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January 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 34, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Women Divers May Be Better Than Men

from the January, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

NASCAR drivers, predominantly male, love the racetrack because of the thrill and the danger, plus there’s no need to stop and ask for directions. Seems like it’s the same for male divers – and that’s bad for the reefs. Research from the University of Hull in England says that men are more to blame than women for diver-caused environmental damage, and women divers are much more aware of their surroundings. Mandy Shackleton, a divemaster and masters student at the University’s Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences, spent three years in Kenya observing 500 divers of all nationalities and measuring different types of damage to coral reefs caused by male and female divers.

She says men are prone to showing off. “When men go diving, they experience ‘sensation seeking.’ This triggers a chain reaction of hormones. First comes the stress hormone cortisol, then testosterone, the hormone linked with aggression, followed up by adrenalin. The combination of these three results in erratic, dangerous diving.”

Her study showed that men’s “spatially unaware” behavior causes them to swim too close and break pieces off with their fins. Too much flipper action churns up seabed sediment, which suffocates and kills the coral.

By contrast, “Female divers have better orientation underwater,” Shackleton says. “They have a greater awareness of what is going on around them, they are more conscious of safety and therefore dive with greater care.”

Nigel Forman, a professor of psychology at England’s Middlesex University, says that above water, men are usually cited as having better spatial awareness than women. “However, women tend to use local cues and signposts in their immediate vicinity to navigate, and it’s possible this is more effective underwater, where visibility in even the clearest waters is not as good as it is on land.”

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