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ISSUE 13 ARCHIVE - THE SEADOC INVESTIGATES: A MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE. AND A CAN, BAG, TYRE, CIGARETTE BUTT...

Dr John Carlin

We all dive for different reasons. In fact when you speak to people about why they began to dive no one has exactly the same answer. When I spoke to my wife, she said that she learnt to dive because she fancied her instructor thankfully that instructor was me!
Ocean Visions
I learnt because I was fascinated by a different world covered by water that was just out of my reach. Yes, I could snorkel and free dive but I could never stay down long enough and so I had to learn to SCUBA dive to go and explore this mysterious world properly.

Whether we are wreck or reef divers, prefer cold or warm water, the one common thread that runs through all of us is that we want to go diving to see things. As SCUBA divers, free divers and snorkellers we are all natural ambassadors for the aquatic environment. We see things that landlubbers cannot, as once something is underwater, it is often 'out of sight and out of mind'. No wonder many divers take part in marine conservation activities every year.

PADI is the world's largest recreational diving membership and diver training organisation which has issued over 19 million diver certifications to date. PADI recognised that SCUBA divers represented a powerful voice that could be channelled to make changes at ground/sea level but also by lobbying councils and governments to change policies.

PADI was set up in 1966 by two people called John Cronin and Ralph Erickson. The founders of PADI saw with their own eyes the decline of the marine environment from factors such as pollution, global warming and over-fishing. So in 1989 something called Project AWARE began. This was PADI's commitment to preserving and protecting the underwater world for future generations. It was an ethic to teach the world's divers to treat the underwater world with respect and use skills to preserve this fragile but beautiful environment not only for future dives but for future generations.
AWARE is actually an acronym for Aquatic World Awareness Responsibility and Education. Very quickly divers recognised that there was a lot of work to be done to protect the underwater world and they wanted to be involved. As PADI co-founder John Cronin once said, "If divers do not take an active role in preserving the aquatic realm, who will?"

So in 1992 Project AWARE was established as a registered non-profit organisation. Since its inception, it has supported and led snorkellers and divers with conservation education, research activities and advocacy to help conserve and protect underwater environments around the world.

As the environmental ethic and the number of divers and snorkellers grew, the synergy between Project AWARE and PADI changed as well. The Peak Performance Buoyancy course was born to improve the divers' skills and teach them to minimise their impact on the environment whilst diving.

Project AWARE in the last twenty plus years has helped channel some of the passion we all feel for the aquatic realm to create a powerful voice which has been listened to by governments around the world. Changes have been made to how resources are managed and together we have been responsible for setting up marine protected areas (MPAs) and educating people about responsible fishing techniques.

In 1994 Project AWARE partnered with the Centre for Marine Conservation (now called Ocean Conservancy) to create an International Cleanup day which is now held annually in September.

So much rubbish is in the world's seas and oceans that we are now discovering great garbage patches accumulating in the world's major ocean gyres. A gyre in oceanography terms is any large system of rotating ocean currents. The gyre traps man-made debris and these patches can extend over an indeterminate area. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to be between 700,000-15,000,000 square kilometres and is characterised by high concentrations of plastics, chemical sludge and other debris trapped by the currents.
KLJ Diver Travel
The Plastic Oceans Foundation has been set up to try and raise awareness and significantly reduce plastic pollution in the environment by supporting and funding targeted solutions. Over the last sixty years, plastic has become central to our lives and mankind has subjected our own planet to a lifetime of non-recyclable plastic waste.

I am sure many of you have either seen or taken part in underwater or beach clean ups. In fact, some of the Red Sea diving live aboard operators even run 'clean up week' diving itineraries.

Project AWARE is not only looking at trying to clean up the marine debris but they are also looking to address the issue by collating the data of the rubbish collected around the world and find out where the rubbish is entering the marine eco-system. In 2009, 11,000 divers and 20,000 non-divers collected over 252,000kgs of rubbish!

As you may know, coral reefs are home to approximately 25% of marine species. They are the rainforests of the sea. In 2001, the 'Protect the Living Reef' campaign was launched by Project AWARE which included public announcements. The AWARE Coral Reef Conservation course was launched along with the first publication of 'A.W.A.R.E. Our Water, Our World' manual. The current version of this manual can now be downloaded for free from the Project AWARE website.

As the news of coral reef decline, coral bleaching and over-fishing effects have begun to hit the headlines and popular television programmes (even celebrity chefs are getting involved), the attention and support from divers has grown even further.

In one of my previous articles I wrote about sharks and that some species are seriously threatened by over-fishing and the barbaric practice of shark finning.

In 2002 Project AWARE launched the Whale Shark Project as part of the 'Protect a Shark' campaign. To try and effect the changes needed in fisheries management, Project AWARE joined forces with the Shark Alliance and in 2008 became part of the Steering Committee.
Suunto
Over the past few months Project AWARE has collected over 40,000 signatures with the 'Help Give Sharks a Fighting Chance' petition. This petition is in protest over the failure of CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species) to restrict the trade of eight shark species (Spiny Dogfish, Porbeagle, Oceanic Whitetip, Scalloped Hammerhead, Great Hammerhead, Smooth Hammerhead, Dusky and Sandbar sharks).

Project AWARE, divers and activists worldwide are calling on CITES representatives to take the following action between now and the next Conference of the Parties in 2013:
  • Heed the available scientific evidence that shows limiting catches protects sharks
  • Fully protect shark species listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature
  • Set precautionary shark fishing limits (where no advice exists)
  • Ensure all sharks are landed with their fins attached
  • Work with ther countries to prepare and promote shark listing proposals for the next CITES conference
  • Improve shark trade data collection by taking national action to list all species proposed at CITES 2010 on Appendix III
If you want to know more once you have read this article, please take two minutes to go online and join thousands of divers who are helping give sharks a fighting chance. Then share the news with your friends by posting the link to your website, blog and/ or other social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter etc).
Denney Diving
With the changes in technology and the use of social media (look at what it did with the Egyptian revolution), Project AWARE is re-launching on 08/06/11 and will look to harness the new technologies to develop a new movement for the protection of our aquatic environment.

Project AWARE is looking to develop tools and a platform to help divers take simple and feasible actions that protect the ocean, no matter where you live or dive.

The new mission statement is to 'mobilise the world's divers into a global force protecting our ocean planet'. For the immediate future, there are two primary focus areas where divers are uniquely situated to have a major effect:
  • Increase the abundance of marine life (with a particular focus on sharks)
  • Support a clean and healthy ocean (zoning in on marine debris prevention)
Basically 'More Fish and Less Crap' so divers get what they want a clean, healthy and abundant ocean planet. Actually, isn't that what everyone wants? The new launch will come with a new logo and all sorts of new ways for you to interact and take part.

Henry Ford once said that, "whether you think you can, or you think you can't you're right". We must remain optimistic and believe change is possible. It's not enough just to care.
Dive Worldwide PNG
When I give talks for schools and groups of children, one quote always springs into my mind, which was made by a Senegalese Conservationist called Baba Dioum in 1968:

"In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught".

As divers we are passionate and the definition of passion is an intense emotion compelling feeling, enthusiasm, or desire for something. Use your passion as this can be infectious. Encourage your non-diving friends and family to take part in activities with you.

I would like to finish with one final thing an ancient Indian proverb:

"Treat the Earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children."
Dive Worldwide PNG

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