The Best Places on Earth for Eco-Friendly Diving
Diving is one of the greatest ways to explore Earth's stunning underwater landscapes. But 95% of the world's reefs are at risk.
Although many countries and organizations are getting serious about marine conservation laws, it's still important for divers (and snorkelers) to practice sustainable diving, protecting these delicate ecosystems while still enjoying their beauty. Because while sustainable diving should be the standard, it isn't always.
As a diver, it's important to make sure your dive site and dive company support sustainable diving. Diving in destinations that take reef and ocean preservation seriously is another great way to keep these biodiverse ecosystems (and the species that call them home) as pristine and vibrant as possible.
That's why TPG has pulled together a guide for divers that includes some of the best areas around the world to practice sustainable diving, tips on how to select the right company and advice on how you can make sure you aren't harming marine habitats during your dives.
How to Be an Eco-Conscious Diver
Do your part by following these tips when diving (or snorkeling):
- Don't touch or take anything during a dive.
- Watch your buoyancy and float carefully, without kicking or bumping reefs or corals.
- Don't use flash photography.
- Find an eco-conscious dive operator. Don't just pick the place with the best price. Your choice should also take into consideration the operator's safety regulations and practices, concern for the local environment and contributions to marine life protection and conservation. Companies like Green Fins, Blue Star Operators and Project Aware can help you find dive operators and destinations that are especially dedicated to marine life and reef conservation.
Dive in a Destination Focused on Sustainability
Many hotels located on small islets or coral atolls scattered throughout the Indian Ocean have house reefs and go to serious lengths to protect them. For example, the on-site marine biologist at the Park Hyatt Hadahaa tests water temperatures and monitors its house reef daily. At the Baros Maldives resort, guests can help support the Coral Reef Regeneration Program by sponsoring a coral frame or even assist in the coral gardening process. The country has also officially banned shark fishing, ensuring divers will see these underwater creatures (hopefully) forever.
The Red Sea, Egypt
Prepare to be astounded with approximately 1,250 different fish species, not to mention hundreds of species of coral, plus a dozen shark species, dolphins, turtles, rays, moray eels, dugongs (marine mammals similar to manatees) and other creatures in Egypt's Red Sea. In addition to incredible dive sites, shore-based diving is possible in many spots, and sharks are a protected species up to 12 nautical miles offshore. With seven marine protected areas within the Red Sea, the country is fairly advanced when it comes to eco-friendly diving. One of the most popular sustainable dive companies in the area is the Red Sea Diving Safari, which has three resorts along the Red Sea that focus on environmentally responsible tourism practices in conjunction with HEPCA (an NGO focused on sea and land conservation) and the Red Sea Protectorate.
Hawaii is no stranger to conservation. It was the first state to enact a plastic bag ban in grocery stores, and many resorts and hotels have banned plastic straws, too. In May, Hawaii even passed a first-of-its-kind law to prevent the sale of certain sunscreens deemed harmful to coral reefs, which goes into effect in 2021. It's also home to one of the world's largest protected marine areas, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Although you can't dive in the marine park, divers still benefit from the pristine space by exploring the nearby waters: home to over 7,000 aquatic plant and animal species. Some of the most memorable dives can also be enjoyed in Hawaii (think: manta night dives to the Molokini Crater; exploring sunken airplane wrecks off of Oahu).
This Dutch island off the coast of Venezuela is home to one of the Caribbean's first protected marine parks. The Bonaire National Marine Park allows divers, but charges an admission fee to help preserve the waters. The Caribbean Waste Collective is also very active in helping the island stay plastic-free. Besides diving at the marine park, the 1,000 Steps dive site takes you down steep stairs to clear waters hiding a colorful reef and almost 500 species of tropical fish.
Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Although Costa Rica may not immediately come to mind for many divers, the country is a leader in ecotourism and was even the first Latin American country to ban hunting as a sport in 2012. The country is actually working on a project to create artificial reefs using waste material from the national electrical grid. This will help increase the reproduction and growth of coral and other underwater species. Advanced divers should visit Cocos Island, both a Costa Rican National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site, to see some of the largest schools of hammerhead sharks in the world and a variety of pelagic fish.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Some of the best diving in the world can be found in the waters surrounding Indonesia's many diverse islands. The reefs surrounding the 1,500 Raja Ampat islands are said to be some of the most diverse on Earth when it comes to underwater life, thanks to waters high in nutrients. The Raja Ampat Marine Protected Area — a network of six protected areas spanning around 4,456 square miles — was established to protect this biodiverse paradise. Divers will have to pay about $65 for a permit to enter these areas, where they can see different shark species at Sardine Reef, or manta rays, barracudas and possibly a rare tasselled wobbegong shark in Melissa's Garden.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
One of the most protected marine parks in the world, the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Galapagos Islands is home to sea lions, penguins and some of the world's biggest schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks. Settlement plates have been installed on many of the largest ports to track and detect an invasive species that may cause threats to its native biodiversity. The Galapagos National Park Directorate also closely monitors sea turtles, and there are flamingo lagoons to visit too. Advanced divers should dive through Roca Redonda to see sharks gathered around an underwater volcano.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
You may have heard that bleaching and climate change are ruining the Great Barrier Reef, but with efforts like electrifying coral reefs, in addition to conservation efforts from the Australian government, rumor has it that reef health is indeed on the mend. Both Heron and Lizard islands are great places to stay in eco-friendly hotels and participate in eco-dives that won't further damage the reefs. Plan to spot sea turtles and colorful fish, maybe even dolphins and sharks.
This Central American paradise has recently amped up its dedication to ocean conservation after the health of their reefs was found to be on the decline. April 22, 2019, (Earth Day) will be especially important in Belize this year, as it's the day all single-use plastics like straws, utensils and bags will be completely phased out. The country has also recently banned offshore oil activity in its waters, and trawling fishing techniques have been illegal since 2010. With impressive dive sites like the Blue Hole, it's unsurprising that Belize is making strides to protect its waters, which are home to the world's second largest Barrier Reef system (a World Heritage site), and 1,400 species including manatees, sharks, turtles and, of course, unfathomable numbers of tropical fish.