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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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September 1997 Vol. 12, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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From the Pastime of Aficionados to the Trendy Sport of Millions

from the September, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Within the competitive world of resort dive operators, the traditional role of the dive supervisor as a nature guide is rapidly giving way to that of a side-show entertainer. It seems most ironic that one of the strongest motivations to engage in scuba diving is that it provides us with an opportunity to leave the artificial worlds we have created. A primary reason for visiting places like coral reefs is to observe wildlife in its natural state. What then is the appeal of making a circus of such places? The sight of frantic clouds of reef fishes vying for a taste of Cheeze-Whiz or the sight of a barracuda snatching a dead fish from the mouth of a divemaster are cheap carnival tricks, not observations of nature.

The increasingly popular side-show approach is directly rooted in two recent developments. First, reef diving has evolved from the pastime of a comparatively small core of adventurous aficionados to the trendy sport of millions -- it is now a highly competitive multibillion-dollar industry.

Over the same period, the vast majority of new divers were provided with training far less rigorous than those of the past -- part of an ill-advised but highly successful effort by commercial interests to rapidly widen a lucrative market. The traditional physical and psychological skills and training necessary to confidence and self-reliance underwater suddenly became secondary to the goal of assuring the industry a maximal number of customers as quickly as possible.

Today's dive operators accommodate ever-growing hordes of minimally drown-proofed divers. To satisfy this new breed of customer who often lacks the skills and confidence to explore, more and more operators are providing trained fish circuses. Fish-feeding and other forms of orchestrated underwater displays are increasingly seen by operators as the best way of remaining competitive.

In contrast, the resort scene is witnessing the rapid disappearance of the relatively few remaining operators who take their charges to infrequently visited reefs and, with a bit of advice, turn them loose to explore. Sadly, the most adventurous aspect of reef diving -- the opportunity to discover -- is disappearing with them.

It is a nearly universal practice among dive operators to repeatedly take their boats to a relatively few select spots. These are usually the best dive sites in the area -- those with the most spectacular coral formations and the most abundant marine life. Unfortunately then, the very places that should be given maximal protection are the places being most rapidly devastated by daily deluges of insufficiently trained scuba divers.

The diving industry itself has created this massive problem, and until the problem is acknowledged and addressed the negative impact of sport divers will only continue to increase.

William S. Alevizon

From Pisces Books' Caribbean Reef Ecology, by William S. Alevizon, published by Lonely Planet Publications.

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