Shedding light on underwater photography: leading wildlife photographer Greg Piper speaks his mind…
Welcome to the inaugural edition of my new column exclusively with DIVE, The Ethical Shot. This monthly column will concentrate on the ethics of diving and underwater photography. Why have I chosen this most unpopular subject? Because I can no longer stand on the sidelines and watch nature be destroyed, especially by those who profess to be protecting it. No longer can I turn a blind eye to profit over protection. Neither should you.
In recent years, I have watched as the harassment of wildlife has exploded. I’ve witnessed horrific behaviour both underwater and on land. Sadly, much of this behaviour is from industry professionals who often self-identify on social media as crusaders of planetary protection and saviours of wildlife. My observations have led me to the conclusion this threatening trend is based on two major factors.
One factor is the dive industry has experienced an explosion in falsely labelled ‘eco-tourism.’ The allure of eco-friendly dive operations brings divers out in droves. However, instead of supporting conservation efforts, many dive operations work in direct opposition of them. Motivated by the promise of a hefty tip, they turn a blind eye to divers who destroy reef, harass and pose animals and disrupt marine life in hopes of achieving their macro-photographer accolades. To further ensure tips and an edge over their competition, I’ve witnessed dive operators hide harlequin shrimp in cages to guarantee a sighting each dive and then claim the sighting is evidence of their commitment to ‘eco-tourism.’
Another contributing factor to the rise of marine endangerment is technological advances in digital imaging equipment coupled with its relatively inexpensive access. This has resulted in thousands of unqualified divers taking to the ocean with cameras. Divers with limited dive experience, without proficient buoyancy, are be-bopping around our reefs destroying everything that lies outside their viewfinder. Chasing animals, touching turtles, crashing into everything, resembling a drunk circus monkey on a unicycle riding through a tornado.
How is it so many ‘photographers’ are able to capture shots of animals that defy the science of marine life existence? Pygmy seahorses do not free swim through the open ocean, octopus do not pose at the surface, a frogfish doesn’t want fishing line shoved in his mouth to make him yawn and mantis shrimp really don’t need your muck stick shoved in their living room.
The ocean simply cannot sustain this behaviour and as divers, neither should we. I was a new diver once, but before I took a camera into the ocean I was proficient in my dive skills; my buoyancy was peak, my trim perfected through countless hours underwater. I spent time taking notes on how not to be ‘that guy.’
Have I crashed into a reef? Of course. Have I bumped coral? Absolutely. Everyone does, but we must take it upon ourselves to perfect our dive technique, to practice it and encourage others to do the same.
In my opinion, behind pollution, commercial fishing and global warming, the dive industry is the biggest threat our reefs face. Dive operators fear losing clients, guides fear losing tips, so they sit silent counting their money at the cost of our reefs It does not have to be this way. The task of ethical responsibility falls to us, the consumer. Consumers set the standard, the consumer moves the bar. If we demand sustainable diving practices, we will get them. If we use our voice, if we use our example to teach and inspire we can change our industry and we must.
As a photojournalist, I am blessed with a platform to shed light on this epidemic. It may not stop this behaviour, but hopefully, it will create a small ripple that will turn into a powerful wave and ultimately help people understand they have a responsibility to be ethical in our endeavours as explorers, photographers and adventurers. We must turn the tide of our propensity for narcissism and greed.
Until next month, be kind to one another and our planet.