When it comes to marine life interactions, there are clear do’s and don’ts. Divers learn in their very first scuba class not damage, touch or harass underwater life, yet some choose to treat the underwater world like a petting zoo. In light of recent events, we wanted to review some important guidelines for marine life encounters.

DON’T: Ride, Touch or Stand On Marine Life
The ocean is not a dude ranch. Whale sharks, turtles and other pelagics aren’t domesticated animals, they are sensitive creatures that can be easily injured.

Diving bucket list, Whale shark

DO: Keep off the Bottom
Avoid stepping on stingrays and other fragile marine life by keeping off the bottom. Mind your fin kicks to avoid disturbing animals, stirring up silt and annoying other divers.

DON’T: Chase Animals
There’s one thing nearly every topside or underwater creature has in common: they run away when chased. If a turtle, fish, octopus, or other critter is frightened, simply back off, lie low and be still. If the animal is curious enough, it might come out of hiding.

Chasing the animal is a good way to ensure you’ll never see it again. The best way to get close to marine life is to learn about its behavior and/or dive a rebreather.

DO: Keep Your Hands to Yourself
Don’t agitate puffer or porcupine fish to make them puff. It’s hard on their internal systems and repeated puffs can significantly shorten the life of these animals. Would you like it if someone poked you in the stomach until you vomited?

Avoid touching coral whenever possible and be careful when finning near a reef. Some corals grow only .07 inches (2 cm) or less per year. An accidental kick or pinched off branch can destroy 50-100 years of growth in an instant.

Even the most heartless divers with no interest in the well-being of underwater life should keep their hands to themselves for one very important reason: the well-camouflaged, extremely poisonous stonefish.

DO: Take Only Photos (or Trash), Leave Only Bubbles
Remove and report any debris you find underwater. It’s easier than ever with the free Project AWARE® Dive Against Debris app. Help conservationists and scientists pinpoint problem areas and advocate for positive change.

DON’T: Feed the Fish
A juvenile whale shark eats 46 lbs (20 kg) of plankton per day, and certain nudibranchs can eat fire coral, but neither of these diets would be good for a human. Just as it’s a bad idea for humans to eat fish food, it’s a bad idea for fish to eat human food.

DO: Choose a Responsible Dive Operator
Seek out dive operators and destinations that protect local marine life. At Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, there is code of conduct for interacting with whale sharks. Swimmers must stay 10 feet (3 meters) away from the head of the whale shark, and 13 feet (4 meters) away from the tail-end. Touching, flash photography and motorized propulsion (such as DPVs) are prohibited.

Money talks! If, while doing research for your next dive holiday, you find an operator who posts images of divers/swimmers handling animals, tell them they will not receive your business because of their disrespectful practices.

DON’T: Block the Exits
Cleaning stations are a great place to observe marine life. When everyone dives responsibly, it’s a great opportunity to take photos

Unfortunately, when divers block cleaning station entry and exit points, the animals will go elsewhere. If you don’t have a divemaster to guide you to an observation point, stay back until you can see where marine life choose to swim in and out. Then, position yourself clear of those areas.

DO: Be a Voice for the Ocean
If you observe another diver acting carelessly, remind them of their responsibility to be an underwater steward. Use some of the statistics and information in this article to educate them about their bad behavior. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to the diver about their actions, bring it up with the divemaster or group leader.

DO: Take the Pledge and Share the Tips
NOAA’s Ocean Etiquette page states:

Each time someone visits the marine environment, they have the wonderful opportunity to encounter wildlife. However, the unfortunate potential to harm our marine life and resources exists with every visit.

Take the pledge to follow Project AWARE’s Diver Code of Conduct and share their 10 Tips for Divers to Protect the Ocean Planet.


In addition to following the guidelines above, we encourage every diver to support the conservation efforts of Project AWARE. Make a donation, get a Project AWARE certification card, or participate in an AWARE Week event 15-23 Sep.

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