5 WAYS TO INTEGRATE OCEAN PROTECTION IN SCUBA DIVER TRAINING
AWARE Week is here, I'm just about to start my 7 day challenge and it’s got me thinking about creative ways we can include ocean protection in scuba diver training.
In this article, I’m going to give you 5 super easy ways to inspire your students to become ocean advocates while they're diving with you.
You know that ocean conservation is a massive passion of mine and over the years it’s become a big part of how I teach. I try to inspire my divers to care about the underwater world at every stage of their diver journey - from complete beginner through to seasoned pro, it doesn’t matter what course we’re doing, there’s always going to be an eco theme!
Let me give you some ideas that you can incorporate into your next course.
1. BE A ROLE MODEL PADI DIVE PRO
As a Dive Pro you are in the most amazing position to inspire your students to protect the ocean.
They look up to you.
To them, you’re like the guru of diving. They want to be just like you and they aspire to have the same level of diving skills as you one day.
During your Divemaster and Instructor Course, you start to learn why it’s so important to be a good role model. You’re educating the divers of the future. You take all these baby divers on an amazing adventure. You teach them skills and fill them full of knowledge off their PADI course, but it actually goes much deeper than that. It's not just about being professional and keeping them safe. It's not just about the course content that you're delivering.
Your students are in unfamiliar territory. They're actually looking to you for other, more subtle cues - things that you probably wouldn’t even think about.
Your students are looking at you and clocking….
- What gear you use - they might be thinking about buying some gear but don't know where to start. They'll see what you're wearing and think "well if my instructor is using it then it must be good!" Think about it - how much gear have you sold to your students just because you're wearing it?! (Hello commission! haha)
- What clothes you wear - I instantly bought one of those black and white Egyptian scarfs after my first boat dive because my instructor had one and it looked really useful and warm!
- How to act at dive sites
- How to interact with other divers
- How to behave underwater...
- The list goes on and on
When you know that your divers are watching you, you realise that you're in an amazing position to transform your students into eco divers just by the way you behave. If you demonstrate that ocean protection is important to you, your students will pick up on it and copy what you do.
Having good buoyancy is an obvious place to start. This is a fundamental skill we can use to protect the ocean. When you’re in control you’re much less likely to touch the reef or kick up the bottom.
I know when I started to dive I watched my instructor in awe. His buoyancy was amazing compared to mine and I wanted to be as good as him. Having good buoyancy is obviously a skill that all divers will want, but you can really emphasise that by using this skill, your divers can actively protect the ocean. All you need to do is drop in some little educational nuggets here and there, reminding them to do their best not to touch anything underwater and why it’s so important.
If you’ve seen my Neutral Buoyancy Series, you might agree with me that teaching neutrally buoyant is the future of diving education. There’s loads of practical advice to help you teach neutrally buoyant in those videos if you want to have a look at it and if you really want to double down and make sure your students understand how important buoyancy is, you might want to go down that route.
Being a good role model to inspire ocean protection will also extend to more than just having good buoyancy. It just takes simple things like using a reusable water bottle, using reef-safe sunscreen, making sure you pick up rubbish at the dive site. It won’t go unnoticed and your students will copy you, the pro, because you’re setting the standard for how divers should act.
2. GO GREEN FINS AND ADOPT AN ENVIRONMENTAL CODE OF CONDUCT INTO YOUR TEACHING
Green Fins is an initiative that protects and conserves coral reefs by setting a code of conduct for divers and snorkellers to follow.
The idea is that dive pros promote these guidelines as part of their briefings, encouraging their guests to follow the rules and gently educating them so they understand why it’s so important if needed.
It is sooo easy to incorporate this stuff into your own briefings - to be honest, you probably already do. It’s things like don’t touch, don’t take, don't feed the fish. I don’t know about you, but that’s like a mantra that trips off my tongue every time anyway.
But there’s also some extra things that you might not have thought about including. Things like making sure litter doesn’t blow into the water or reporting environmental violations.
You can see the full code of conduct on the Green Fins website so you can start including more environmental information into your dive briefings and focus on ocean protection in scuba diver training.
Green Fins have even written a free course that dive guides can take that teaches you how to positively influence your divers and encourage them to follow the code of conduct. They recently launched a course that’s aimed at the divers themselves too, so you could even point your most eco-conscious divers to that.
If you want to go full hog with Green Fins, your dive centre can apply to become a member. This means that you agree to follow the code of conduct and will undergo specialised training and annual assessments to help your business up their game in ocean protection.
The only catch is that you have to be in one of their member countries. If you’re in South East Asia, Egypt, the Maldives and a few other places you’re good to go! There’s a list of everywhere on their website.
If like me and your country isn’t on the list, it doesn’t mean that you can’t support Green Fins. We still follow the code of conduct, we just can’t get formally assessed.
If we ever get the opportunity to become full members, I will jump at the chance! James and I went through that whole process when we worked in Malaysia and it was brilliant. We learnt so much - and not just about how to encourage divers to be responsible in the water. We learnt a lot about sustainability in the business in general. The assessors look at the business as a whole - how you use things like energy, water, cleaning products... all the way through to shadowing you on diving and snorkelling trips to offer suggestions for improvement.
I think the coolest thing about Green Fins is that all members are entered into a league table based on their scores. This means that divers can use Green Fins to find the most eco-friendly centres in the world and there's friendly competition in the industry to be the best! I’m proud to say that our dive centre in Malaysia held the top spot while James and I were managing it. There are so many cool dive centres that are striving to do everything they can to protect the ocean and they deserve to be highlighted.
3. GO 100% AWARE BY COMMITTING TO DONATE TO OCEAN PROTECTION
If you are an eco-minded PADI pro or dive centre, you might want to get involved with the PADI AWARE Foundation (formerly Project AWARE).
I’ve been following AWARE for the majority of my diving career and got more involved when ocean protection started becoming my thang.
I follow a lot of ocean-related charities but unlike most of the others, I really click with AWARE. I think it’s because there’s not daily emails in my inbox asking for money. I think they get that I’m a skint scuba instructor haha!
What I also really like is that they’re always there to help. The PADI AWARE Foundation is just a very small team scattered around the globe, but if you need their help or you have a fundraising idea - they will jump on board straight away.
You can become 100% AWARE as an individual PADI Pro or as a dive centre. Being 100% AWARE means that you make a donation on behalf of your students for every certification you process. In return, your students receive one of the limited edition AWARE designs on their e-card, your dive centre is listed as an AWARE partner in the dive centre locator and you know that your donations are going directly into projects that protect the ocean.
The setup of the 100% AWARE Partnership changed recently. Previously you’d be invoiced monthly based on your processed certs - you’d pay £10.00 (or $10.00) per certification. Now there’s different tiers of membership based on how many certifications you process annually. You can see more about what I mean on their website.
Have a look at it, see what you think.
From a business point of view, you might think that it’s a pretty big commitment - especially if you’re just a little dive centre or an instructor certifying just a few students each month.
As always, I’m going to drag my discussions back to the price of your courses.
You can absorb the cost of your donations into the price of your courses. Build it in and shout about it from the rooftops. If your prospective customers know that they are directly protecting the ocean by learning to dive with you, that might be the deciding factor that makes them choose your dive centre over the one down the road.
I just renewed our partnership the other day and we went with Tier 3 because we believe in this charity and want to support it as much as we can.
4. CREATE AMAZING ECO COURSES WITH BOLT ONS
There are a whole host of environmentally-themed courses that you can bolt onto your core courses. All you need to do is think outside the box with it. There’s sooo many courses to choose from:
- Dive Against Debris
- Coral Reef Conservation
- Shark Awareness
- Fish ID
- Underwater Naturalist
- The AWARE Specialty Course
- Peak Performance Buoyancy
- not to mention the endless distinctive courses you could write for marine life or issues in your particular area.
Essentially what you’re doing with these bolt-ons is creating packages.
There’s two ways you can look at this - the first is from your customers perspective, the second is from a business perspective.
For your customers, you’re making packages that they will absolutely love - especially if they’re already interested in conservation. Not only are they going to learn to dive, but they’re also going to learn extra stuff about the ocean, how to look after it and why it’s so important that they care. That’s great value for money and it will attract a certain type of customer to your business.
You might be sitting there thinking, "my typical customer doesn’t really care about this kind of stuff". Well, they might not care about it now, but I bet they will by the end of their training once they’ve learnt more about it!
I don’t think including ocean protection in scuba diver training is going to put any customers off... Unless the centre down the road offers a package that includes lobster hunting or spearfishing and that's all the diver wants to do when they're underwater. To be honest, if you truly care about ocean protection then this probably isn’t your ideal customer anyway, so let them go and concentrate on the customers who share your values.
The other way of looking at packages is from a business point of view. We all know that dive centres can get caught in a race to the bottom when they feel they’re competing on price with their neighbours. One way to break free from this is by offering packages - it makes you completely different to the dive centres down the road and now you can’t be compared on price.
If you offer a standard PADI Open Water Course, and its the same as the centre next door (the same 5 confined sessions, 4 dives, equipment rental etc), your potential customers will compare you side by side. The only thing that will be different, the only thing they can base their choice on is the price.
But as soon as you start making packages, now what you offer is completely different to anyone else in your area, they can’t directly compare you anymore and you can charge a price that reflects what the customer will receive. Now they have to decide if they’ll go for the billy basic cheap course down the road, or your juicy package that gives more bang for their buck.
In my experience, there will always be some customers who are on a budget and will always go for the cheapest option, but that's just a fraction of the pot of divers who are looking for training. If you can create packages that attract your ideal customer, you are onto a winner for sure and business will start booming. If your ideal customer is a diver who cares about conservation, then including ocean protection in scuba diver training is a no brainer!
To get your creative juices flowing, here's how we do it at The Fifth Point. All of our core courses have an environmental theme:
- Open Water Courses are packaged with the AWARE Speciality course so that students learn how important it is to use their new skills to protect the ocean.
- All our Advanced Courses include the Dive Against Debris specialty course so that our divers who have a little bit more experience can start to get involved with our survey dives.
- We even organise themed Advanced Course weekends
- Our Grey Seal Experience Weekend takes our students to the Farne Islands where they can dive with the seals during their course and we teach them how to interact responsibly.
- Our Marine Biology Experience Weekend includes the Fish ID specialty and beach cleans around the beautiful St Abbs Marine Reserve.
I’ve not seen any UK dive centres offer anything similar therefore we can’t be compared on price. Yes, our prices are more expensive than those offering a basic stand alone course, but the value for money in the packages is crazy - especially to divers who hold ocean protection close to their hearts.
Remember people don’t necessarily go for the cheapest price - they go for the one that is the best value.
5. HOST ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVITIES FOR YOUR ECO DIVERS
The final way that you can include ocean protection in scuba diver training is to host some environmental activities. This could be a bolt-on, something you include in a package (like our beach cleans in the marine biology advanced course) but it also works well as another general activity you offer to your divers.
In a domestic market, like what I’m working in now, it’s another way to get our little community of divers together socially and they get to do something they feel proud of in the process. They work hard to protect the local coastline where they dive every weekend. They feel like they’re giving something back.
When I worked in a holiday destination, an environmental activity was often the icing on the cake to someone’s trip. Especially when they got the chance to get involved in an underwater clean up or a coral restoration project - that was really special. A lot of the time, people would schedule their holidays around stuff that we had going on to make sure they could take part.
So, what kind of activities can you host? I’ll see if I can spark some ideas in your head…
- Beach cleans are a really popular one. You do have to invest in a little bit of gear to help you (like gloves and bags and stuff) but it’s not a massive investment. If you’re in the UK you can also get involved with organisations like Surfers Against Sewage who have regional reps all over the country with equipment to borrow.
- If you want to go a little bit more niche than a general beach clean, why not do a nurdle hunt? This is one of my favourites and needs way less equipment. It also helps to highlight the issues we’re facing with microplastics. A lot of first time nurdle hunters will be shocked when they realise the extent of the problem. You can find more information on the Great Nurdle Hunt website.
- If you want to do something underwater, then set up a Dive Against Debris survey. Your divers remove all the trash they find during their dive and then sort through and report the data to the PADI AWARE Foundation. If there’s some sites that you visit regularly then you could even adopt them - pledging to complete at least one survey a month at that location.
- Host a film night at the centre. There’s loads of free eco-related documentaries and films on YouTube - you can get Chasing Coral on there. Plus, if you’ve got a Netflix account there’s things you can screen in the dive centre that’s covered by their Grant of Permission for Educational Screenings. Right now My Octopus Teacher is available.
- Organise a charity fundraiser - the list of things you can do with this are endless! And like I mentioned before, if you want to raise money for the PADI AWARE Foundation, they’ve got loads of resources on their website to help. You can even get cheap tickets for tough mudders and events like that.
So there you have it - 5 ways to incorporate ocean protection into your scuba diver training. I hope it’s helped!
If you want to see it in action and get even more ideas then you might be interested in my AWARE Week 7 Day Challenge that’s starting on the 18th September.
Every day I set a new task for participants to complete and over the week they develop as an eco diver. We’ll look at everything from improving buoyancy, picking up litter to reducing carbon footprints!
See you in there?