This week’s “Ocean Defender”, David McCann, is an Environmental Officer and Divemaster for Scuba Junkie, the award-winning dive operator based in Sabah, Malaysia. He and his partner help run the S.E.A.S. conservation arm of Scuba Junkie, with projects such as tackling marine debris, shark conservation and turtle conservation, as well as local and international conservation outreach programmes. UW360 caught up with David for a quick Q&A:

Shark Week 2015 - Christian Loader - Scubazoo-36What got you into marine biology?
I have always loved wildlife and the natural world – Sir David Attenborough got me hooked at an early age. His documentaries made me fall in love with the natural environment and his passion for the subject was contagious, I just wanted to find out more and more. I decided to study marine biology the moment I found out that that the oceans cover 71% of our planet, and we know so little about them.

I was fascinated by the diversity of marine environments and the diversity of marine life, but what really struck a chord was when I realised how many threats the marine environment faced, and the bleak future ahead for many of the environments and species that fascinated me. I didn’t want to just sit back and study – I wanted to step forward and do something to stop the destruction.

What’s the hardest thing/best thing about your job?
The hardest thing is knowing all the problems the marine environment faces, and seeing so many of the problems firsthand.

There’s a sense of groundhog day in doing beach and reef cleans sometimes. It’s great to see the positive impact we can have in collecting say, 40 bags of rubbish in one day. But then going past that beach the next day… And it looks like the clean could be done all over again… That’s frustrating. But you have to keep going, because I’m a believer in what ever little action people can do will make a positive difference. You have to remember that there’s 40 bags less in the oceans because of the clean you did the day before – that’s important.

Thankfully, I’m working at one of the most supportive and forward-thinking, conservation-minded dive operators in Asia, if not in the world. I can not over emphasise how much I admire the owners of Scuba Junkie in their dedication to run a conservation arm (Scuba Junkie S.E.A.S.) , as well as being an ethical and environmentally friendly dive operator. We are able to take action in several key areas of marine conservation – I feel like it all adds up and a real, ongoing positive difference is made.

Plus – I get to dive and live in one of the most amazing places on the planet! When I was younger, Borneo was a mystical land of amazing wildlife, seen on television. I still have to pinch myself to remind myself that this is where I actually live now! I get to meet amazing people – both local and international, and share this passion for the marine environment with these like-minded people. And I get to spread the message through S.E.A.S.’s outreach programmes about marine conservation and how individual action can make a positive difference.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen/discovered while on the job?
You name it – we’ve seen it here. I’ve seen Rhinopias, sperm whales, schooling hammerheads, mating blue ring octopuses, sea turtle orgies, schooling devil rays… I’ve helped release thousands of turtle hatchlings. I’m living the dream!

But if you want something crazy, I once witnessed a wedding on Barracuda Point at Pulau Sipadan, where the bride was dressed as a mermaid and her partner was wearing a full suit while diving. 

What do you hope to achieve through your work?
I hope to encourage individuals to make small lifestyle changes that will have a positive effect for our oceans – whether saying “no” to unsustainable seafood or plastic straws, or saying “yes” to helping us clean a beach.

But more than anything, we hope to encourage the dive industry as a whole to realise their responsibility and role in marine conservation.

As a dive professional, I am fortunate to experience the joy and beauty of the underwater world, and have a career doing something I love. I strongly believe that with this joy comes a responsibility to protect and conserve. It is a win-win situation, as a dive operator’s business relies on a healthy ecosystem. Dive operators are also in the unique position of being able to reach hundreds, if not thousands of people – both tourists and locals – to promote and effect marine conservation.

We would also like to ensure that the tropical coral reef ecosystem in this area flourishes and is kept from further degradation, and used in a sustainable manner that not just protects the ecosystem, but also helps to protect the livelihoods of the local communities here who rely on the ocean for sustenance and survival.

David diving at Sipadan, Malaysia

David diving at Sipadan, Malaysia

Who is your marine biology role model?
He’s not a marine biologist, but, again, I would have to say Sir David Attenborough. I am sure he has inspired many people along a similar path to mine. He is my role model as his passion for the natural life on this planet shines through, as does his concern for its future – he makes people think twice.

What do you think lies ahead for marine ecosystems?
If humanity continues along its current path, then the future does not look too good for our oceans. It can be seen as a gloomy outlook – there are so many threats, and a lot of people are not aware of the issues, or are unable to do anything about it. As gloomy as it can appear, we must be positive and keep working. If we just focus on the negatives, nothing will change.

What lies ahead is up to us. The future can be as bright as we choose to make it. If we make people more aware of the importance of our oceans, and encourage them to adopt small behavioural changes, together we can all make a difference. I believe that divers are a strong voice for ocean conservation, and I see more and more positive action being taken by divers – either by spreading awareness of marine issues, or by small local actions such as reef cleans.

What can the average person do to help protect life in the oceans?
There are so many things individual people can do. For divers, dive with responsible operators and dive in a responsible manner – take only photos, leave only bubbles. Don’t eat unsustainable seafood, and cut down on your use of plastics. Help in a beach clean or do a Dive Against Debris on your next dive holiday.

Learn more about our oceans and the threats they face and spread the word…