I can still vividly recall my first ever dive. Never before had I seen such a palette of vibrant colours, such intricate and beautiful forms, and such a diversity of life in one small area. Its beauty and complexity struck me at once, a harmonious symphony for the eyes.
My first encounter with a coral reef was far from unique. These magical underwater citadels, living beings in their own right, draw many to dive, capturing their imagination along with a little piece of their heart at the same time.
There is no doubt however that the coral reefs many of us have come to treasure are under threat. The effects of climate change and human activity are taking a toll. As we hurtle headlong towards a new and warmer world, the future of coral reefs hangs in the balance.
So what does this mean for the future of scuba diving? If coral reefs decline, does this unique sport - a life-affirming passion for millions the world over - lose some of its allure and importance? As a passionate diver who arranges countless diving adventures for clients of Dive Worldwide, I believe quite the opposite is true.
When something is rare, it is invariably sought after. As world-class coral reefs become less in number, those that remain pristine, such as the outstanding reefs of Raja Ampat in Indonesia, or those of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, increase their appeal. With that increased attention comes an even greater need to ensure their continued protection, balancing the wishes of scuba divers – and the benefit that brings in terms of increased awareness – with the needs of locals, scientists and, most importantly, the reefs themselves.
What’s more, the attraction of diving, of delving into the unknown, goes far beyond the beauty of a tropical reef. To simply experience being underwater is often over-whelming, bringing a freedom and focus that pushes our everyday lives to the periphery. In an ever more frantic and fast-paced world, the value of such an experience is immeasurable, allowing a rare opportunity to recalibrate and find fresh perspective.
The very act of scuba diving, meanwhile, opens the door to another world full of new possibilities. Wreck diving is one such example. Our coasts are dotted with historic shipwrecks and their popularity amongst divers continues to rise, attracting people from all walks of life. A shipwreck is a window into the past, each one telling its own fascinating and often dramatic tale; a thread of human history seemingly lost, yet preserved for those that find their resting place.
At the same time, the demise of these once great vessels allows nature the opportunity to start anew, acting as a safe haven in which life can take hold and flourish. In doing so, wrecks provide relief for local coral reefs under pressure, allowing them time and space to recover. Innovative man-made dive sites such as the sculpture parks in Grenada, Cancun and Thailand serve the very same purpose and are hugely popular, especially with newer divers.
Encounters with the largest and most impressive inhabitants of our oceans will always set our hearts beating apace, drawing us with magnetic force to those special places where our worlds may meet for a fleeting moment. Sharing the water with a gentle whale shark, the largest fish in our oceans, or watching the elegant dance of a manta ray are experiences that few will ever forget.
And it is not just the giants of our oceans that continue to fascinate us. From rare and enigmatic octopi to tiny pygmy seahorses smaller than a fingernail, the diversity of our oceans knows almost no bounds. The closer we look, the more we find, with surprising new discoveries around every corner. Recent years have seen a boom in both muck diving - hunting for weird, wonderful and often beautifully camouflaged marine life - and underwater photography, which is now more accessible and popular than ever.
As advances in technology allow us to capture and enjoy this strange yet beautiful world in ever greater detail, there is every indication that more and more people will be inspired to discover and record the secrets of our oceans for themselves. The allure of diving beneath the oceans’ blue veneer remains as strong as ever. It is a desire to explore an intrinsic part of our existence.
Outstanding experiences exist in every sea and ocean. From diving between continents in Iceland to swimming with calving humpback whales in the Pacific; South Africa’s epic Sardine Run to the magical world of Indonesia’s Lembeh Straits, nature continues to have a capacity to astound us.
Those that share a passion for diving must come together to be a voice for this silent world below, driving efforts to conserve and protect one of our most precious resources and inspiring a new generation to care deeply about our oceans, our coral reefs, and the diversity of life they support.
Our oceans need to be heard, appreciated and understood. Scuba divers will always tell their story.