Håkan Björklund

Aquatic Environment, Nature Conservation & Diving


About divers and coral reefs


I've just returned from a fabulous trip, "Simply the best" in the Red Sea, with Brothers Islands, Deadalus and Elphinstone as dive sites. I am not a very experienced diver, made my 100th dive during this trip, but think that I have pretty good experience. As a biologist, I was quite upset and sad when we came to Elphinstone, and I have responded similarly in several other places before. After diving at Brothers and Deadalus, where basically every little spot is overgrown with corals and other marine life, we come to the famous Elphinstone and I see lots of bare areas, from scatter to several square meter areas where limestone is completely barren. And that is collectively very large areas, perhaps 5-10% in some places that look like this. Unfortunately, there were not many divers who even noticed the bare areas, they only see what is nice and beautiful. I understand that "non-biologists' may not respond or see it in the same way as I do, but it is clear to me.

The major difference between these sites is that Brothers and Deadalus are visited by a limited number of boats and also cannot be reached with day trips, which Elphinstone can. So there are fewer visitors and more experienced divers, which hopefully touche and kick the reefs less than the more inexperienced. Despite this, I see many experienced divers, even with over a thousand dives including the guide, who takes hold of the coral to get a really good picture. And this happened often even after I started the discussion on the boat on the topic.

Furthermore, I´m not sure if the boats are equipped with closed sewage tanks with the capacity to keep the sewage for one week and drain in the port. I could not see that the tanks were drained, or if it even was possible to drain the tanks when we added in Port Galib. I do not even know if there is a real treatment plant. (What I know is that I was damn sick in my stomach in Sharm El Sheikh once after we snorkeled on the beach, and suddenly discover a lot of toilet paper in the water, there was a sewagedrain at the beach directly from the hotels without any treatment at all.) At board they were very strict with hygiene , every day they cleaned toilets with some blue detergent. It is important with good hygiene, but where does the detergent and sewage end up? I believe, but I´m not sure, that they dump the sewage in open sea when we move from one divesite to another. When we come ashore they clean the deck, tables, railings and anything with chlorine which of course is flushed out into the harbor.

If we start with ourselfes, the divers, I think everyone who goes to tropical dive sites should be aware that many places are visited by many 100's of divers every day all year round. It is thus an enormous pressure on coral reefs which means we MUST be as careful as possible. Of course it happens all that we unconsiously happen to kick or swim to something sometimes. But we should NEVER touch the reef deliberately unless it is about pure security to take hold due to surprisingly strong currents or something similar. And before we go, we should practice bouyance and balance and how we move so we have good control of ourselves and can operate safely without kicking the reef. And now I'm going out on a limb, but I ask myself if it´s necessary that about 10 people in a group of 20 have to take the same picture of the same nice fish there. And if it is so important that the picture is perfect so I just have to hold on to the reef when I take the shot. Is it not possible to get together and exchange pictures after the dive? And I think that if you fail to take that picture without holding on to the reef, then you should not take it. I will probably never start taking photograpfs under water, partly for this reason. I usually ask my fellow divers for some pictures as a memory, and I do not care that it is not me who have taken them. I was right there, and felt the same, and it is my memory, even if someone else took the picture.

Maybe we also should ask questions and requirements for how wastewater from the boat is handled, so our shit don´t destroy the ocean and the reefs. Okay, that would impose costs for us divers, but there is a risk otherwise that in the future there is nothing to visit and see. And we should probably think again extra than if we have to use sunscreen, deodorant, etc. when we are on our travels. One can bask gently and in brief moments instead, for it is known that these substances kill corals.

This was much whining, but I want to start a discussion, both here at home and internationally, so that we can continue to enjoy the wonderful experiences that a week of diving in the Red Sea, for example, gives. I am grateful for both comments, and tips on which international forums to bring out these ideas and give all divers a little more humble attitude to the environments we all love to experience. Coral reefs are very sensitive and are threatened in many ways, and to sustain them we have to care about them by all means.


Håkan Björklund

November 2011