scuba diving internship at Cocos Island

In a diving paradise, so far away from civilization, 500km offshore is certainly a site to behold. Incredible coral structures, amazing marine life and walls full of sponges and other inverts. But wait, what is this I see, crashing their way through the peaceful underwater environment? Alas, it is the unprofessional diver with the professional camera…”sigh”.
Now, before all of you divers out there start yelling at me “but I don’t do that!” I am aware of that, and that this is an affliction of a few people, but not all so I will continue. Now, whilst I have witnessed this behavior in the past, it has not been more apparent than on my recent trip to Cocos island. One of the few diving paradises in the world, a true bucket list destination, where I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks. My primary objective whilst I was there was to assist with various investigations that are an ongoing part of the management of the park. These included reef structure, fish species abundance and impact of tourist scuba diving groups. With the diving groups, we looked at frequency of contact with the reef and bottom, what exactly where the divers making contact with if anything and behavior of focus species to the divers. What were the divers doing when they saw a focus species ? how did the species react? What did the diver then precede to do and how if anything, did the animals behavior then change. One of the points that we mark is presence of a camera and/or gloves on the diver.
My thoughts were, should this make a difference to the behavior of the diver on the reef if he/she is wearing gloves or not? Should it make a difference if they have a camera or not? I would hope personally, that it would not but unfortunately it seems i was wrong.
Once I got into the swing of things I would start my monitoring of the divers at the back of the group. This was a general way to be as unobtrusive as possible when observing and give the group a chance to settle into the dive. What I discovered throughout the course of several monitoring dives, was that in general, the “naughty” divers were at the back. I say “naughty” as through the analysis of my data, the most contacts, if any were at the back of the group, and invariably that’s where the largest cameras were hanging out. Was there a correlation here? Over the years when leading divers and groups in places around the world, the person with the camera likes, in general to move slower than the rest of the group. An average diver will have something pointed out to them, take it in, and then move forward. An avid photographer will then spend an additional couple of minutes or more at that place, adjusting the camera, getting the angle right and looking for that shot. I can appreciate that. I too, do love to take pictures underwater.
Now, on arrival at the park, all divers are briefed by the park rangers regarding etiquette during the dives, minimize your impact etc which is now something that is a very standard practice in many dive briefings, and as experienced divers, it should be a given right? Not always, it would seem.
After observance of two particular groups from different boats I became frustrated which is where the inspiration for this article came from, call it a vent of frustration if you will. The particular divers I vent about had, amongst the group, the largest camera set ups. Housings with 2 strobe lights attached, adjustable arms etc, more than I could possible handle. They hung further and further back in the group, snapping happily away as they moved along, seemingly unaware at the damage that they were inflicting on the reef. Here’s a moray for example, no current I have to add so minimal water movement. It could have called for a nice hover and with a bit of adjustment but no, to get “the shot” the moray had 2 beams of light in his face, whilst the diver was laying across the reef. Was that necessary for a shot of a moray? I don’t think so.  They continued with this practice throughout the dive. As I moved further up the group, cameras where still very much present but conscious divers, hovering above the reef, and at the front of the group,no cameras. Now as I said previously, this is not something that I witnessed everywhere, but as a general pattern during the dives I monitored it was more prominent.
Now, as I mentioned at the beginning I know that this is not something that is true everywhere. I have some good friends that are professional photographers and would not dream of laying down on top of a reef for that shot, it is more the non professional photographers that seem to be the problem. Just because you have the money to buy a giant camera and housing with strobes, doesn’t mean you should. In fact I am consciously asking you not to! Practice with a smaller set up first, get your buoyancy in tune before you start lugging something large around. And may I suggest that practicing once in the pool is not enough to get used to a bigger set up. Take it to the ocean, somewhere with a good sand patch, if you don’t have access to ocean I am sure you have access to a quarry or something similar which would be just as good to work out your buoyancy, practice balancing, zooming in, taking a shot and all that good stuff.
So, again, for those of you budding photographers out there who are off on the trip of a lifetime. Please just think before you take that shot, as what is a beautiful pristine reef that you’re looking at, may not be so in a while if it is continually treated with disrespect. And if you are thinking, “well I only touched it a couple of times, I’m sure if wasn’t that bad!”, What if everyone did that? Then where would we be ? ; )


Happy Snapping!