I visited Havelock, a pristine island of the Andamans, in the middle of the pandemic during August 2021 with the intention of learning to dive. As I geared up with my wet suit, dive watch, oxygen tank and regulator, nothing could prepare me for the experience to come. I was expecting to see rich abundant marine life, vibrant colourful corals, micro marine life and biodiversity rich reefs.
As I went for my first ever reef dive, lasting about 45 minutes, I anticlimactically observed that my expectations were not adjusted to the harsh realities of climate change. Most of the reefs were dead; they had bleached and turned white. Limited marine life was present – that too only around vibrant coral reefs. As I dived one leg cycle at a time with my instructor on the side, silent in the ocean but not calm while observing that the ocean was practically empty, I felt a sense of guilt rise within me. Had my actions contributed to the rapid decline in marine life?
It is a fact that marine life is dying. The oceans are getting emptier by the day. With documentaries like Seaspiracy and Chasing Coral, some people are already aware of the projection that the oceans will be empty by 2048. Due to increasing fishing trends and the need to meet global fish demand, various species have already declined and are at crashing levels. A species is said to crash when the population declines beyond a level where the numbers can be revived.
Despite having watched these documentaries and reading various articles about marine biodiversity, nothing had prepared me for the disappointment and guilt I experienced during my first dive. With the regulator in my mouth in the ocean, it was impossible to speak.
I kept asking my instructor using sign language, “Where are the fish?”. She asked me to stay calm and signalled we would find them ahead. Forty five minutes passed, and the entire dive went without any signs of significant marine life. My guilt kept rising during the entirety of the dive. What was supposed to be a fun thrilling experience for me had turned into an eye-opening experience, bringing me face to face with the realities of climate change.
The truth is that the ocean is turning into a graveyard everyday, but we don’t realise it deeply enough till we see it.
As soon as we ended the dive, I rushed up and began crying. “It’s a graveyard down there,” I told my instructor. She stayed quiet and let me have my moment. There was a strange silent agreement between us. This wasn’t fair.
“I have been diving here for five years, every time I go down there, I only notice more death around me. I don’t know where the fish have gone. The reefs are dying. I think diving here everyday had sort of normalised that for me,” I observed that she was having her own moment too.
After my first dive, I couldn’t make myself dive for a few days. I began researching corals, climate change, marine biodiversity and initiatives in this field before my second dive. Moreover, I decided to be more pragmatic instead of emotional during future dives.
When I was out for my second dive, I knew that I wanted to do something impactful for marine life. There was no going back to the comfort of wilful ignorance. Climate change is real, it’s happening faster than we imagine. For those of us who have had the privilege to understand the grave impact of climate change, we should do something about it.
Also read: We Need More Radical Climate Fiction
Keeping this thought in mind, after coming back from Andamans, I founded Coral Warriors, India’s first ever diving grant. I wanted more Indians to have diving experiences just like I did so they too could relate to the importance of climate change not just pragmatically but also emotionally. To ensure there is collective action about something, it’s necessary to get beyond logic and look at issues with the emotional sensitivity they require. As more Indians go to dive, it is likely they will observe threats to marine life and biodiversity. Moreover, with youth like Greta Thunberg championing voices in the battle against climate change, it is important to see Indian youth contribute as global voices for climate change.
I’ve realised it’s difficult to believe in global issues till we see them for ourselves and even harder to fathom their magnitude. The truth is even I did not feel so strongly about marine biodiversity before I experienced diving. Hence, I feel diving can be used as a tool to spread awareness about climate change and engage the youth in social initiatives in a meaningful way. While many people, especially adults in Indian families, perceive adventure activities like diving as thrilling, it is important to see beyond that perception alone. Diving is a tool for engagingly educating youth about climate change, a global persisting issue.
I still feel guilt because the reality is small changes made by me individually aren’t enough. There’s a pressing need to get more people involved in climate change projects to save the world for tomorrow. I hope more people can experience diving – not just for the thrill, but to save this planet with greater understanding.