SeadragonSearch Code of Conduct

A guide for safe and enjoyable encounters with wild seadragons

Spending time with seadragons is a wonderful experience for divers, and this experience can also have positive outcomes for the dragons themselves through photographic data that is shared with SeadragonSearch and contributes to scientific knowledge. Along with these potential benefits, it’s important to prioritize responsible diving and photography practices in order to minimize any negative impacts on the marine habitat and the creatures living there. This code of conduct, adapted from the South Australia-based Diving with Dragons brochure, can serve as a guide for safe and enjoyable seadragon encounters.

Respecting seadragons

Understand and respect the signs of a stressed seadragon. 

A leafy seadragon will show stress by bucking, rising in the water column, and generally trying to evade divers. A common (weedy) seadragon will also rise in the water column to attempt evading the source of stress. If a seadragon shows any of these signs, back away, give them more space, and allow them to show what they are comfortable with. 

Do not attempt to touch or handle seadragons in any way. 

Attempting to handle seadragons will certainly cause them stress and may even cause injury. This includes well-intentioned handling, such as attempting to remove native sea lice. It is best to allow seadragons to carry on in their natural environment without human interference.

Do not surround or chase seadragons. 

Surrounding or chasing seadragons (even unintentionally) may cause them to move up or down in the water column, which can be dangerous to their health given their sensitivity to changes in pressure. Seadragons also have small home ranges and causing them to move can disrupt feeding, courtship, and other important behaviors. Pay particular attention to these risks when diving with a larger group of people.

Minimize the amount of photos you take. 

It can be harmful to expose seadragons to bright light over an extended period of time, including repeated camera flashes and dive torches. Try to limit flash photos to 3-4 shots per encounter, with gaps in between flashes. If diving with a group, be aware of the cumulative effect of everyone’s lights on the fish.

Be cautious when using bright lights for filming videos.

Extremely bright lights are often trained on animals for extended periods of time while obtaining video footage, and may have a blinding effect in the short-term, if not cumulative, long-term visual damage. Research has yet to be completed on the effects of video lights on syngnathid fishes, and until we know more it is best to use a precautionary principle. Keep in mind that seadragons are visual predators, and thus rely on the integrity of their vision for survival. 

Aim for a good photo, not a perfect photo.

It’s important to strike a balance between seadragon well-being and effective data collection when photographing seadragons for research and conservation purposes. The process of photographing a seadragon can be stressful for them, so while it’s helpful for our computer vision tools to have a clear shot of the dragon’s head and body, it’s not necessary for the photo to be flawless. For more information on this topic, see our video on choosing photographs to submit to SeadragonSearch.

Be aware of seadragons’ positions when you are in the water with them. 

It is easy for divers to unknowingly kick seadragons with their fins while swimming or hovering. This is especially true in places with higher seadragon density or stronger surge and currents. Do your best to pay attention to surroundings- seadragons are slow swimmers and it’s difficult for them to get out of the way quickly. 

Be especially respectful near male seadragons carrying eggs.

Male seadragons carrying eggs are more slow, sensitive, and cautious during this state, making them (and the juveniles they carry) more vulnerable to the effects of stress. Many males with eggs will try to stay in a small area, so giving them plenty of space is important. 

Respecting seadragon habitat

Avoid touching marine life or collecting souvenirs.

Extend your respect for seadragons to all plant and animal life in the marine habitat. Many of the organisms living alongside seadragons are sensitive, and it can be harmful (or even illegal) to touch, disturb, or remove them. Be aware of local regulations and use a precautionary principle. 

Collect and properly dispose of discarded fishing line. 

Discarded fishing line poses an entanglement threat to seadragons and other animals and should be carefully removed if encountered, providing the diver is able to do so safely. It can also be helpful to remove other types of litter, but make sure that no animals are living inside discarded items before you take them. 

Understand marine reserves’ purposes and dive accordingly.

Marine reserves are implemented to promote healthy environments for both wildlife and humans. They are designed based on the best available scientific research and often aim to protect particularly sensitive species or habitats. As a diver entering lesser-known territory, it’s important to know the regulations for the area you are visiting, as well as have some knowledge of the elements you may encounter. 

Respecting the ocean: dive safety

Be prepared with a dive plan and knowledge of ocean conditions at your dive site.

Encountering unique wildlife such as seadragons is a special experience that will be more enjoyable if the foundation for a safe dive is in place. Prepare thoughtfully in order to maximize the success of your dive and your experience with seadragons. 

Do not endanger yourself or your buddy in pursuit of marine life or photographs.

The best photographs are typically those taken with patience and from a secure position. Avoid rushing or chasing after wildlife. Protect yourself and the animals around you from unexpected stressors by maintaining awareness of gear function and environmental conditions, including depth, current, and hazardous wildlife. 

Maintain proper buoyancy to avoid dragging fins or other equipment across the bottom.

Dive gear should be streamlined to prevent damage to the habitat. Check in regularly throughout the dive with your gear configuration and your buoyancy to make sure you are not inflicting damage or stress on the intricate web of marine life around you. 

Special thanks to Janine Baker and Tony Flaherty whose Diving with Dragons brochure has informed this guide.