduce the population on any dive.
Southeast Florida Action Network (SEAFAN) BleachWatch helps detect and monitor coral bleaching in southeast Florida. Recreational divers can become part of the BleachWatch Observer Network after they participate in a two-hour class that includes information on coral biology, coral bleaching and disease, insight into the program and how to properly assess coral conditions and record the information.
Reporting Tagged and Rare Fish
Not all marine advocacy takes place underwater. Jupiter has a year-round population of sea turtles, but those numbers increase dramatically during nesting season. Loggerhead Marinelife Center conducts tagging and tracking research as well as nest counts. You can even support this research by purchasing a Sea Turtle License Plate that features a loggerhead hatchling crawling towards the surf.
This past year has also seen an increase in sawfish sightings. If you’ve never seen one, you’ll know immediately what you’ve encountered as the rostrum that protrudes from the front of its head looks like a saw blade. The sawfish’s body is shark-like, but the location of the gill slits under the body make it more closely related to a stingray. There is nothing to do underwater but consider yourself lucky and try to get the attention of your buddy. Topside, report the encounter to FWC either by email or phone.
Every animal has a role to play and when animals become endangered, there are often surprising results. For example, when shark populations decline, the overall health of the reef suffers as well. In southern Florida, goliath groupers and sea turtles are both considered endangered and there are efforts to protect them.
Let’s look at the sea turtles first. There are several global conservation organizations, and one of the premier organizations is in our own backyard in Juno Beach: Loggerhead Marinelife Center. We already mentioned tagging and tracking, but the Loggerhead Marinelife Center also provides rehabilitation for injured and ill sea turtles, research, and considerable community outreach. Additionally, the center recently created a new Conservation Committee to apply its sea turtle expertise to ocean conservation through turtle protection and additionally expand that awareness not only regionally, but world-wide.
In another example, goliath groupers are considered critically endangered, although their numbers are rebounding due to action taken by fishery management councils that prohibit the harvest of goliaths. That improvement resulted in the Florida Wildlife Commissioners reexamining the feasibility of allowing limited harvesting of the very large fish. One of the interesting facts to come out of the study was the value of a goliath. It is easy to calculate the value of a fish by weight and the percentage of edible meat, but they are worth far more when viewed through a different lens. FWC estimated a single Goliath can generate more than $1 millions over its lifetime through ecotourism and the dive industry. And they are a sight to see. While we have a resident population of groupers, those numbers swell during their spawning aggregations that occur in late summer. Click to book.
The single most important thing you can do to help keep the reefs healthy is to improve your buoyancy. Coral grows slowly and is easily damaged. Dragging equipment, banging tanks through swim throughs, and standing or crashing onto reefs causes considerable damage that injures or even kills corals and sponges, and destroys the habitat other marine creatures rely upon for shelter and protection. If you have trouble controlling your buoyancy, more than the reef suffers. Your enjoyment of the sport, ability to take photographs, air consumption and safety are all jeopardized. A buoyancy specialty course will help you obtain the control you need to protect yourself and the environment you want to explore.
The ocean is a dynamic place and one of the great aspects of diving is that no dive is ever the same—even when we’re visiting the same reef. As divers, we recognize the tremendous value of the ocean to our own well-being as well as the global health of the planet. And the nice thing is, our efforts on the ocean’s behalf really can make a difference. So, what’s your superpower going to be?
Project Aware: https://www.projectaware.org/
Phone 941-255-7403 or 844-472-9347 (1-844-4SAWFISH)
Loggerhead MarineLive Center: https://marinelife.org/research-tracking/
SEAFAN BleachWatch: https://floridadep.gov/rcp/coral/content/bleachwatch
Buoyancy Specialty Courses: https://jupiterdivecenter.com/peak-performance-buoyancy/
FWC Decision on Goliath Groupehttps://jupiterdivecenter.com/the-fwc-decision-on-goliath-groupers/r