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October 2009    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 24, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Why the Dive Industry Is Dying: “It’s the Media’s Fault”

from the October, 2009 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Australian dive operators in North Queensland say the recurring headline “dive death” is partly to blame for killing off the Australian diving industry. Although tourism is flagging generally, operators are adamant no sector has the odds stacked against it like the diving trade, which has declined 30 percent in the past year. Already hurting from the economic downturn and rising fuel costs, worldwide publicity surrounding high-profile fatalities has continued to punish Queensland’s dive industry.

The release of the film Open Water, loosely based on the disappearance of divers Thomas and Eileen Lonergan off Port Douglas in 1998, temporarily reopened wounds six years ago. Since then, the death of honeymooner Tina Watson, left to drown by her husband Gabe Watson in 2004, attracted international headlines, as did Gabe’s court case earlier this year. Then last May, Richard Neely and Alison Dalton made world news after they became separated from their Great Barrier Reef dive charter. The couple was plucked from waters north of Airlie Beach 19 hours after being reported missing.

Dive tour veteran Monique Matthews of the liveaboard Undersea Explorer, one of two private charter operations to fold in the past nine months, said perpetual sensational media coverage has had a “devastating effect” on small industry players. “As it does on so many things, the media sensationalizes these things to the point of no return for us anyway.”

The Undersea Explorer folded under the weight of increasing overhead expenses. Bad press was the straw that broke the camel’s back, Ms. Matthews said. “We can’t fight the huge media machine. The Lonergans disappeared more than a decade ago and people still talk about it. ” In October 2008, Nimrod Explorer, the second Cairns-based liveaboard catamaran, was sold by its U.S. parent Explorer Ventures to a nondiving group.

The dive industry is also incensed at coverage of people who die of medical conditions while diving, which can leave businesses struggling to convince tourists that scuba diving and snorkeling are safe. Queensland Dive Tourism Association general manager Col McKenzie said one problem was the media was too quick to brand fatal incidents “dive deaths” regardless of the circumstances. “Australia will give you world-quality diving which is very, very safe, but we can’t guarantee you won’t suffer a heart attack.”

- by Marissa Calligeros, The Brisbane Times

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