Is diving in the Caribbean something you dream about? Do you wish to learn how to scuba dive?
I started diving five years ago. It was 2013 and my boyfriend and I were on vacation in Cozumel, Mexico. We were snorkeling around in the ocean by the beach and having a great time.
So began our love of diving, and since then we have traveled to some other cool locations, including St. Lucia. I must admit that I prefer the tropical locations that feature such gorgeous turquoise colored waters that are so clear you can see everything underwater even at a distance.
I would recommend the PADI online program, it is good for all ages. PADI stands for Professional Association of Diving Instructors. This organization is based in the state of California in the USA and has been around since the 1960s! Their online training program is well designed and walks you through each step in preparation for your dives. We were eager to get certified! Next, we went out with instructors from our dive shop. I was so impressed with the consistency of the training; we all learned the same key points: never panic, stay with your buddy, take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but bubbles.
You see, this is a designated MPA, or marine protected area, and the Mexican authorities mean business; if you touch or take anything from the waters, you are done. No more dives for you, no exceptions!
When getting your dive certification, start with a PADI or NAUI shop. If you do not see either one of these certifications, run! But even if the shop is certified, I recommend that you ask a lot of questions. You are the customer, and it is important that you feel confident that you are choosing the right place with the right staff before you pay for anything. For example, you can ask what are their policies regarding conservation and responsible diving? How long have their instructors been teaching? There are plenty of dive shops, so do not feel bad if you have to walk away from one that does not match your standards.
For some people, starting their online certification at home and completing it on vacation works well. But there are other options too. You can start your theory training online and then complete it at a dive shop located near your home. We did this with my daughter so she could get certified. Another way is you can complete the entire course in a classroom setting with other people and in the water at your local dive shop or at a vacation destination.
Before becoming a diver, I never realized how much the oceans and coral reefs in particular are vital to our planet. Coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other type of marine environment. That includes about 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals and hundreds of other living species. Healthy reefs contribute to local economies through tourism. Travelers come from all over the world to the reefs, and they will pay for diving tours, fishing trips, hotel rooms, restaurant meals, tour guides, and so forth. Think of all the jobs and income generated by these activities.
As a diver, it is your responsibility to dive with caution. Keep in mind that we are only visitors in the oceans. For the fish and the corals, this is their 24/7 home. It is very important that we remain aware of our physical body and not touch anything during our dives. This is rule #1. Be especially careful with your fins when kicking. The only exception to this rule is to pick up any trash that you see. Rule #2 is to make sure your dive gear is streamlined, in other words, you have nothing hanging off of you that could scrape or scratch.
Beach and Ocean Clean-Ups Click HERE
Not a diver? There are other ways you can help protect these beautiful but fragile environments. Cutting down on the chemicals used at the beach is a top priority. That is where sunscreens come into play. Some chemicals commonly found in most traditional sunscreen products will actually stunt the growth of existing coral and keep new coral from forming! Look for sunscreens marked as reef safe. A brand that I personally like is called Stream2Sea; in fact, they have an entire line of reef safe products including sunscreens, lotions, shampoos and conditioners.
Did you know most locations in the Caribbean and Mexico now require that you use only reef safe products? Even though the United States does not have such rules (shame on us), it is better for your own skin health and for the protection of the oceans that you switch to reef safe sunscreens. Water travels, so what gets into the seas in one region will be carried by the currents into another region.
Parents - teach your children to respect the natural world especially the oceans and beaches. Set a good example! If you see other people throwing trash on the ground or doing some other irresponsible behavior, call them out on it. If they do not care and do not stop, you can report them to the local authorities. One by one we can teach each other and make positive change in support of our planet if we try.
Michele Welker is the creative mind behind the Love Laugh Caribbean travel blog. From her home in Pennsylvania, she often travels with her family down to Mexico or to one of her favorite islands in the Caribbean.
You can visit Michelle's blog and follow her @michele_welker on Twitter.
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