When you go diving, you don’t expect to swim past a washing machine, a mattress or a dead goat. Yet all of these rather unsavoury things have been found by Al Boom’s divers off the coast of Dubai, so they’ve decided to do something about it. This week, you can join the crew on one of their regular eco-dives, taking place on November 27 in Fujairah. These Project Aware dives take place at various sites around the UAE, from right on our doorstep in Dubai to as far afield as Oman, where you’ll help to sweep up the trash that ends up in our precious sea.
So why do we need to clean up our ocean? ‘Plastic bags take a long time to decompose. Marine turtles may confuse them with jellyfish (their favourite food) and eat them, which causes them to suffocate,’ says Ibrahim Al-Zu’bi, executive director of Emirates Diving Association, an organisation set up by HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nehyan that focuses on promoting diving and conservation in the region.
That’s not the only danger caused by litter in the sea. Rubbish easily damages coral, which is home to the highest concentration of marine life in the ocean. What’s more, rubbish found in particular coastal regions of the UAE will not only affect the fish in that area, but will have a knock-on effect around the world. ‘The marine ecosystem starts from the plankton all the way up to the big fish,’ says Ibrahim. ‘If we lose something in this chain, the whole cycle will collapse.’
Al Boom dive course director Francis Uy agrees. ‘Reefs are the breeding grounds and nurseries for juvenile marine life, meaning that damage to the reefs has a huge negative impact on the ocean’s ecosystem. Most litter underwater has washed off the beach, or has been thrown from ships and boats.’ ‘We need to stop littering and treat the sea and nature as our home,’ urges Ibrahim. ‘Whatever we throw in there will come back to us in one way or another.’
Divers can act as an environmental early-warning system to spot litter in the ocean. Conservation dives give them the chance to collect debris, do reef checks and aid in crucial projects and monitoring, as well as looking at the marine life. This then enables experts to assess how healthy the marine ecosystem is.
Steve Wood, a keen diver and PADI instructor, says it’s important that divers look after the under-sea environment and support eco initiatives such as Project Aware. ‘I always encourage divers to bring one piece of rubbish back from every dive they do,’ he explains. ‘If every diver did this, we would remove millions of pieces of rubbish from our oceans every year. We are custodians of the oceans for future generations – we must look after them.’
Al Boom’s conservation divers come from all walks of life and all levels of experience, yet all have fun while doing something worthwhile. ‘I believe that divers are natural ambassadors for the underwater world. They help to raise awareness,’ says PADI course director Mohamed Helmy at Al Boom.
‘We do find some strange items, though’ says Francis. He analyses the ‘data’ (aka junk) found by divers, then separates it, reuses and recycles it where possible, explaining that he feels an accomplishment from finding things and disposing of them in the proper way. ‘We get lots of bottles and car tyres, but mostly it’s just plain old garbage that someone could easily have thrown away in trash.’
‘We only have one planet, and it is everyone’s responsibility to preserve it for the sake of all species and for future generations,’ say Dubai-based lawyer and keen diver Claire Barker. ‘Once we lose certain ecosystems and species, they will be gone forever. The health of the entire planet relies on the health of the oceans, so this is a vital area to protect.’