This image is probably fuelled by TV footage of divers rescuing marine life and the many evocative statements of Jacques Cousteau, urging the world to care for the living oceans and asserting that a love of the sea will lead us to protect it. Indeed, the PADI strategy for saving the planet - according to PADIs Mark Caney, quoted in Nick Hannas book The Art of Diving - seems to consist of teaching more and more people to dive, and taking VIPs and politicians on try-dives. But before we get carried away with our own environmental self-importance, lets consider the facts.

  • Recreational scuba diving is an entirely unnecessary sport: we do it for fun;
  • It is not possible to scuba-dive without using energy - to travel to our dive site and to compress the very air we breathe;
  • The growth in dive tourism has been a predominantly travel-based phenomenon, with divers and wannabe divers taking full advantage of cheap flights to dive in exotic locations;
  • We dive and leave: there are very few attempts to build long-term, sustainable relationships between divers and the communities they visit as tourists. Dive tourism has been shown to damage fragile environments such as Sipadan island;
  • The kit we use has often been manufactured in Third World countries with poor environmental (and human rights) records and then shipped halfway around the world;
  • We junk cylinders and gear on a regular basis and there is no organised scheme to make sure that items are re-used or recycled;
  • Where exactly is all that used Sofnolime from rebreather divers ending up Harbour seabeds below dive-boat moorings are accumulating chalky mounds....
Divers in the 1970s such as David Bellamy were among the first to draw attention to the fact that the sea was effectively being used as a dumping ground for sewage, rubbish and anything else that people wanted to dispose of out of sight.
In the 1990s, Greenpeace divers continued this tradition by diving (and sealing) the outfall from nuclear power plants to draw attention to the toxic waste being discharged.
But while DIVER has a long history of reflecting environmental concerns - as opposed to simply printing pretty pictures of fish accompanied by a bit of moralising - I couldnt find any definitive evidence that divers are more likely to be involved in environmental campaigns than a similar socio-economic section of the population.
Theres certainly a wealth of outrage about fishing practices such as shark-finning and the sins of reef-touching and fish-fondling, but not much evidence that this translates into action, or a change of behaviour, for the majority of divers.
However, when it comes to sheer volume, the current number of organisations claiming to be eco-friendly and working for the marine environment is overwhelming.
If marketing strategy and fashionable interest alone could save the planet, wed all have our fins up and be laughing.
So I have to confess to being a bit of a cynic. What I like is to see something practical and real happening: shark being taken off supermarket shelves (Bite-Back), campaigns that will make a real physical impact, such as that for marine reserves (Marine Conservation Society), marine mammals being rescued (British Divers Marine Life Rescue), or fishing boats and oil companies being confronted (Greenpeace).

The End of the World is Nigh! This dire warning has been circulated for as long as I can remember, and different threats come in and out of popular attention: nuclear weapons, AIDS, huge meteors, bird flu and SARS. I find it difficult not to feel a tad sceptical when faced with yet another planet-threatening scenario.
A quick examination of the scientific studies and advice from environmental agencies makes it abundantly clear that there are three big threats to our seas:
1) Climate change caused by an increase in greenhouse gases.
2) Pollution and the destruction of natural habitats - mostly caused by industrialisation, farming and other human impact. At this point, we also need to bear in mind that all human activity has an impact on the environment and that there is an urgent need to tackle poverty.
3) Over-exploitation of fish stocks by commercial fisheries.
These are global issues that can be effectively tackled only on a global basis, but all three relate to consumption and patterns of human behaviour that are within our personal remit or possible influence. If we need to think globally, act locally, what does this mean for divers Ive tried to concentrate on some practical examples on these pages.
Lets be real, were not going to give up diving, or stop travelling abroad, so its a question of trying to minimise the impact and environmental payback: offsetting the damage.
After all, when youve got Gordon Brown, Naomi Campbell and the Foo Fighters urging you to switch off your bathroom light at night to save the planet - from an enormously bright, spot-lit stage - how can you possibly refuse
And if youre still not convinced that its urgent, try some environmental doom and gloom...
UK climate changeThe evidence for climate change in the UK comes from weather records that extend back over 350 years.
Globally, sea temperatures have increased by 0.5°C over the past 40 years (
The UKs coastal waters have also become warmer, changing the distribution of important commercial fish species and other marine animals. The average sea level around the UK
is now about 10cm higher than it was in 1900.
In just 200 years, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - the major gas that causes climate change - has increased by 30%.
Concentrations of greenhouse gases are now higher than at any point in the past 800,000 years. (www.climate

British scientists carrying out a study of sea ice in the Arctic have found that it is melting faster than had previously been estimated, and the polar ice-cap could disappear as early as 2020.
The study involved Navy submarines travelling below the ice cap and scanning its thickness.
Despite the study being cut short after the accident on HMS Tireless, the data gathered is considered more accurate than a previous NASA study that used satellite images of the changing size and shape of the ice-cap to estimate that it would survive until 2040.

An analysis of global fisheries data from 1950-2003 reported in last Novembers Science vividly illustrated the scale of the loss of seafood species.
In 2003, 29% of open-sea fisheries were in a state of collapse, which is defined as a decline to less than 10% of their original yield.
This followed a report in the international journal Nature, May 2003, that numbers of large fish such as swordfish and marlin were down by as much as 90%.
Despite a moratorium on whaling introduced in 1986, a large number of whale species remain classified as endangered. Many species of turtle are listed as endangered.
A hundred million sharks are slaughtered each year, and it is estimated that 20 species of shark could be commercially extinct by 2017, according to WildAid and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The Great Barrier Reef off Australias east coast will be largely destroyed by 2050 if sea temperatures rise by 2C - the lowest predicted rise. That alarming prediction comes from researchers from Queensland Universitys Centre for Marine Studies.
The corals that help to make up the reef would be unable to adapt quickly enough to cope with a temperature rise of this magnitude.
This will add to the damage done by over-fishing and water pollution, which over the next 15 years will cause irreparable destruction. By the middle of this century, less than 5% of the reef coral is predicted to remain alive.
The study, Implications Of Climate Change For Australias Great Barrier Reef, was commissioned by the WWF, and paid for in part by the Australian government.

Inspired to take action, or still planning to wait and see what happens Now that youve read this feature, dont forget to visit and answer this months Big Green Question!

Will the Government save our seas

There is currently a consultation on the Marine Bill White Paper, A Sea Change, at This covers five key issues:
  • planning in the marine area;
  • licensing activities in the marine area;
  • marine nature conservation;
  • modernising marine fisheries management;
  • and a new marine management organisation.
Despite many promises, the Government threw a wobbler last November, and appeared to backtrack over the extent of its commitment to create marine reserves. The Marine Conservation Agency/BSAC campaign Marine Reserves Now is aimed at ensuring that the government sticks to its commitment. Visit to add your support, and download a poster at

You can calculate your CO2 emissions for a variety of diving-related activities and pay to have them offset through investments in energy-reduction schemes, and environmental projects such as tree-planting.
Figures used here are based on calculations found on, which also publishes some useful criteria about how the offsetting projects are evaluated. You can create your own carbon profile and pay your offsets online.

Simply enter your destination and the website will calculate your offset. For example:

- Return flight London to Sharm el Sheikh
(Red Sea diving) = £8.05
- Return flight London to Valencia
(Mediterranean diving) = £2.35
- Return flight London to Barbados = £14.16
- Return flight London to Costa Rica = £18.75

Fuel consumption varies widely based on engine type, boat size, the speed at which its driven, loading and even weather conditions, so these are rough estimates. Your aim should be to minimise consumption of fuel and avoid introducing pollutants or waste into the marine environment.
A typical dive-club RIB carries around 136 litres of petrol and an average days (inshore) diving will use around 68 litres. The cost of offsetting is around 25p for every 13.6 litres of fuel used - or about 1.25 per day split between a boatload of divers.
A typical fishing vessel adapted for use as a dive-boat will use 23-27 litres of fuel per hour steaming at 7 knots, and 4-9 litres per hour while ticking over on site. You probably need to allow around 90 litres usage per day, or around £2 split between the divers.
New high-speed catamaran-style dive boats will often use double this amount, so allow £4-5.

Annual calculation: 10,000 miles by a car that consumes fuel at 35mpg, is estimated at 22.50. This equates to £2.25 for every 1000 miles travelled, or about 25p for a 100-mile round trip to the coast or an inland site.

The energy used to fill an individual cylinder and its offset are marginal.
Allow £2 for every 100 fills. If you require helium or oxygen mixes, allow 5 for every 100 fills to account for the energy expended.

The ideal energy-conscious diver belongs to a dive club: ideally a student union where dive equipment is shared and travel provided by minibus. The typical dive trip is a shore-diving expedition to somewhere like Chesil Beach or Stoney Cove on a single cylinder of air.
The lunchtime comfort break will involve cafes or pubs with a toilet connected to the sewage system.
At the other extreme is the energy- and resource-hungry technical diver, laden with multiple cylinders and a host of battery-driven devices such as torches, video cameras and scooters. The vast quantity of kit required means that each person will usually have rolled up in his or her own vehicle.
Gases other than air, such as helium and oxygen, require additional energy to produce, store and distribute. Rebreather divers use up chemicals such as Sofnolime, which have no recyclable value or re-usable function.
Tekkies often dive miles offshore on fast, fuel-hungry catamarans. These need to speed along, using shedloads of fuel, to get out to the dive site and back in the same day.
Apart from the boat toilet emptying into the sea, theres also the fate of those disposable nappies or incontinence sheaths to think about.

Holborn Dive Club in central London has adopted a carbon-neutral diving policy. Members are asked to commit to offsetting the energy used in travelling to a dive site, taking out the RIB or dive boat, and filling cylinders. Costs of offsetting the carbon emissions produced by the diving are calculated and split between participants.
Members are encouraged to travel together to dive sites, and car rental rather than ownership is encouraged. The branch is committed to:
- Managing kit efficiently and reducing waste;
- Carrying out at least one marine survey per year;
- Forging long-term relationships with the communities in overseas diving destinations, for example twinning with Mauritius, and taking part in environmental initiatives through London Divers Support Dahab.

Copies of the policy are available from

Big gizmos are great but they use up energy.
Dive with a purpose - such as helping to document the state of wrecks.
An average days inshore diving from a RIB uses around 68 litres of fuel - just over a quid a head from the divers will offset that consumption.
Keeping large items of equipment in a good state of tune is vital, whether its a boat engine or a gas compressor.
Tekkies are demanding users of resources in terms of kit and gases.
The more divers using home waters, the smaller the carbon fin-print.
Many dive boats are recycled fishing vessels .
1) Dive as much as possible in the UK rather than taking numerous flights abroad.
2) Join a British dive club. This will enable you to take energy-saving measures,
such as sharing car journeys to dive sites rather than everybody turning up in their
own vehicles.
3) Dive relatively close to shore, dive with a full boat, and check that boat engines are well-maintained and fuel-efficient. Boat-handlers should avoid the boy-racer temptations of a powerful engine!
4) Dive with purpose and responsibility. Report marine-life sightings, take part
in archaeological projects, document deterioration on wrecks, take part in the MCS SeaSearch survey. Make long-term, supportive links with local communities in places where you regularly dive, at home and abroad.
5) Leave the wreck alone! Wrecks are a non-renewable resource, so pulling them to bits just hastens their demise. If you do take artefacts, report them to the Receiver of Wreck, preserve them, and offer them for public display.
6) Shop carefully, and pay attention to where your dive kit is made. While its virtually impossible to avoid equipment that is made and shipped from China, try to buy kit made locally (see Check which fish to buy, or order in a restaurant, on the Marine Stewardship Council website
7) Recycle old dive kit rather than dumping it. Repairing and renewing are great ideals, but dive kit is primarily for life support. Dont compromise on your safety.
8) Take all rubbish away with you - including old batteries and spent Sofnolime. Try to collect and remove any rubbish, such as plastic bags and old fishing line, that you
find under water.
9) Dont get bent or lost at sea. Youll be planting your own rainforest to offset those rescue helicopter flights!
10) Offset your diving activities by calculating your carbon fin-print and paying to fund projects that make emissions reductions and support campaigns to protect the marine environment and wildlife.