My Passion for Scuba Diving Has an Environmental Cost
The undersea world brought me peace, but I don’t know if I should be there.
I discovered scuba diving in my early teens, at an age when I was desperately looking for something to connect to. I like to say I grew up with seawater in my veins, with a dad who was a scuba diver in the coastal city of Karachi. I loved being out on the sea, so when I was finally old enough to get my diving certification I jumped at the chance. To be part of a world I had loved for so long—and have something that was so uniquely mine, because no one else my age even knew about it—made me feel special, and in a weird way not quite so lonely anymore.
As excited as I was, I could never have predicted the way my first dive felt. It was surreal to suddenly become a part of a completely different world. The way I was so aware of each breath rushing through my equipment, the flow of bubbles each time I exhaled. How closely I saw a tiny stingray emerge from being hidden in the sand just as I was floating above, or how weightless I felt the entire time. Scuba diving offered me an escape like no other. It was a freedom from responsibilities and stresses because when I was diving I was no longer part of my everyday life. Life above the waves was forgotten for that hour. The world only came rushing back when I reemerged.
A big part of my connection with scuba diving and the ocean has always been the way it’s healed me. At a time when I barely understood my own mental health and what I was dealing with, scuba diving became a respite for my anxiety. It allowed me to escape from my own thoughts and feel my mind calm down where otherwise it would be racing with thoughts I felt I could never control. The weightlessness would take over and I would lose myself in the colors of the stunning corals and the fish swimming past me as if I simply wasn’t there at all. I think I’ve always felt so pressured to act perfectly because it seems like someone is always watching me. To feel unseen, to be completely silent, was something I had never felt before—and I welcomed it greatly.
Diving the Great Barrier Reef Was a Dream Come True—and a Wake-up Call
For my first few dives, I was so lost in the wonders around me that I didn’t think of anything but myself. Then I got a chance to dive at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It's a spot on any diver’s bucket list, and I couldn’t have been more excited to dive there. When we entered the water that day, life under the sea took on a whole new meaning. The beauty back home that I was obsessed with paled in comparison to these otherworldly colors. I remember being so excited because I got to see clownfish; marine life I had never even known of before surrounded me. Corals rose up in entire forests above and below.
But right from the start, I struggled to adjust to the water. Where my previous dives felt almost effortless, this one didn’t fit right. My sinus issues acted up, meaning that I couldn’t equalize properly. Going deeper into the water made me more uncomfortable, so I kept having to increase and decrease my depth trying to find a comfortable space. During that time I noticed my fin nudge against a coral reef formation, causing a small piece to fall off. Looking back, I now realize that moment changed the way I thought about diving. As we came back up to the surface, my mother told me she’d been in Australia 20 years before, and had the opportunity to dive at the Great Barrier Reef back then as well. What she had come back to was nowhere near the same. The reef had lost most of its color, and the biodiversity and marine life my mother remembered in awe were nonexistent.
Suddenly, dives no longer felt the same. I was now a lot more aware of what I was doing to this world I was intruding on. I saw divers who accompanied me spearfishing, the whoosh of the spear in the calm waters, the blood and then the lifeless fish stringing along on a line as divers continued their journey in the water. I—the intruder—was calmly swimming around while the fish whose homes we were exploring floated lifeless just a few feet away. I started thinking about my presence in the water, and what the continued impact of human interaction had meant for the oceans we explored. The Great Barrier Reef is a well-known tourist attraction so its decline has been noted, but what about the waters I had grown up on along with the countless other coral reef ecosystems and marine habitats whose destruction no one seemed to care very much about?
Good Intentions Don't Keep Us From Causing Harm
Over the past few years, I’ve become far more focused on being environmentally conscious and making an effort to learn about living sustainably. But when it comes to my diving experience, I seem to be drawing a blank. There’s barely anyone around me who’s really looked into what diving sustainably could mean. Even the community that wants to do more is held back by mounds of red tape and legislative confusion about who is allowed to take action.
I’m not sure what this means for my diving future. I know that my impact on the marine life around me during the dive goes beyond accidentally breaking off a piece of coral reef. My very presence can cause harm in ways that are still far beyond my limited understanding of the environment. But I want to learn, and I want to make sure that my love for the ocean that has supported me through some of my worst times can extend into a love that takes care of it in return. The realization that our love can be damaging has been a wake-up call to the crisis we are putting our environment in, because even when we do something with good intentions our ignorance can mean we do more harm than good. Realizing my love was hurting what I loved became the reason for my journey into being more sustainable and environmentally conscious. I’m hoping that journey can help me find the answers I’m still looking for.