by B. N. Sullivan
For the past few months, virtually all of our posts here on The Right Blue have focused on interesting species of marine life we have come to know. Feedback on those articles has been positive: our readers seem to enjoy learning about creatures that inhabit the sea. But we also have been nudged by a few readers to get back to writing about diving -- as in, "Enough with the critters, already. Get back to diving stories!"
Well, okay then. How about some tips for divers?
Over the course of a few decades of diving, we have learned a number of useful things that, for one reason or another, are not taught to divers in formal training courses. The first is a simple rule that usually does not occur to divers until after they have had a bad experience or two. Cover yourselves!
In colder water, divers must cover themselves in drysuits or heavy wetsuits in order to retain body heat. But we believe that divers should be completely covered even when diving in warm tropical locations. These days, there are plenty of lightweight dive suits designed specifically for use in warmer waters.
We see many, many divers here in Hawaii -- mostly (but not only) tourists -- who seem to think that because they are in the tropics, they should just wear a shortie suit. We see them jumping into the water with their arms and legs exposed. Worse yet, some wear no dive suit at all, donning their dive equipment right over their bikinis. Guess what happens? Sooner or later, they get wounded!
It is very easy to brush against something -- a rock, a coral head -- even when you are trying to be careful not to touch anything. Sometimes it happens because the diver is not paying attention. Other times there is a little surge, just at the wrong moment. In any case, sooner or later some part of your exposed anatomy will collide, however briefly, with something in the water, and you will get cut or scraped.
In addition to those kinds of bumps and scrapes, it happens that there are many critters in the water that can bite or sting. Some are very tiny -- stinging plankton so small that you cannot see them in the water column -- so you cannot take evasive actions. Other are big enough to spot -- jellyfish come to mind -- but even then, you run a risk of being stung. Just because you see the critters doesn't mean you can count on completely avoiding contact.
The best way to prevent many of these inadvertent stings and scrapes is to wear a full suit that covers you from your wrists to your ankles. Wear boots or neoprene booties inside your fins. And wear gloves.
Now, we know that many dive operators discourage or even prohibit divers from wearing gloves. We also know the reason for that: they don't want to encourage divers to pick things up or handle them, and they figure if the divers are not wearing gloves, they may be less inclined to touch things.
Fair enough, but short-sighted. There are just too many situations where the protection afforded the diver by gloves outweighs the momentary protection of the reef and its critters afforded by bare-handed divers.
We think of it like this: we're grown-ups. We know we shouldn't recklessly handle things that dwell underwater. We know that touching corals (and many other things) can damage them. We promise we won't do that -- not because our hands are bare, but because we know better.
At the same time, what happens if we are shore diving and need to grab onto rocks at our exit point? We can very easily get cuts and scrapes on our hands, that's what.
If we are diving from a boat, what happens when we need to hang onto a mooring line or an anchor chain in order to remain stationary for our safety stop? Lines and chains that have been in the water for awhile are certain to be covered with algae, hydroids, and even teeny-tiny crustaceans. If you don't believe me, just have a look at the second photo on this page -- a 1:1 macro shot of an actual mooring line, totally encrusted with an entire ecosystem of its own! Hanging onto such a line is going to disrupt some of those things anyway, regardless of whether your hands are bare or gloved. But hanging on with a bare hand will really hurt. Said teeny-tiny crustaceans will cut your hand like little razors, and if you happen to grab onto a hydroid, you will know it, believe me. They sting like a son-of-a-gun -- and you will never forget the experience!
So then, even if you don't want to wear gloves for the entire dive, do carry a pair in your pocket at all times, just in case you have to hold or grab onto something for your own safety.
Dive like grown-ups. Cover yourselves completely to protect yourselves from scrapes and stings; but at the same time, do keep in mind that being covered (and thus protected) does not excuse you from responsibility for avoiding physical contact with the reef and the creatures that call it home.