Joshua Chaffee
Joshua Chaffee

Jul 17. 3 mins


Freediving gives you a certain sense of freedom. There you are, seemingly weightless, in another world, exploring what the sea has to offer. Many, even self-taught freedivers, commonly reach depths over 10m [about 32 feet], and once you reach a reef, you have a lot of options. Unfortunately, not all of them are the ones you should choose.

In areas with a lot of interesting coral formations, beautiful marine life, caves, and locations with a healthy current, freedivers can be especially tempted to do things that can hurt the environment, and even themselves. Whether you are carrying a camera or a speargun, here are some not-so-subtle suggestions to keep yourself safe — and more importantly — the earth.

1: Never Hyperventilate Before a Freedive: Or Else

Hyperventilating before a breath-hold is typically performed by amateur freedivers because they are told that it “increases the oxygenation of the blood”, so they think it will help them to stay longer underwater.

While hyperventilating can technically help you to keep yourself underwater for longer, it’s not because your blood is more oxygenated. The science behind hyperventilating is a little unexpected.

So why does it help you stay under?

The real reason is that the bodily mechanism that triggers your “need to breathe” comes from high CO2 levels, not low oxygen levels, and hyperventilation helps keep your CO2 level below what is natural.

In all reality, hyperventilating gives you little to no oxygen benefit. Even with normal breaths, the oxygen saturation of your blood is near 100%.

So, what is the result?

You will run out of oxygen but not know it. This is because your body’s CO2 levels won’t trigger your need to breathe until well after it has been deprived of necessary oxygen. This leads to divers experiencing a shallow water blackout on ascent, once they finally feel that urge to breathe.

And why is this so dangerous?

If you are diving alone, it means that you will certainly drown and die. Please never hyperventilate before a dive, even if you have a partner. There is always a chance they won’t notice that you have blacked out until it is too late.

2: Keep Your Grubby Hands Off The Reef

We get it; this magazine’s community is made up of passionate divers of all kinds, and we know that everyone makes mistakes and can inadvertently come into contact with the reef from time to time, but we can’t let it become a practice.

Kneeling on the reef to get a good shot, or grabbing the reef to pull yourself forward or hold yourself still, can be very tempting ideas, but at what cost?

We have seen many groups of amateur SCUBA divers and freedivers grab onto pieces of valuable reef and accidentally break off a piece. What might go unnoticed, though, is the many years that it may take to grow back that piece of reef.

Another thing that may not go noticed right away is the fact that some organisms that make up a reef can’t handle losing a chunk of their ecosystem, even if it seems small to you, and end up dying completely.

We are losing enough reef every year due to other causes, please don’t be part of the problem.

A Dangerous Contributor to Reef Loss

An unexpected friend turned enemy: dive gloves. A dive glove’s main purpose is to protect your hands from harm during a dive, but what is it usually used for? For holding onto the reef during a dive. That’s right; the very existence and use of this product make divers, spearos, and freedivers alike more likely and more comfortable to grab onto the reef and use it as leverage for their movement. As discussed earlier, though, this can have detrimental effects on the ecosystem.

This is why some countries have banned the use of dive gloves, not to make diving more difficult for you, but to make sure that the dive sites are worth seeing for many years to come.

If you or one of your apnea buddies commonly relies on grabbing onto the reef to keep themselves stable, then they need to work on their buoyancy and balance.
Habitually touching the reef is never OK.

3: Don’t Harass Marine Life — Even if You are Hunting it

Many freedivers are spearos as well, and we understand that you likely respect the site you are diving, and you respect the fish that you are hunting. Unfortunately, though, many freedivers have been caught severely harassing marine life.

Touching, squeezing, grabbing, or lifting marine life out of the water, could seem harmless to you, but these things have been recognized as causes of unnecessary death and disturbances of marine life in dive sites all over the world.

In Bocas Del Toro, Panama, one particular beach called “Playa Estrella” or “Starfish Beach” has been almost completely ruined by tourists lifting the starfish from the water to take a picture. Year after year the starfish slowly died or left the area for good, and now “Starfish Beach” boasts little starfish. In fact, you are lucky to see more than two in a single visit.

SCUBA divers and freedivers alike have had their diving certification revoked when found to be mistreating marine life — and for good reason. Divers, and dive instructors especially, are the ambassadors between the general public and marine life. This means that the way we treat marine life reflects to the rest of the world. Being able to interact with marine life, like threatened species of sharks, without incident is a key in changing public perception of them. This promotes conservation of misunderstood species. However, if we mistreat marine life, the public will follow suit.

The Danger to Marine Life

  • When a sea cucumber is harassed, it expels its intestines. This can be deadly to the delicate animal, especially if performed multiple times in a row.
  • When lifted from the water, the delicate structure of a starfish can be damaged, potentially causing its death.
  • By touching fish, we can alter their protective barrier of mucous and spread disease to them incidentally.
  • Forcing a pufferfish to inflate can kill them.

Beyond this short list of the damage that you can personally cause, the biggest damage you can do is display to the public that these actions are OK.

Dive Smart — Keep The Ecosystem Healthy

Always understand that, even if you aren’t actively spreading the word about correct diving etiquette, your actions can speak louder than words. If you dive responsibly, people will notice and follow suit.


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