The problem contact I’m addressing isn’t the out-of-control-diver-crashing-into-coral, because those divers KNOW they’re having difficulty and work to correct it. The problem is the light contacts, often made by experienced divers with good buoyancy control. These are the contacts that drive caring divemasters crazy, because it sure looks as if the person doesn’t care at all about the coral. Maybe the diver rests on a living coral head while taking a few photos, then adds air to move away. The coral looks pretty much the same before and after the encounter, and the diver hasn’t the education to understand that many of the individual coral animals that he or she has rested upon have as a result been sliced to death against their own skeleton. I believe that once divers understand what their contact does to coral, they will be much more careful around coral.
I checked through scuba texts, and there was little information about coral and no illustrations. Coral-related information could be added to dive orientations, but people just aren’t interested in learning biology before the first dive on their vacation.
Also, coral doesn’t grow like anything else on the planet, so it can’t be explained with short, easy comparisons.
To help divers learn about coral, I’ve created Action in Behalf of Coral, the ABC Project. So far, the ABC Project has three facets to help educate divers.
One facet will be the creation of a sticker around 6” square. On top of the sticker will be an illustration of coral polyps, showing the relationship between the sharp coral skeleton and the fragile coral tissue that secretes it and rests upon it. The ABC Project was incredibly fortunate to find professional biological illustrator Gary Carlson (check out his website, www.gcarlson.com – it knocked my socks off!) created our artwork free of charge. The text is ready. (View the sticker in pdf format.)
A number of sponsors made the printing of the sticker possible. Find out who they are at ABC Project coral sticker sponsors. The sticker debuted on Bonaire in November of 2006.
Ramon de Leon, Manager of the Bonaire National Marine Park, is looking forward to using the stickers on dive boats, around dive lockers, and in other places where divers have time to read them. The ABC Project coral sticker will be made available to dive operators worldwide, beginning with the Caribbean.
The second facet of helping divers to learn about coral is a gentle drizzle of information, rather than the drop or two presented by the sticker, or the flood of information that would be presented in a full-length article. Facet Two, Coral Glimpses, are little pieces of information about coral and diving around coral presented as often as possible. Examples are:
We use the word “coral” for three things: the individual coral animal, called the polyp; the polyps and the skeleton they’ve secreted, also called a coral head, and the skeleton without its living polyps, also called coral rock. The first two of these are alive, the last is not alive, which leaves a great deal of room for confusion.
Any diver who is doing anything more than sightseeing – including taking photos or video, doing fish surveys, taking scientific measurements, training or supervising training, etc. – is more likely to injure living coral than that diver would be without the activity, because their attention is split. We must remember to be extra-protective of coral when we’re busy.
George De Salvo, the editor of The Bonaire Reporter (Bonaire’s English-language newspaper, www.BonaireReporter.com), immediately agreed to publish one Coral Glimpse in every issue, and has made space for the Glimpses to be accompanied by photos. SSI’s Dive Business International included two. I’m in the process of approaching other publications. If you represent a publication and would like to use Coral Glimpses, please contact me!
The third facet of the ABC Project relates to diver training. We must persuade certifying agencies to include information about coral and divers in their introductory courses, we must see that the information included is accurate and clearly stated, and we must convince the agencies to initiate Divers and Coral specialty courses and to include divers-and-corals information in all coral reef specialty courses.
If you have feedback or suggestions about the Action in Behalf of Coral Project, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!