Over 100,000 of us visit muck dive sites in the Coral Triangle and spend up to US$150 million each year. That is a substantial industry built on “just sand”. The sand itself is a habitat, an ecosystem, that should be treated with the same respect as the coral reefs they are often adjacent to. Here are some tips and tricks provided by the UN Environment’s Green Fins initiative for making sure that we are protecting these weird and wonderful critters on our next dive trip.
DO Practise good buoyancy: This is a good tip for all types of diving but it is acutely important during a muck dive. Not only do you want to make sure you’re not squashing any critters with your body, equipment or fins, but stirring up the fine sediment and reducing visibility for the whole group will make you a very unpopular dive buddy!
DO Dive in trim and frog-kick: Did you know 88 percent of divers make at least one contact with the substrate on a dive and 36 percent are unaware that they do so? Diving in the trim position and using the frog kick reduces your chances of touching the bottom and gets you better air consumption, so you can stay longer with your favourite critters.
DO Keep an eye out for seagrass: Many muck dive sites are in silty, shallow waters that overlap with seagrass beds. Seagrasses are important marine plants that serve as a carbon sequestration powerhouse and vital habitat for many fishes and invertebrates. It’s very sensitive and easily uprooted. Treat it carefully, like coral.
DON’T Touch or harass marine life: This is the most important thing you can do to ensure you aren’t having a negative impact. Several studies have shown that touching and manipulating critters results in a severe behavioural response from animals, reflecting stress. Just as it is in humans, this stress can have serious implications on their health.
DON’T Move or break coral and other substrate to get a glimpse or a shot: Cryptic creatures are hard to find and often hide or use substrate to camouflage themselves. Ask yourself if your photo or sighting is worth damaging the very parts of the ecosystem that allow that animal to exist in the first place. Wait for the next opportunity or get creative with your photos!
DON’T Kick up the sediment: Don’t be that diver with a cloud of sediment following them around – it will make you very unpopular with your fellow divers and can send critters into a tornado of sand and water. Learn how to frog-kick and move slowly, taking the time to be aware of your surroundings to avoid this.