When the Narcosis Scuba Center takes a boat of divers out into the Gulf of Mexico, a "look, don't touch" policy is strictly enforced. To preserve marine ecosystems, the Tarpon Springs, Fla., shop permits nothing to be removed and brought back on board. Nothing, that is, except garbage.
The World Resources Institute reported more than 60 percent of the world’s reefs are currently under immediate threat from human activities. To help reverse human impact, those in the dive community are taking initiative to prove local efforts towards reef recovery can make a difference.
The scuba center is involved in the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, the world’s largest volunteer effort for healthy oceans, owner Joyce Hannaseck said. Every year, she said, the shop sends at least 20 volunteers to help clean the reefs and wrecks, as well as the beach and shoreline.
“We focus on anything associated with the waterways,” Hannaseck said.
Volunteers bring up all sorts of litter, including bottles and cans lost overboard by careless boaters and things deliberately dumped. One diver found a toilet that had been dumped by boaters.
Pressures from local threats are causing bigger issues, such as changes in climate and ocean chemistry to play a much larger role in reef deterioration, said Katie Reytar, a research associate with the World Resources Institute.
Rising levels of carbon dioxide are dissolving into the ocean, Reytar said, increasing the acidity of the water and displacing the minerals corals need to build their skeletons.
“If it becomes bad enough, (coral) skeletons could actually dissolve,” Reytar said.
But starting local could prove the key to widespread action.
Along with Hannaseck and her shop, Dave Garrett, a dive master in Daytona, Fla., participates in reef recovery and conservancy.
Garrett is a member of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, which developed a non-profit, Project AWARE, to help divers and non-divers participate in marine conservancy through hands-on projects. Those projects include underwater and coastal clean-ups and reef monitoring.
But even many leisure divers who aren't involved with such projects pick up trash from the ocean floor, Garrett said. That's a quick, nearly effortless act that has invaluable effects.
“It’s really just about managing local threats to buy time for corals to adapt to climate change,” Reytar said.