Sustainable Diving

By Julius
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Scuba divers around underwater rock

Scuba diving is an incredible sport and will help you develop a deeper appreciation of your environment.

However, although divers are taught in their diving courses to care for and protect the underwater world there is no denying that the environmental impact is large.

Dive travel is among the worst offenders, and although it generates an estimated global total of around $36billion in revenue each year, especially for smaller countries, it has become increasingly harmful to the environment.

In this article, we will look at the environmental impact of scuba diving, sustainable diving practices, the carbon footprint of dive travel, and measures we can take to create more awareness.

Is scuba diving bad for the environment?

The scuba diving industry, as well as travel-related services can have a negative impact on the environment and actively increase carbon footprint and emissions. On the other hand, eco-tourism, dive site clean-ups, and environmental campaigns spread awareness on the marine environment.

The reason this question cannot be answered in just one way is due to the many different ways and locations we can dive at.

Let’s look at some things in scuba diving that are potentially bad for the environment:

Long-distance Travel

Travel is the number one cause of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions in scuba diving. Plane rides, boat cruises, and other means of transportation have a large negative impact on the environment.

The aviation industry alone is estimated to contribute 2.5% of global CO2 emissions in 2024.

Reef Destruction

Divers touching marine animals, plowing through the reef, and breaking off corrals are sad but common sights around the world.

Although other activities such as yachting and cruise liners have a larger impact overall, it is important to acknowledge just how much scuba diving contributes to this.

Scuba divers swimming over colorful reef
Reefs like this are becoming rarer.

It is estimated that about 88% of all divers make harmful contact with reefs on any dive at least once.

The destruction caused has had a toll on many reefs at high-frequented dive sites.

Coral bleaching

Environmental changes in temperature, light, or nutrients cause stress to corals. As a consequence, they expel the symbiotic alge living in them and turn completely white.

This is called coral bleaching and is hard-breaking to witness, as formerly colorful reefs turn dull.

Bleached coral colony
A bleached coral colony.

While scuba diving is not a major cause of this, changes in ocean temperature and other human-caused damages are directly responsible for many coral bleachings.

Boat Pollution

Boats are among the worst offenders in regard to environmental damage and cause pollution through oil, gas, and other contaminants that are released into the water.

This pollution affects reefs, animals, and the water quality of our oceans.

In addition, the noise pollution from boat motors, as well as the damages from mooring and anchoring must be mentioned here.


Divers leave a lot of trash around which adds to the pollution of the environment. Plastic is among the worst offenders here.

Piles of garbage on beach
Plastic pollution is among the biggest problems for the environment.

Environmental disturbance

Divers love to explore, however, some sites should be left out like nature reserves, and animal mating and birthplaces.

Why is eco-friendly diving important?

Our planet is suffering from increased carbon emissions, rising sea levels, growing pollution of our oceans, and destruction of our reefs from human travel. By focusing on eco-friendly scuba diving we can do our part to conserve nature and the environment and ensure we can still enjoy the underwater world in years to come.

Here are a few more benefits of becoming a sustainable diver:

  • More intact coral reefs
  • Less trash at dive sites
  • Greater marine life diversity
  • More pelagic animals to see
  • Decreased pollution underwater leads to better diving conditions
  • Ease of mind
Lord Howe Island in Australia
The more sustainable we dive, the longer we can enjoy our oceans.

How to be a Sustainable Diver

As sustainable divers, we make sure to reduce our carbon footprint, trash generation, and other harmful environmental impacts from our diving activities. This includes using only sustainable products, reducing travel-related emissions, cleaning up dive sites, and actively participating in environmental campaigns.

Here are some best practices for sustainable diving that we should all follow:

  1. No touching underwater
  2. Improve your buoyancy
  3. Dive locally
  4. Collect trash underwater
  5. Spread awareness among friends & family
  6. Participate in beach clean-ups & marine conversation
  7. Reduce travel emissions
  8. Dive with eco-friendly diving operators
  9. Don’t dive in nature reserves or spawning grounds
  10. Be careful with boats on coral reefs
  11. Use reef-safe products
  12. Eat fish responsibly

1 No touching underwater

Don’t touch anything underwater, and don’t step on corals. Leave critters and anything you find right in its place and try to dive with as little physical interaction with your environment as possible.

Extra tip: Avoid gloves when possible to not be tempted to touch anything around you!

2 Improve your buoyancy

Better buoyancy means less bumping into things underwater or disturbing the sea floor.

Extra tip: A good BCD will help you achieve better buoyancy!

3 Dive Locally

Diving locally and from shore means reducing long-distance travel, and emissions.

Drysuit diver in lake
Local diving has a lot to offer!

Extra tip: Join a diving club or online group to find a buddy!

4 Collect Trash underwater

Collect plastic and other trash you find on every dive. I like to put small stuff I find in my BCD pockets and use a line cutter to remove fishing nets trapping fish underwater. features a large map of trash collections underwater that you can check out, as well as many additional resources.

Trash floating underwater
Collect plastic trash on every dive!

Extra tip: Do not remove glass bottles and metal pieces that are inhabited by small critters or corals. They have become part of the reef and should remain there!

5 Spread awareness among friends & family

It begins with all of us individually. To spread awareness for environmental change, tell your friends and family about it and show them what they can do.

Extra tip: Link them to this page to inform themselves about spreading awareness!

6 Participate in beach clean-ups & marine conversation

Organize or participate in beach cleanups at your local beaches and dive sites, or wherever you dive abroad. Additionally, join marine conversation groups to help the cause!

There are many marine conversation organizations in the world, and some of the biggest are PADI’s Project Aware, the International World Wildlife Foundation, and NOAA.

People cleaning up beach
Environmental groups often organize beach clean ups.

Extra tip: Set up a trash bag for every diving day to collect everything you throw away. Be careful opening small plastic wrappers, as they like to get dragged away from the wind.

7 Reduce travel emissions

Although diving locally is even better for the environment, it is also important to keep traveling to explore our world.

Traveling by plane or on a cruise ship has a large carbon footprint. Do you need to take a plane or would a train or shared car get you to your destination instead?

Is an all-inclusive resort necessary (which produces a lot of waste) or can you get by with a cheaper divers camp?

When booking your dive travel, also pay attention to the next point on this list!

Extra tip: Reducing travel emissions is often much cheaper, too. Check out more ways to save money as a diver on this site!

8 Dive with eco-friendly diving operators

When booking your liveaboard diving trip or resort, pay attention to the operator and how eco-friendly they are!

Scuba diver diving on reef and anchor
Stay away from the reef and don’t touch anything!

A 2016 study found that divers diving with such eco-friendly operators had much lower reef contact rates than the average (88%). This is also because dive guides with such resorts and boats usually pay close attention to the diving skills of their guests.

Sustainability and eco-friendliness matter to us at Social Diving. Therefore, we are working with our partner Reegy to determine the impact on the environment from our operations and lower our carbon emissions step-by-step.

Together with them, we have created a list of eco-friendly scuba diving tours that we’ll show you below.

Extra tip: Check out our liveaboard deals to find eco-friendly diving cruises!

9 Don’t dive in nature reserves or spawning grounds

Local divers should avoid nature reserves and spawning grounds when selecting their dive sites. Diving there disturbs the animals and can damage the ecosystem.

Extra tip: Research online if there are such places at your local dive sites and use dive site maps if available.

10 Be careful with boats on coral reefs

If you are a boat captain or dive on a cruise, ensure that you don’t anchor on coral reefs! This happens all the time when inexperienced or plain greedy boat operators disregard laws and regulations.

Extra tip: If you encounter this, call the local authorities or coast guard. Most countries have very strict regulations for anchoring boats on reefs.

11 Use reef-safe products

Sunscreen causes immense damage to coral reefs and most people are completely unaware of this.

Using reef-safe sunscreen and other cosmetic products helps protect our oceans and is not even expensive.

Some countries like Palau have even fully banned certain products entirely.

12 Eat fish responsibly

Fisheries and the fishing industry have a large impact on our oceans due to overfishing, bycatch, pollution, and disturbance of the sea floor.

Ghost nets alone account for about 10% of all marine debris.

Fish farm in Spain
Buy fish that was not caught with trawls and other drag nets.

Scuba Diving Eco-Tourism

Eco-tourism is a growing trend that focuses on traveling to beautiful places around the world, but in non-intrusive, environmentally harmless ways that also support the local population. Conservation and sustainability are its two main pillars and there is a rising number of operators and travel agencies developing specific eco-tourism offers.

Eco-tourism is an umbrella term similar to sustainability which encompasses all sorts of environmentally-friendly ways to travel.

Moreover, it refers to specific tours and offers by travel operators that focus directly on conserving nature.

Infinity pool near beach in the Maldives
Travel can be sustainable.

For example, you can book into a dive resort that uses clean energy or is self-sufficient (meaning it does not require outside energy sources).

When diving on a cruise, pick an operator that follows strict guidelines and regulations on conservation or uses new technologies to ensure the safety of the environment.

Last but not least, it is possible to book scuba diving eco travel directly.

A few examples of what you can do during such trips:

  • Participate in organized beach cleanups
  • Join a reef analysis project for a week
  • Do a coral count
  • Build new coral frames
  • Cartograph reef


Sustainable diving practices should be a priority for all scuba divers and travel operators.

Only if we work together we can effectively conserve the environment and prevent further coral bleaching, and destruction underwater.

If you want to book a sustainable diving trip, message us to create your personal package for you!

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Always dive with friends and happy bubbles. 😃



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About the author

Hey! I'm Julius, professional scuba instructor, diver, outdoor lover, entrepreneur and CEO and founder of Social Diving. I write about scuba diving (including tech, cave, sidemount, and freediving), travel, and love what I do. If you have any questions, send me a message. :-)

©2024 Social Diving. All rights reserved. The content presented here is the exclusive property of Social Diving and may not be copied or distributed, in whole or in part, without the express permission of Social Diving.

Social Diving is your #1 online source for scuba diving, scuba travel, water sports, learning, and having fun in and under water. We have scuba online articles, review plenty of (scuba) gear, and regularly post travel guides around the world.


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