AS WE SAY CHEERIO to the Christmas period and enter the New Year, many of us will be planning and booking our summer dive holidays. There’s nothing nicer than contemplating some warm tropical sunshine, clear blue seas and spectacular reef vistas as the cold, grey UK winter rolls slowly by.
However, the much-needed feel-good factor and healthy vitamin D infusion bright sunlight delivers to our bodies carries certain risks, in the form of the sun’s harmful ultra-violet rays. This radiation causes damage to unprotected skin, the long-term effects of which can be devastating as it’s linked to life-threatening skin cancers.
Extended exposure to these rays can also damage our eyes by leading to cataracts (clouding of the lenses, and consequently decreased vision). So we take steps to protect ourselves from the sun’s harmful rays while still enjoying its benefits in reasonable safety.
I don’t want to sound like a prophet of doom; only to ensure that your precious diving holiday remains problem- and pain-free. So I’ve compiled an array of gear suggestions to help you avoid being burnt, stung or poisoned by contaminated water.
I’ve also borne in mind the need to minimise our environmental footprint by including a few items that have been sympathetically produced to help limit their impact on fragile marine eco-systems.

REEF SAFE SUNSCREEN: THE FACTS
In 2008 national geographic news published an article linking sun-protection products used by the masses on beach holidays to coral-bleaching. Scientists had discovered that four ingredients found in suntan lotion could awaken dormant viruses in the symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae.
These algae live in reef-building coral species. The virus causes them to replicate until their hosts explode, or the algae are expelled, spilling further viruses into the surrounding ocean to infect neighbouring coral communities.
The four chemicals, oxybenzone (benzophenone-3), butylparaben, octinoxate and a camphor derivative, are commonly used in sunscreens.
By 2015, as a result of research that involved the USA’s National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia was estimating that between 6000 and 14000 tonnes of this ecologically toxic cream is washed off swimmers in oceans worldwide every year.
It’s becoming a significant contributor to the demise of our coastal reef systems.
Another ingredient often found in sunscreens mimics the effect of the female hormone. This can have a dramatic effect on fish and other aquatic life-forms by turning them into sexless hermaphrodites that can no longer reproduce.
In the years since these chemicals were first linked to coral damage and sexless fish, sunscreen-makers have produced what they claim to be “reef-safe” products. Some have replaced reef-toxic chemicals with natural substances that are claimed to be as efficient at blocking UV radiation but which don’t harm the reefs.
These sunscreens use titanium dioxide and zinc oxides instead of harmful oxybenzone as UV blockers, and other biodegradable ingredients that are claimed to be environmentally friendly instead of the chemicals proven to be damaging to corals.
The US Environment Working Group (EWG) specialises in research and advocacy in areas of toxic chemicals.
Its stated mission is “to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment”.
EWG has produced a comprehensive guide to sunscreens, listing their ingredients and awarding a personal and environmental safety rating for each one. It also features a “Hall of Shame”. To find out more, visit www.ewg.org
We could all make a significant contribution towards reducing the risk
to our reefs by simply wearing a wide-brimmed hat and UV-rated clothing before even reaching for our sunscreens.

Goddess Garden Sport
Natural Sunscreen SPF30 Spray
This spray is claimed to be reef-safe, biodegradable and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes with a UVA/UVB broad-spectrum sun-protection factor of 30.
The active ingredients used in this organic sunscreen include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
The product has been awarded a low-risk rating by the Environment Working Group. Expect to pay around £19 for the 177ml pump action spray (pictured).
ww.naturalisbetter.co.uk

Badger Sport Sunscreen Cream SPF 35
This biodegradable cream-based sport sunscreen is claimed to be reef-safe and water-resistant for at least 80 minutes, providing broad-spectrum SPF 35 protection from harmful UVA & UVB rays while moisturising and nourishing the skin. The active ingredient is non-nano uncoated zinc oxide. This product was again awarded a low-risk rating by the EWG. An 87ml tube costs around £15.
www.badgerbalm.com


Let’s look at some of the gear designed to keep the sun off our bonces. The head is the body-part closest to the sun; some of us have a natural covering of hair, some not so much and others none at all. Regardless of how follicly rich or challenged we are, we all need to protect this vital area from burning in the sun.
The most popular choice is a simple baseball cap – stylish, with infinite designs and a peak to provide shade to the face making it ideal for boat, beach and resort pool use. A good alternative is a wide-brimmed hat like the Booney – this also adds shade to the ears and back of the neck.
The Buff Snood is an extremely versatile product that can be used in a variety of ways both under water and on the surface to provide UV protection when you’re waiting for a boat pick-up and the journey back.
Another option is the neoprene Scap. This bandana-style cap not only keeps the wearer’s hair in check but provides a modicum of insulation under water and UV protection at the surface.
One last thing: how many of us have lost our headgear overboard as the dive-boat speeds along? I’ll have to put my hand up to that, but I’ve found that a Croakies “Lid Latch” is so simple and effective that I wonder why the idea didn’t occur earlier.

Sea Shepherd Baseball Cap
Show your support for Sea Shepherd eco-activists with this "Jolly Roger" flag hat displaying the conservation society’s version of the pirate flag. They regard themselves as the good pirates pursuing the bad (drift-netters, whalers, sealers and poachers). This cap is made from heavyweight 100% organic cotton twill, comes in black with white embroidered livery in one size to fit all, and costs from £17.
www.seashepherd.org

The Scap
The Scap is a bandana-style cap designed for divers and other watersport enthusiasts. It’s made from custom-cut 1.5mm neoprene with a specially designed interior band and a grip-zone to keep it in place. The Scap is available in a variety of colours and patterns to allow the wearer to express his or her personal style. Claimed as ideal for taming wild hair in warmwater climes and providing UV protection to the top of the head at the surface, this stylish one-size-fits-all headwear is priced at £30.
www.sea-sea.com

Buff Snood
The original seamless, tubular sports snood, this versatile headgear can be worn in a variety of ways from neck-warmer or beanie to ear-protection band. Buff snoods are made from hi-tec, quick-drying Coolmax (100% polyester) fabric.
The featured snood has an invisible, odourless, long-term (up to 70 washes) insect shield and offers 95% UV protection. A Polygiene treatment to the fabric is said to keep it cleaner for longer without releasing odours caused by bacteria.
Buff snoods are available in various colours, print designs and materials. Expect to pay around £22 for the High UV Insect Shield model shown here.
www.buffwear.co.uk

Croakies “Lid Latch” Hat Retainer
This simple US-made lanyard is designed to stop your hat or baseball cap from blowing away. It’s made from a single 25cm length of 3.2mm diameter woven climbing line, with strong metal bulldog clips fastened at either end to secure the headgear to your collar. No more need to worry about it disappearing over the back of fast-moving dive-boats. Available in black, brown or navy colours, it costs £5.
www.andark.co.uk

EYEWEAR

Sunglasses come in all shapes and sizes, and for that matter price ranges. We all want to look good and resemble a secret service agent in our fashionable Oakleys or Ray-Bans, but when they disappear over the side of our liveaboard and vanish into the abyss we’re going to be left heartbroken.
The alternative is to get a pair specifically designed for use in, on or around water, and that means they need to float.
Polarised lenses offer the advantage of cutting out reflected glare and allow a better view through the water’s surface but it’s the UV protection rating we should be looking out for. There’s little more valuable than our eyesight.

Cressi Ninja Sunglasses
These polarised sunglasses from Italian dive-gear maker Cressi are neutrally buoyant and will float on water. The lightweight frames feature a soft rubberised coating while the lenses are category 3 polarised, offering 100% UV protection, and are shatterproof for eye safety. Various lens colours are available with prices starting from £27.
www.cressi.com

Gill Racing Sunglasses
All Gill sunglasses are designed to float, so if you drop them all is not lost. These Racing models come with a built-in retainer and feature 100% glare-free polarised lenses that are said also to effectively block UVA, UVB and UVC radiation. The lenses are coated to make them hydrophobic so that they repel water, and they’re claimed as shatterproof too. They cost £45.
www.andark.co.uk

Croakies Original Neoprene Sunglass Retainer
This simple, lightweight US product is made from “HyPUR-cel” neoprene and incorporates the maker’s own backstitch with open tips that slide onto the frame ends of the glasses to provide a secure grip. It’s 40cm long and 20mm wide, washable, colourfast and available in either black, royal blue or navy blue solid colours. Price is £6.
www.andark.co.uk

BODYWEAR

While the largest area for potential sunburn is the torso, this area is also the easiest to protect by using simple fashionable apparel that delivers high UV protection. The many designs and styles include eco-friendly products constructed using recycled materials.
Rashguards also protect the wearer from marine stingers such as jellyfish and hydroids; they can be worn as a base layer under wetsuits or, in warmer waters, as standalone garments.
Good alternatives are the thin neoprene dive products that range from short- or long-sleeved tops to full suits. These tight-fitting garments not only provide UV and sting protection but add thermal insulation. They may not be flattering when worn by any but the fittest of divers, but then neither is the dangerous red hue from sunburnt skin.

Fourth Element Ocean Positive Hydroskin Rashguards
These rashguards are made using the sustainable fabric Econyl®, which contains 100% regenerated polyamide fibre recycled from salvaged materials such as fishing-net. In tests, this material was reportedly found to be twice as resistant to chlorine, suntan creams and oils as non-sustainable equivalents. These guards are designed to wear as a UV shield for watersports and under a wet- or semi-dry suit as a base layer. Men’s and women’s long-sleeve garments cost £45.
www.oceanpositive.net

Seac RAA Long Evo Rashguard
These long-sleeved lightweight rashguards from the Italian manufacturer use a mixture of 85% Nylon and 15% Spandex fabric said to offer 97.5 UV protection with a UPF 40+ rating – that means protection from the sun in, on or around water, and from marine stingers too. This tight-fitting, stretchy garment is available in both men’s and women’s cuts, priced at £26.
www.seacsub.com

Sharkskin Full Suit
This Australian suit is said to be a high-performance alterative to neoprene that can be worn individually or layered under a wetsuit as an additional thermal layer. Its trilaminate materials consist of a soft microfleece inner layer to wick moisture away from the body, and a breathable, windproof membrane to help regulate body temperature and eliminate windchill. An outer layer of four-way stretch abrasion-, UV- and water-repellant material provides a protective shell that also “sheds” water. The fabric is neutrally buoyant but has the equivalent thermal protection of a 2.5-3mm neoprene wetsuit. Its sun-protection factor is 30+. It comes in gender-specific styles and sizing and costs around £250.
www.liquidsports.co.uk

Divesangha Calypso Sun and Water Guards
The Calypso range of clothing is mostly made using the Econyl® yarn mentioned elsewhere, produced by Italian textile-maker Aquafil. The fibre is made from 100% regenerated nylon sourced from fishing-nets and other salvaged waste materials. The range includes men’s and women’s hooded, zipped sun- and water-guards (pictured). These offer 50+ UV protection, are quick-drying and employ Divesangha’s HungDry hanging system. They cost £48.
www.divesangha.com

Scubapro Pyroflex Steamers & Rashguards
These products feature a water-repellant, high-stretch 1.5mm Everflex X-Foam neoprene, claimed to dry quickly and offer maximum flexibility. The interior has a combination of fleece and plush lining for comfort and the garments come in a range of sizes for both men and women. The Pyroflex rashguard pictured costs £74.
www.scubapro.com

HEALTH

Important to consider when travelling abroad are the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, and some of you may be planning dive trips to destinations where malaria, dengue, West Nile, yellow fever and more recently Zika viruses can be spread by the tiny winged assassins.
A proven insect-repellent is a good starting point. DEET-based products have been successful over the years, although DEET is a pesticide and should be used with caution. As an alternative, natural-formula repellents are said to work well. Remember that mosquitoes are at their most active at dawn and dusk and the addition of an impregnated mosquito-net at night could mean the difference between a bite-free trip and an itchy nightmare.
Maintaining hydration is something we normally take for granted. After all, where the local water quality is questionable there’s likely to be an abundance of bottled mineral water available for visiting travellers.
Unfortunately, local waste-management practices in holiday destinations around the globe are not always well-run, leading to hundreds of thousands of plastic bottles being discarded every day and ending up littering coastlines and our oceans. This causes untold damage to the marine eco-system and its vulnerable wildlife.
A single re-usable bottle with a filter system can make a huge difference in this respect and will keep you safe regardless of the local water quality.

Water-to-Go 75cl Filtration Bottle
The Water-to-Go bottle contains filter technology claimed to eliminate 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, chlorine, fluoride and heavy metals supplied from untrusted water sources. This multiple-use filter bottle also removes the need to drink water from single-use plastic bottles that might be discarded and end up polluting our oceans. The 75cl bottle is available with pink, blue, red or black (pictured) sleeves; it costs £25 and a replacement filter costs £10. 50cl bottles are also available.
www.watertogo.eu

Pyramid Trek 50 Insect Repellent
Formulated for malarial areas, Trek 50 (formerly Repel 55) is a medium-strength repellent said to be suitable for general use in tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world such as South-East Asia. Supplied in a 120ml plastic bottle with a pump-action spray it contains 50% DEET and costs around £7. Stronger concentrations containing up to 100% DEET are available for especially high-risk destinations.
www.pyramidtravelproducts.co.uk

Incognito DEET-Free Insect Repellent
The ingredients used in this product are said to be 100% natural, biodegradable, safe to humans and without a trace of DEET. Incognito is non-greasy, claimed to be 100% effective against mosquitoes, sandflies and ticks, and comes in a 100ml pump-action spray bottle. It is recommended by Public Health England and the NHS. The price is £10.
www.lessmosquito.com