Bridging the Dive Industry and Ocean Conservation Sectors
This article was written by Al Rios and represents his views.
The scuba diving industry is — and has been for decades–TRAVEL & TOURISM centric.
Unfortunately, that’s one of the major reasons why coral reef ecosystems are in such bad shape.
There is substantial evidence that implicates insufficiently educated, careless, and under-trained scuba divers in the ongoing damage done to vital and sensitive coral reefs.
Dive charters, for example, unwittingly encourage “newbie” and inexperienced divers to make their initial “trial-and-error” mistakes in the ocean. It is estimated that nearly 88% of divers make harmful contact with reefs at least once during a dive. A single dive site can suffer more than 200,000 damaging incidents per year, from trampling and kicking coral with fins, manually touching and/or grabbing them, and deliberately breaking them for keepsakes. This damage makes corals less likely to survive other stressors like overfishing, run-off from land containing pollutants, plastic debris, and climate change. Source: https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/dive-professionals-front-line-coral-reef-protection.
I have personally seen significant levels of destruction done to coral reefs by direct diver contact. For example, during a dive trip off the coast of Jupiter, FL, I was shocked to see large areas of reef flattened by obviously careless and/or untrained divers.
Multiply that on a global scale and you can see the problem. Climate change and ocean acidification are not the only bad players affecting our oceans. Harmful scuba diving activities are also a major contributing factor.
Besides the dive industry, there is another large sector that involves scuba diving: Marine Conservation. But sadly, there appears to be a significant rift between the two.
Many on the ocean conservation side tend to view the dive industry in a negative way because they believe it is fueled by greed and a lust for profit, and is not that concerned about nurturing a healthy marine environment.
Those on the side of the dive industry want people to enjoy themselves while diving, and not be overly concerned about marine bio-systems. “The ocean is big enough,” said a dive charter captain that I’ll keep anonymous, “to handle a few mistakes made by divers.”
I certainly hope that attitude is not a sign of where most dive charters stand on the subject.
And in general, it does appear that the dive industry doesn’t really mind flooding the oceans with inexperienced, often careless and untrained divers.
At least that’s what it looks like.
Marine conservationists, however, want those types of divers to stay away from the oceans until they are properly trained AND mentally oriented around ocean and coral reef care and conservation.
A proposed new type of dive facility will look to bridge BOTH of these major diving sectors.
This unique and creative facility prototype will be designed to make freshwater quarry diving so attractive and compelling to new, undertrained, and/or inexperienced divers that they voluntarily refrain from ocean diving until they have achieved tested proficiency in certain skills and acquired a basic knowledge of marine biology. The drive will be to informally educate (like museums do) those divers about marine ecosystems while they are engaged in the quarry dive experience itself.
For that to happen, a major transformation of the quarry diving environment needs to occur. However, the specifics of that new and exciting prototype are the topic of another article.
For now, the call is to work with dive shop owners, instructors, dive industry leaders, and marine conservationists to see the importance and value of emphasizing both training AND marine education simultaneously. They should tactfully but passionately attempt to dissuade new and inexperienced divers from diving in the oceans until they have mastered certain skills AND demonstrated a working knowledge of basic marine biology.
Note: A caveat to that last thought would be the utilization of an ocean area without sensitive marine life and habitats; an artificial reef of some kind that hasn’t attracted much marine life, and that doesn’t contain soft corals like sea fans.
In my humble opinion, the ONLY way to convince those divers to do that (and temporarily avoid ocean areas teeming with sensitive life and ecosystems) is to create a freshwater environment that mimics the ocean!
The new quarry diving MODEL that I’m proposing will expand on the current use of quarries — as initial training and certification sites in scuba gear use and basic dive techniques — by setting up:
- submerged life-size displays of replicated ocean, and
- exotic freshwater (e.g., Amazon River) life and habitats that divers can enjoy and learn about while performing the actual dive.
This type of direct, immersive experience will help develop a greater understanding and appreciation of the interactions and synergisms found in marine and exotic freshwater ecosystems. Visually stimulating and fun “safari” underwater excursions will help enhance the learning factor.
That will give the oceans (and coral reefs) a respite from divers who shouldn’t be in, or anywhere around them!
In the long run, it will help coral reef ecosystems recover from harmful diving activity.
Helping divers to learn about marine bio-systems and how to better interact with them while underwater should begin at inland dive sites. Practicing and perfecting buoyancy control, incorporating proper trim and fin techniques, etc., while in freshwater will allow divers to make their training mistakes in an aquatic environment where there will be minimal negative effects on it.
What now? You may be interested in the complete Scubanomics Table of Content.