Divers should lead – Jean-Michel Cousteau


Jean-Michel Cousteau

There is no community more ready to take on ocean challenges ahead than divers. Diving is transformative. It takes us from being land animals tied to the Earth to
become aquatic astronauts free from the grasp of gravity.

I am sure it is no stretch that most of us remember that distinct feeling when our faces first dipped below the surface, our lungs brought in that first breath of air, and our bodies submerged wholly, weightless, underwater. But that feeling quickly pales in comparison to the experience that comes next – a living world suddenly alive in front of our eyes.

What was once impenetrable becomes possible. It might be the fish we first see, coral reef, sunken ship, or maybe the sheer recognition that we’ve just entered a new realm of Earth. But something changes us. We no longer fear the unknown because we’ve seen it. Once we’ve seen, we know.

I have been a diver for over seventy years and I have seen the ocean change before my eyes. Magical places I dove only a decade or two ago, today they are less alive, less magical. As divers, we are the eyes that see firsthand the changes to our ocean. It is time the dive world also becomes a voice.

The opportunity to lead

The oceans today are facing changes from our human actions that are happening faster and stronger than ever before. A warmer world as a result of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means a warming ocean, with changes on both global and local scales.

In the last few years, we have seen the worst coral bleaching events on record – events that occur when ocean temperatures get too high to support the health of corals and the algae partners they depend upon. From the Pacific to the Caribbean, high temperatures can turn vibrant coral reefs into graveyards of white skeletons.

Our changing world is affecting the chemistry of the sea, turning waters more acidic and shrinking oxygen levels. At the coastlines, human activities may dump chemical runoff and trash into the seas, smothering and weakening the living seascape we, as divers, crave to see. Just as we want to dive in clean, healthy waters to avoid getting sick, so too, does the life within. But all hope is not lost. As long we’re willing to help, the dive community can be a force of change for the better.

Mangroves At the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, Fiji our on-site marine biologist, Johnny Singh, takes guests on daily excursions: snorkeling/diving on coral reefs, hiking through the rainforest and exploring the mangroves. All the excursions have an ecological message of connections and conservation. ©Michael Scott Hanrahan, www.earthmedialab.com

It works

When people step up to give the ocean a chance, life can once again thrive. I’ve seen it happen myself. When I first began setting up operations to open an eco-resort in Fiji, I had the pleasure of working with local community members and village elders. Using their knowledge of the coral reefs and traditions of village rights, we worked together with many others to help establish the Namena Island Marine Reserve – a protected area to give strength back to the sea.

Once open to unlimited fishing, the Reserve is now legally protected and is the largest no-take marine reserve in Fiji. Home to colourful corals, waving sea fans, and fishes large and small populating its well-managed grounds, these protected coral reefs now draw in many more divers eager to see the magic of the ocean world. Today, less than five percent of the world’s oceans are protected. As divers, together we can raise our voices for more.

Role of the dive industry

But it is not only up to divers to lead the change, it is also the role of the diving industry to drive ocean conservation forward. After all, the dive community gains from healthier oceans. It starts with making sure all dive shops and centres offer guests the opportunity to enrich their knowledge and minimize their environmental footprint.

At the dive centre my team operates in Fiji, naturalists guide the divers, sharing their knowledge engaging with them on the connections between the oceans and our own lives. Divemasters provide thorough dive briefings on good buoyancy control and the importance of not touching or damaging sensitive coral reefs. Our dive centre strives to use only the best practices to protect coral reefs – these include never anchoring on reefs, instead using moorings, drift diving, or free boating all sites. Plastic is replaced with reusable stainless steel bottles to minimize unnecessary waste. And educational resources are available to anyone interested in furthering their knowledge of the ocean.

Divers Grunt Petit St Vincent The Caribbean is home to almost 10% of all the world’s coral reefs and offers divers an opportunity to understand the value, beauty and fragility of coral reefs. © Richard Murphy, PhD, Ocean Futures Society

Committing to best practice

To be part of the change, divers must make the conscious effort to spend their money at dive shops that employ only the best practices. At the same time, it is equally critical for dive shops to step up and offer divers the ability to both enjoy and protect the ocean.

While best practices should be applied to all dive shops and used by every diver, as a diving community we cannot forget the global driver of ocean change. The continued use of fossil fuels for energy is the main cause of the rapid changes we see. Industries around the world – from small businesses to major corporations – are seeing the economic value in making business practices more sustainable. Being more energy efficient saves money for businesses, while at the same time reduces the amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere.

Every year more businesses commit to sourcing 100 percent clean and renewable energy to power their facilities. The oceans are full of power. Why not take advantage of all the talent, inventiveness, and passion of the dive community before us to find solutions? The dive industry can drive a clean energy transformation, and there has never been a better time, or opportunity, than now.

Cameraman filming school of fish-Fiji Coral reefs are cities under the sea; a perfect educational classroom to teach about how coral reef functions—the jobs of individual residents and how they collectively create a sustainable community. ©Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society

A community of innovators

There is no community more ready to take on the ocean challenges ahead than divers and dive industries. We are a community of innovators – explorers, inventors, dreamers, photographers, storytellers, and pioneers. We are the first hand witnesses of harmful change in the ocean, invisible to all who are not divers, and we must speak out and take action. We come from different background, beliefs, and perspectives. Yet, something pulls us together.

As my father so eloquently said during the years we travelled aboard Calypso, “the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”

We are truly held together in a net of wonder, of our love for the ocean and water world, and we all have something unique and valuable to bring. We are the eyes of the ocean, and like our first meeting with the sea, something changes us. It is time to lead the change.

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