Beneath the Surface Media

The Importance of Dive Travel

French Angelfish in the Cayman Islands

“Know, love, protect. That is exactly what happened to me! I began by exploring. When I saw all this beauty under the sea, I fell in love with it. And finally, when I realized to what extent the oceans were threatened, I decided to campaign as vigorously as I could against everything that threatened what I loved.” – Jacques-Yves Cousteau

All scuba divers, by definition, are explorers: the ocean covers more than 70 percent of our planet’s surface, but more than 80 percent of that is still unexplored. The Earth is an ocean planet, and the ocean is our life-support system, responsible for the very air we breathe, yet we know shockingly little about the underwater realm. That is why it is so important to connect with the ocean—so that we don’t view it as this mysterious other, but as an integral part of a place, whether we’re road-tripping in Italy, spending summer holidays on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, or honeymooning in the Maldives.

What is dive travel?

Dive travel is seeing the ocean as a travel destination.

Although the land and sea are wonderfully and inextricably interconnected, travelers tend to visit one or the other. Scuba divers seek out underwater realms, impatiently counting down surface intervals until their next dive. Land-lovers might venture out for a snorkel or sail, but they’re glimpsing only a pixel of the bigger picture. Exploring both underwater and on land is the most holistic way of experiencing a destination and the divine interconnectedness between the green and blue. The garden does not stop at the water’s edge.

If you haven’t tried scuba diving yet, there is a whole world waiting for you.

“A picture is worth a thousand words, but an experience has got to be worth at least a thousand pictures,” said Dr. Sylvia Earle. “An expression on the face of the fish that you see in an image is always appealing, but when it’s you that fish is looking at, it makes all the difference in the world. There’s no substitute for being there, to see how we are all embedded in this blue spec in the universe, the interconnectivity between land and sea.”

Why is dive travel important?

Dive travel is important for three main reasons.

  1. We care about what we experience first-hand. Jacques Cousteau was insistent that “we must go and see for ourselves”. He understood people are stronger advocates for things they have seen and experienced directly, and the ocean needs advocates.
  1. We need to have eyes on the underwater world. Shifting baseline syndrome (SBS) is a significant barrier to battling climate change with the sense of urgency that’s required. In basic terms, people are adaptable. As the environment continues to degrade (both locally and globally), our line in the sand as to what’s “normal” or “acceptable” is continually shifting with that degradation—we begin to accept the damage as normal, due to our lack of experience or memory. For example, a person who starts scuba diving today would have a drastically different idea about what a healthy coral reef looks like than, say, Dr. Sylvia Earle or Jacques Cousteau. The baseline has shifted, and significantly degraded reefs are now accepted as the new normal “healthy” reefs.

The ocean is more susceptible to shifting baselines because we don’t see it every day, and much of it we don’t see at all. It’s become this blue global carpet we sweep things under and we don’t see the mess until it gets really bad—bleached coral reefs, depleted fish stocks, miles of seagrass that have simply disappeared.

Divers (and snorkelers, to a certain degree) can have eyes on what’s happening in the underwater world. They can monitor the baseline, and share what they’re seeing.

“Divers have a special role because they see what others do not,” said Dr. Sylvia Earle. “They’re ambassadors. Their job is to record what’s really happening—keep those records; store them; share them—and get others to dive in.”

  1. If the ocean is valued, it will be protected. Dive travel places an economic value on the ocean and its species. Tourism is a complex balancing act, but it remains the only juggernaut powerful enough to challenge unsustainable, extractive practices like mining, logging, and overfishing. Sustainable tourism (done in the right way) places an economic value on protecting places and species, and it supports community-based conservation. No one is shark finning or dynamite fishing for fun—it’s to feed families or to fill a demand, and usually not one created locally. If there was another way to make a better living (ecotourism or in the dive industry, for example), most people would consider it.

Dive travel makes our world bigger

Dive travel opens up different sides of destinations to explore, it offers opportunities for new adventures, and creates special travel moments that cameras don’t capture.

“Though I rarely dive without a camera in hand, some of my fondest memories are those that occurred when I simply watched and tried to learn,” said underwater photographer Brian Skerry. “I’ve hovered over coral reefs watching animals transition from day to night, observed tiny pteropods flying beneath pack ice through winter seas and swum with a newborn humpback whale calf, knowing that I was the first human he had ever met. These personal experiences have both exhilarated me and brought me peace.  They have changed my perception of things that I thought I knew. Beyond the personal enrichment I’ve gained from exploration, I have also learned that seeing the natural world holistically often leads to the realization that this finely tuned machine called Earth is both resilient yet fragile.”