Today I read a blog from a photographer named Gary Hart. He shoots breathtaking images of nature especially focusing on Yosemite and the western US. His message was to literally watch your step so as not to damage our fragile natural world while taking pictures. I commented that we face the same issue underwater with both recreational divers and photographers. And it reminded me of something that happened just a few weeks ago…..and how one dive guide takes his responsibilities of conservation very seriously.
My dive guide was a young man named Edy who was showing me the best his region of Raja Ampat, Indonesia had to offer. (You may recall Eddy from a post I wrote called, “The Best Conversation I Never Had”). Part of Edy’s training as a diver and guide was definitely on responsibility for protection of the underwater environment. This is strictly conjecture on my part, however, I noted two things that convinced me this was true. First, he was trained by a man whose conservation practices in the area are legendary. The second thing I noticed about Eddy was how seriously he put into practice the lessons he had internalized. While he speaks very little English, his message underwater is unmistakable. Here’s what happened….
Edy the Reef Rescuer
In the morning, we were a small group four divers. One of the divers was an inexperienced man with a small housed camera taking happy snappys of his vacation. During the dive, he knelt down to get a shot. He made sure to land in the sand and took care as he was setting up his shot. However, as new divers, we often forget that our feet have grown by about half a meter and we can’t feel the ends of them. His fins were sitting on top of some beautiful soft coral. Edy, very carefully swam over to the diver. He did not want to interfere with the shot but he needed to save the coral from certain mutilation. He turned upside down and ever so carefully lifted each of the diver’s fins with the pointer stick and relocated them off the coral. The diver never realized what had happened. I gave Edy a big high five with a twinkle in my eye communicating my appreciation. Later I explained to the diver what had happened.
In the afternoon it happened again but it was not so subtle this time. This was a much bigger deal and on a much bigger scale. We were swimming one way up the reef and another group of divers was swimming the other way. The first thing I noticed was huge photo and video rigs in most of the divers’ arms. The second thing I noticed was that most of them were wearing gloves (strictly against the conservation pledge that all divers take when diving this area). Then I saw Edy spring into action. I thought there was an emergency given the speed at which he was flying through the water. Almost without exception, every single one of these divers was sitting in, laying on, or otherwise smashing the reef. Edy flew from one diver to the next, signaling and even manhandling them up and off this precious coral. The divers looked at him like he was a madman but they all definitely got the message. I started cheering underwater and my friend wrote on my slate, “Edy, the conservation police!”. Later that evening, we chuckled about putting a blue flashing siren on Edy’s head and having him put “fine” stickers on the diver’s tanks.
Slapping the wrist of a celebrity shooter
And here’s the irony of the whole thing. Edy is one dive guide among thousands in Indonesia. He only impacts the few people he guides every day. Yet he is ferociously determined to live up to the responsibility he has as a guide to educate and yes, police, his small part of the ocean. The group of divers he accosted on the reef that day was being led by one of THE most noted underwater photographers in the world. This acclaimed image maker literally had his rig perched on a table coral like…an ACTUAL table in order to get the shot he wanted. This obviously sends a message to all those who admire and aspire to his level of work that it’s okay to abuse the reef to get the award-winning shot. I lost a lot of respect for that photographer that day and gained a lot for my friend Edy. Edy has no idea of the level of celebrity he slapped on the wrist and you know what? I don’t think he would care, except to the effect that professionals like that should be leading by example.
I Nominate Edy
If there was an award for responsible dive guides, I would nominate Edy. Not only is he a responsible guide, he is a responsible diver with a true pride in preserving the reefs. If everyone dived like Edy, if everyone CARED like Edy, we’d have a healthier planet and the need for posts like Gary’s urging people to “watch their step” wouldn’t exist.
Thank you Edy, for leading by your example as a responsible dive guide.
To Your Adventures,