In the last few weeks there have been plenty of reports in the news that the oceans are in serious trouble due to climate change. Just today there was news of an explosion in jelly fish numbers that could lead to ecological disaster by damaging the marine food chain and contributing to the carbon problem.
The oceans have always been a natural ‘sink’ for carbon, the problem is that the amount of carbon in the system now is far from natural – humans have been adding to it at an unprecedented rate. According to recent reports:
“Oceans have been taking up 25% of the carbon dioxide that man has produced over the last 200 years, so it’s been acting as a buffer for climate change. When you add more carbon dioxide to sea water it becomes more acidic. And already that is happening at a rate that hasn’t occurred in 600 million years.”
Scientists say that our seas are 30% more acidic than they were last century. I was never much good at chemistry in school but I clearly remember the teacher showing us the experiment with chalk versus vinegar and the chalk didn’t come off best! The increased acidity in the water plays havoc with calcium carbonate, which forms the shells and skeletons of many sea creatures, including coral reefs. BBC news reported that ocean acidification is reportedly turning anenome fish deaf. So clearly, the increase in carbon is not doing the oceans any good.
The carbon conundrum
Many divers love to travel to wonderful places with tropical coral reefs, the trouble is, by flying to these places we are contributing to the very problem that is threatening the beautiful places we want to see. This is what I call the divers carbon conundrum, lots of divers, inlduing me, know the damage that carbon is doing to the oceans but it is not enough to stop us diving. I am not writing this blog with an answer to this problem, I have thought about it a lot myself, and there is no simple solution. Here are some thoughts and ideas about it:
- By diving in the UK divers don’t need to fly as often. There are some fantastic places to dive in the UK, if you aren’t convinced, check out Paul Rose’s recent TV series Britains Secret Seas
- When we are in the destination, divers can make sure that the way we dive is not having an additional negative impact. I have written before about research that shows that healthy coral is more resistant to warming events. Local factors have a strong influence on the health of corals, such as water quality: this is something that the dive community can do something about.
- Flying less – would it be possible to fly on one less dive trip a year?
- Lifestyle changes. Outside of flying it’s possible to reduce your carbon footprint in other ways. For example switch to a 100% renewable electricity supplier such as Good Energy - 74% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from energy. The average UK domestic electricity user is responsible for releasing around 1.8 tonnes of C02 into the atmosphere every year, so switching to a 100% renewable supply is an easy way to significantly cut your carbon footprint.
Personally I just don’t think its realistic to tell people to stop flying, and even if they did what about all the dive shops, hotels and resorts whose livelihood relies on divers coming to visit? Check out Responsible Travel’s website as they have some interesting thoughts about the issue. I really like their message:
When you do fly you should make it count - by choosing a holiday that makes a positive difference to the destination.
There are more thoughts about the flying dilemma here at the Responsible Tourism Partnerships fly smart campaign. And on Friday 17th June 2011 there is a Responsible Aviation Conference being held at Manchester airport. Academics, campaigners, industry speakers and others will talk about the challenges, what they are doing, and what more could be done to make aviation more sustainable.
The carbon conundrum is a complex issue with no simple answer, but it is worth taking a bit of time to think about it. And until the boffins invent a way to transport us to far flung dive sites without creating carbon emissions (fingers crossed everyone!) its something that we all need to take more responsibility for.