Simply put, Conservation is the protection and preservation of the environment to ensure that resources are used sustainably rather than wasted. And conservation seems to be pretty huge at the moment. We can’t drink our morning coffee or scroll through social media without coming face to face with a multitude of conservation issues and conservationists worldwide. Unfortunately, environmental and economic needs have long been in direct opposition to and in competition with one another, to the point where anything to do with ‘conservation’ is often overlooked as a ‘fad’, ‘sensationalist’, ‘confrontational’ and/or a distortion or exaggeration of the facts.

So there are many that just keep on scrolling until something more interesting, less-emotionally loaded and guilt-inducing comes up. Because our gut reaction is that conservation IS the right thing to do, but the guilt of not doing anything, not doing enough, not knowing what to do or where to start is innately uncomfortable. It tells us that we’ve done or contributed to something that ultimately doesn’t sit well with us. Guilt becomes a mirror people are afraid to look into because of what they might see. So perhaps there are some who can scroll on guilt-free, confident that they already do everything they possibly can to help support conservation. Perhaps there are those who believe conservation efforts, or a lack of won’t affect or apply to them, and so they scroll on. And perhaps there are those who believe it’s somebody else’s responsibility to find and implement solutions. And perhaps there are those who just feel too guilty to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth. 

Because the truth is that we all live on this planet, and so we have an irrefutable collective responsibility to do something, and ultimately as much as we possibly can, to help protect our life-support system. The most compelling argument for conservation is actually not aesthetics, economics or history. In fact, it’s plain old self-interest. The environment lies at the foundation of our human existence. The environment provides us with food, water, air, and natural resources – the basic necessities of life. And the environment and the ecosystems (a community of living and non-living organisms) within it are way more fragile than we imagine. Elimination of one element leads to a devastating mechanical ‘domino’ effect on the rest of the system. The more we unravel the basic ecological balance (the way that living and non-living organisms interact in their physical environment) of the planet, the greater the danger. And a world that can’t support plants or animals either above or below the surface won’t be able to support humans for much longer either. “Knowing is the key to caring, and with caring there is hope that people will be motivated to take positive actions.” Dr Sylvia Earle.

A mountain landscape showing various ecosystems co-existing together
An Example of Coexistence on Earth

So actually, we all need to care and we all need to do something to ensure a future for our generation. It’s that simple. And we don’t need to feel guilty, because, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. And together, we can change the world.” Roland J. Sider. There are many scuba divers who aren’t in to conservation, and that’s totally fine. But we build our lives and our careers in, around and on the ocean. How can we enjoy diving and take our students diving if all the corals eventually bleach and die out, along with the marine life that depends on them? There’s a missing link here – we need to start caring and start doing something about conservation whether you’re into it, or not.

A turtle on a shallow tropical coral reef with lots of fish
A Thriving Tropical Coral Reef Ecosystem

One of our PADI Pros, Mollie Jakubowski has successfully written a new PADI Distinctive Specialty Course. Something that covers one element of ocean conservation, but that highlights many other important threats to the biodiversity of the coral reef ecosystem. Join us to celebrate Mollie’s success and enjoy her story!

Why Crown of Thorns Conservation?

Before I completed my PADI Open Water Course, I knew I wanted to be involved in conservation, specifically marine conservation. I have a love for all living creatures, but a special place in my heart for the ocean. I grew up near cornfields, in a city midwest of the US and I was 5 years old when I first saw the ocean. But I hated the salt water and was terrified of something so vast and endless, full of unfamiliar and potentially dangerous creatures.

As I grew up, I wanted to travel and explore. Travelling has completely changed me and how I view the world. It knocked down prejudiced views and forced me to relinquish a need for control. It opened my eyes and heart to new people and experiences. Most importantly, it connected me with the ocean. I remember surfacing from my first dive on the Great Barrier Reef and asking every single one of the PADI Divemasters how they got their jobs. I couldn’t believe someone could have a job where they got to go out on the Great Barrier Reef every day, and be at one with all the incredible sea life.

A few years later, with a couple of cruise ship contracts under my belt, I was ready to make another move. I was committed to my vegan lifestyle and started to become frustrated with the way the world was going. So I started looking at options for myself. And I kept coming back to scuba diving. It fascinated and intrigued me. I could still remember the excitement and sense of peace I felt on my first dive and I wanted more of that. I did some research and reflected on what I wanted and decided this was the best option for me. As my parents say, it’s like someone sat down and said, “OK, what kind of job could we make that’s perfect for Mollie?” and created a scuba diving instructor. So, I started my journey and ended up in beautiful Mauritius

The Crystal Divers Mauritius Pool and Resort

I entered this industry knowing nothing other than the fact that I wanted to be a dive professional. After vetting and speaking with many dive centers, Crystal Divers Mauritius seemed to be the perfect fit for me. They were the only dive center out of hundreds that wanted to vet me as well. I knew their standards were high and they were all such lovely people, it was the perfect fit. I had no idea of the extent of their experience and knowledge until I was there to experience it for myself. As I met other students that had also travelled extensively to train with the dive center’s instructors and owners, I realized and appreciated the privileged spot that I was in. I was determined not to waste my opportunity.

Some people might think I’m crazy going a country I’ve never been to, to enter an industry I know little about, without realizing the instructors I was training with were some of the top trainers in the industry. This is me and my outlook on life hasn’t let me down yet. There is a sense of adventure in the unknown. Sometimes you need to take the chance and be a little uncomfortable, “Comfort is the enemy of progress.”

As I started my journey of becoming a dive professional, I continued to feel pulled towards conservation. I was lucky enough to participate in many Project AWARE Courses and Fundraisers, I just couldn’t get enough of it. Not long after my first PADI Open Water Dive, I came across my first Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS). I remember being totally mesmerized by its color, size, and spikes. Back on the boat, I asked my instructor what it was. He told me about their eating patterns and how detrimental they are to the coral reef. I was shocked. How can something that naturally exists in the ocean be so damaging to its own habitat and environment? This was something that went against the grain of my belief that nature has its own agenda, so I started researching.

What I found was pretty shocking. There have been multiple recorded COTS outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef since 1965, and this was an ongoing battle. Why in all my years of researching ocean conservation have I not come across this problem? How is it possible that there aren’t more scuba divers concerned about this? Like all things in nature, if we leave it alone, it will follow its course and recover naturally. But, because of human intervention and other anthropogenic (human-caused) activity, coral reefs cannot readily bounce back from COTS outbreaks. I was stunned at the lack of awareness on this particular issue. I did more research and discovered there were a few organizations working to correct the problems. But that ultimately, there wasn’t enough being done. 

COTS eat coral at an alarming rate – up to 13 square meters per year, and they can move up to 20 meters per hour. With their amazing ability to survive and regenerate, they are powerful creatures. Because of overfishing, they have virtually no predators and their larvae survival rate is almost 100%. Because of anthropogenic activity, these creatures have become powerhouses, so the solution must also be be anthropogenic-driven. 

The most efficient way to control the COTS population is to inject them with a vinegar or bile salt solution that kills the starfish so other fish can eat its corpse. This was something I thought about and reflected on for a long time. Am I a hypocrite because I don’t believe in violence or killing animals, but the only solution to this problem is to kill an animal? I came to the conclusion that for the greater good of the reef and other marine life, this species needed to be controlled. Controlled but not eradicated. This is about conservation and management, not malicious intent.

Setting up the Crown of Thorns Injector Gun

After speaking with my mentors and instructors, I created the PADI Crown of Thorns Conservation Diver Specialty. With this course, it’s my hope to reach a broader audience of divers and non-divers to help raise awareness in the wider local and international communities. Anthropogenic activity such as agricultural run off, deforestation and overfishing can be directly attributed to these devastating outbreaks. Deforestation in particular causes an excess of nutrients to make their way into the coral reef environment, a naturally nutrient-deficient but highly efficient ecosystem. The excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus create algal blooms which provide a readily available food source for COTS larvae, sustaining their high survival rate. Overfishing practices remove natural COTS predators such as the Maori Wrasse, the King Triton Snail and the Titan Triggerfish, which would otherwise help keep the COTS species in check.

Change is possible, but must also come from the top down. Conservation is an individual journey, and translated differently by everyone. To some, it’s a conspiracy set by the government to control the population and raise taxes. To some, it’s a radical movement that yields no scientific results nor has any scientific reasoning. To some, it’s something widely known, but easily forgotten. And to some, it’s a way of life, all-consuming. Something that fills our souls and spirits with hope and faith, but also doubt and fear. We can feel both helpless and powerful at the same time during our conservation journey. This is something that will make or break the world as we know it. I have been vegetarian for 10 years and vegan for almost two years. I have heard all the excuses and experienced all the backlash. One thing I have learned however, is that you cannot change the minds of the naysayers on your own. They have to come to their own conclusions. 

Let’s think about the situation in reverse, when environmental protection and resource conservation have been sacrificed for the pursuit of other goals. There are daily examples all around the world of animals losing their homes to deforestation, marine mammals and birds dying of plastic ingestion, and the rapid bleaching of coral reefs. All in the pursuit of convenience. Imagine the naysayers are right – there is no global climate crisis, the oceans are healthy, and single use plastic is a myth. If the bigger picture is self-interest, then preserving our future is paramount. There is undeniable evidence of concrete links between people, habitat and species. Therefore, wouldn’t making better choices for the environment be for the greater good of humanity? Even if you don’t believe in conservation, making better choices for your health and home is a positive step in a preferable direction. 

We Can All Make Positive Changes in Favour of the Environment

I’ve also learned that people don’t like to be told they’re wrong, or that what they’re doing is wrong. And can you blame them? You risk confronting people to challenge and rethink what they have always known, and habits they aren’t necessarily willing to give up. So the naysayers pursue you and your beliefs because they are uncomfortable with change. But change is long overdue. Especially when it comes to the ocean and environment. With the PADI Crown of Thorns Conservation Diver Course, I hope we can stop tiptoeing around the obvious and start making positive, effective change. Awareness needs to be raised, and we need to stop hiding behind our convenient comforts of meat and fish, plastic and fossil fuels. 

We need to face up to the facts of reality, accept the uncomfortable responsibility and guilt that comes with it, and start doing something about it. Reduce how much plastic you use, pick your protein sources carefully, recycle, educate yourself, your family and friends, support local businesses, switch to reef-safe sunscreen and eco-friendly household products. Everyone can make small changes every day that all add up to more impactful change overall.

The United Nations has put forward 17 goals to transform our world by 2030. Sustainable Development Goal-14 is to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.

As World Oceans Day approaches on June the 8th, we will work harder with PADI and the newly structured PADI AWARE Foundation, to better strengthen Project AWARE‘s impactful work over the last 30+ years. We invite all ocean enthusiasts, with fins on and off to help implement this blueprint for action and support SDG14 – Life Below Water:

  • Over the next 10 years, the aim is to reduce marine debris by 50% in targeted countries. Become a Dive Against Debris Diver to help make this happen!
  • The number of Marine Protected Areas needs to be increased to protect 30% of the ocean (less than 2% is currently protected as a no-take zone). Find out how you can help by Adopting a Dive Site when the campaign reopens.
  • Speak Up for 20 endangered and vulnerable shark and ray species with in-country conservation campaigns.
  • Accelerate coral reef recovery and restoration, restoring 5% of coral reef habitats through citizen science programs and project funding. Understand more by completing the AWARE Coral Reef Conservation Specialty.
  • As an industry, we will reduce our carbon footprint and mobilise PADI Torchbearers to restore and protect seagrass and mangrove habitats to help offset carbon. Join the community and help make a difference!