Written by Al Rios for Scubanomics.
The noticeable decline in diver participation, particularly at inland/local dive sites, continues to be a subject of intense discussion within the dive industry. The decade long downturn in local diver participation has created concern in the minds of many dive industry leaders. In fact, one well-known dive instructor in the mid-Atlantic area made the comment that the dive industry is actually DYING!
Many problems have been presented and debated, but very few and practical solutions have been forthcoming. DEMA’s “Go Dive Now” program is having some positive impact, but the drop out rate of regularly participating divers continues to increase.
For the recreational dive industry to survive now and in the future, I believe that a strong emphasis needs to be made on creating freshwater dive sites that irresistibly draw divers to them. Consistent and regular inland diver participation is the key to a healthy and vibrant dive industry, and if that’s going to happen, something drastic has to change at inland dive sites themselves.
What do I mean? Consider the following.
Ocean and exotic freshwater (e.g. the Amazon River) diving have an automatic and compelling attraction. They provide vibrant colors and gratifying visual stimulation, an almost infinite variety of plant and animal species to observe and learn about, sunken wrecks that have a ghostly and historical appeal, and spectacular cave systems that take our breath away. Even if you visit a particular spot on a regular basis, you’re bound to see something new. That’s what makes ocean and exotic freshwater diving so popular. Our powerful sense of sight, the strong human craving for adventure and variety, and the almost insatiable drive to discover and explore, are huge motivators when it comes to diving in those extraordinary underwater worlds.
Inland dive sites do not have anywhere near the same level of appeal. A variety of objects (mostly junk) are submerged within them as “attractions” in order to give divers things to look at. But let’s face it: junk doesn’t really offer significant fulfillment of our dive cravings in the long run. Items like buses, cars, planes, etc. are interesting at first, but are rarely, if ever, rotated and replaced with other things. They soon become covered with silt, muck, and algae, and are allowed to remain like that for extended periods of time without regular attempts to clean and maintain them. After a couple of dives in environments like that, the “WOW!” factor lessens significantly. “Cold”, “green”, “dirty”, and (eventually) “boring” are adjectives often used to describe diving in quarry and lake environments. These stereotypical descriptions tend to suppress the passion to get wet for the vast majority of recreational divers.
Granted, there are some positives to diving in those conditions. The stress that builds in the psyche of a diver when confronted with the inability to see clearly, for example, can be significantly lessened by regularly immersing oneself in that type of underwater ambiance. Deliberately choosing to get wet in colder water helps a diver anticipate sudden temp changes so that acclimation is quicker and less traumatic. Colder water also keeps many biologically harmful parasites from finding a home and infecting divers.
You can see that there are good and positive reasons to dive in quarries and lakes. The problem seems to be one of sustaining an interest level that will spur recreational divers to frequent inland sites regularly and consistently. If divers are given compelling things to see and enjoy underwater, while being comfortable at a safe and common sense level, I believe they would be willing to put up with the temporary and minor discomfort of colder water temperatures.
For example, if a diver knows that there is a warm place he/she can get into once they exit the water, instead of dreading chilly winds and temperatures (during cold days and the winter months), they will be more inclined to temporarily tolerate getting cold while submerged underwater.
Many dive buddies have told me they don’t mind diving in cold or chilled water as long as they are properly suited, and can expect to warm up quickly once they get out. But what if the ambient conditions are 42 degrees (or less), windy, and cloudy? Having to don and doff gear in those situations can be absolutely miserable! I have known many divers who had planned for two or more dives on any given day, but decided to abruptly stop and go home after the first one. They just couldn’t stop shaking. I’ve experienced that, and it’s not fun.
Unfortunately, many inland dive site managers/owners do not usually go out-of-their-way to accommodate divers in terms of above-water comfort. Very basic and necessary amenities are usually provided (e.g. porta johns), but not much else. Most divers are forced to put on and take off their gear out in the open, or under some type of canopy structure or wall-less pavilion.
A dive facility that strives to mitigate those ambient negatives just might motivate divers to get wet more often even when nature is not fully cooperative.
Let’s consider something else: folks who live in the USA, particularly young people, have been conditioned to pursue constant sensory stimuli to keep from getting bored and restless. That’s the reality of our fast-paced, technologically advanced world, and we shouldn’t expect that to change any time soon.
For ocean and exotic freshwater divers, the physical senses are heightened and fully engaged when immersed in those environments; they are compelling and continue to engage both young and old.
The same can’t be said about inland diving, so the effort must be made to set up and operate more appealing quarry and lake dive destinations.
When people (and in our case, divers) have their senses invigorated, they also become much more inclined to LEARN and absorb information. Why not take advantage of that reality and create a quarry diving experience that will informally educate participating divers about aquatic life and habitats from around the world?
Imagine going on an underwater “safari” where you can see and learn about the fauna and flora found in the Amazon, Nile and Congo Rivers. Or how about the Red Sea?
Picture a replicated stretch of coral reef with all of its abundant biodiversity on display underwater… in a quarry!
Incorporating some of the attractive elements found in ocean and exotic freshwater habitats into an ordinary freshwater site, and making the above-water amenities as diver-centric as possible, are sure to ignite inland diving. The effort to cultivate and transform freshwater quarries and lakes into Aquatic Life Educational Centers for scuba divers will shoot adrenaline into an otherwise lethargic dive industry.