Cayman Islands Divers
946-1449, Po Box 1515 GT, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Branch 360

The Club Articles


Sunscreen and Coral Reefs

Added by Sue Harris on 7 Oct 2011


When safety for one becomes a risk for something elseSuncream

I can be a bit slow sometimes, whilst others can be well ahead of the game!

On a recent trip to Thailand I was a bit confused by the sign that appeared on all of the dive boats and within the Dive Centres I visited. Why would you be considering putting on suncream BEFORE diving?

It does of course help if you read, and more importantly understand, the full message.

Jim Watson, BSAC Safety & Development manager


Keeping yourself safe

Protecting yourself from the effects of the sun, especially at sea where the reflected glare from the water can give you a double dose is very important and has been covered in Safety Talk before. Other precautions such as wearing a hat or staying in the shade can be just as effective. The downside of suncreams in my experience is that if you get any of it inside your mask you spend the dive with constant misting of the mask that no amount of flooding and clearing can remove. In addition, that constant flooding always seems, for me at least, to flush any remaining cream into the eyes further reducing your ability to see clearly.

Musing on the boat over the thoughtfulness of the dive centre in encouraging me to avoid these risks seemed overly considerate but there must be a more important reason?

Protecting the reefs

The answer is actually quite simple and nothing to do with my safety after all!

It is actually out of concern for the safety of the very thing we enter the water to enjoy - the coral reef itself. It has been identified that corals are adversely affected by suncreams. This subject was ably covered in ‘Biteback’ by John Nightingale in the September issue of DIVE. It is well worth revisiting the article to understand the wider and full implications but, in essence, suncream takes time to be fully absorbed into the skin and any not absorbed is quickly washed off in the water. By waiting an hour after application before entering the water, you significantly limit the amounts that can wash off and affect the corals we are swimming near.

What else can I do?

Protecting the environment we make such efforts to visit makes perfect sense. Why then do so many of us not take adequate care of our buoyancy such that we come into contact with the reef, either accidentally through loss of buoyancy or deliberately by settling down or steadying ourselves. A recent study in the Red Sea identified that divers on average come into contact with the reef around 20 times every dive and even the lightest contact can damage the coral by removing its protective mucus. The same study found photographers to be the worst culprits!

Centres like those in Thailand are taking increasing more responsible approaches to protecting and safeguarding this beautiful but fragile environment. Its safety is essential to our own future enjoyment.

Think SAFE – Dive SAFE

Jim Watson, BSAC Safety and Development manager

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The Cayman Island Divers are branch 360 of the British Sub-Aqua Club.