Hundreds of thousands of divers descend on the Maldives every year, all hoping to get a glimpse of the island’s incredible marine life. Such high numbers year after year could pose a risk of harm to the fragile reefs and their inhabitants.
How to dive sustainably and stay green
Luckily, divers across the globe tend to be as passionate about conserving marine environments as they are about exploring them. ZuBlu asked Adèle Verdier-Ali and Ali Miuraj from Fulidhoo Dive & Water Sports, for their top tips on how to be an eco-friendly diver in the Maldives.
1. Dive neutrally buoyant and streamlined at all times
This might seem so obvious it barely merits mentioning, however, even the most experienced of divers need reminding of the basics sometimes!
Maintaining good buoyancy control will ensure that divers do not accidentally damage fragile corals or disturb the marine life, and ensuring that your gauge and octopus are safely tucked away minimises drag and any potential harm to your surroundings.
2. Stay above 30 metres
Unlike other countries, it is forbidden by law to dive deeper than 30 metres on a recreational dive in the Maldives. What’s more, decompression diving is completely prohibited. One of the many reasons behind this legislation is to ensure any deeper-dwelling marine species are not disturbed. Make sure that you dive within the national limits to avoid breaking any laws.
3. Leave your spear gun at home!
Possessing or fishing with a spear gun is illegal in the Maldives. All luggage is scanned upon arrival and any spear guns found will be confiscated. Anyone attempting to smuggle one into the country could face the possibility of arrest, a fine or even jail sentence. The Maldives prides itself on maintaining rigid standards when it comes to fishing and selective fishing with a spear gun can lead to the eradication of sexually mature adults that are vital to the reef’s ecosystem.
4. Avoid all shark and coral products in the souvenir shops
When visiting the gift shops in Male’ or other local islands, you may notice dried corals and shark jaws for sale. It is imperative that you do not purchase any of these products!
Buying dried coral supports the destruction of already threatened reefs whilst purchasing shark jaws contributes to the annual slaughter of over one hundred million sharks across the globe. Both of these phenomena are trends that any eco-conscious diver would not want to be a part of.
However, these ethical concerns are not the only reason to keep your wallet in your pocket. Whilst the sale of coral and shark merchandise is allowed within the country on the grounds that they may have been imported from elsewhere, the export of any of these products is strictly prohibited under Maldivian law. This means that if you are caught at customs when leaving the country with your souvenir, you could face severe penalties.
5. Offset your carbon footprint
Tourists fly from every corner of the earth to come and dive with us here in the Maldives. Wherever you are coming from, you might want to think about offsetting the carbon emissions you generated whilst on your flight to the islands.
There are several websites dedicated to helping you calculate your carbon footprint: simply type in the distance flown and you’ll be shown how much fuel you used or carbon equivalent emitted. Depending on the site, you’ll then have the option to make a donation to a conservation charity of your choice to ‘balance’ the impact those emissions make to the environment.
6. Take your recycling home
In a country where just 1% of the territory is land, the other 99% water, it is no surprise that waste management is a big issue. At present, there is no sustainable recycling infrastructure in the Maldives. Many divers use non-rechargeable batteries in their dive torches and instead of disposing of them whilst you’re here, we ask our divers to take them back with you, along with any empty shampoo or sunscreen bottles and recycle them at home.
7. Uphold our "no gloves" policy
Fulidhoo Dive advocates a “No Gloves” policy when scuba diving. By diving without gloves, you are less likely to be tempted to touch the coral or marine life. Consequently, there is a lower risk of damage to the reef and a lower chance of getting hurt - after all, we have healthy populations of well-camouflaged scorpion fish and fire coral! What’s more, never chase, tease or attempt to ‘ride’ any of the marine wildlife, as this will only disturb their natural behaviour and teach these species to fear divers.
8. Be a sensitive photographer
With the rapid growth in popularity of inexpensive underwater cameras, many divers see photography gear as an essential component of their dive kit. Sharing shots online of underwater encounters has become part of the diving experience! If you are going to take photos underwater, then there are a few extra pointers that you should consider.
Firstly, make sure you don’t use the reef to stabilise yourself whilst trying to take a photo. Avoid rearranging or moving anything on the reef, as tempting as it might be to get that ‘perfect’ shot! And lastly, if you’re using a flash or strobe, make sure it doesn’t startle any of the more timid marine life. No picture is worth destroying aquatic life for!
9. Opt for a rash guard over sunscreen
The sun in the Maldives is very strong and anyone spending even a short time under its rays will need to protect themselves from getting burnt. However, many scientific studies have now shown that the chemical benzophenone-2, used in most sunscreens, can kill juvenile corals, cause corals to bleach and even increase the possibility of genetic damage and mutations.
Instead of lathering on layers of sunscreen, opt for a long-sleeve rash guard with UV protection. This way you’ll stay protected whilst minimising the amount of coral-damaging chemicals that infiltrate the reefs.
10. Enrol in continuing education
All large dive education organisations, including PADI and SSI, offer speciality courses that can help you to become an eco-friendly diver. For example, a buoyancy specialty will not only help you become a more streamlined diver, it will also reduce the risk of you accidentally damaging the reef during a dive. Likewise, PADI’s Project Aware Coral Reef Conservation speciality will teach you about what you can do to help preserve the aquatic environment.