SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 15, August 2016 - Page 79



not just coral reefs!

By Martina Milanese - Studio Associato Gaia snc on behalf of Green Bubbles RISE

ay SCUBA and most people will immediately see coral reefs, possibly whale sharks and maybe a

tiny island topped by palms in the background. Well... it didn’t really begin like that, and still tropics are only a part of the story. SCUBA diving was actually born in temperate waters, based on technical innovation brought about by the Second World War. It wasn’t until the advent of affordable long-haul flights and easy-to-operate, reliable equipment that tropical seas became the major destination for recreational diving.

Yet, temperate or even cold waters have never been abandoned. For instance, about one million dives are estimated to take place in Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas alone. Question is: what do we really know about this other flourishing diving universe? Actually, not much apart from some aggregate stats serving the purposes of broad economic analysis.

This is where Green Bubbles, the EU-funded research project on sustainable diving, took off. Over its four-year life span, the international and multidisciplinary project is comparing tropical and temperate diving destinations addressing major questions such as: Who are the divers visiting these destinations, what are they looking for and are they satisfied? Who are the operators, how and why do they operate their business as they do, and can businesses be more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable? What is the system around SCUBA diving, how is diving received and regulated, and why? As expected, research is evidencing differences and commonalities for each component of the system.

For instance, temperate or cold water destinations are subject to seasonal fluctuations in weather and sea conditions, meaning they are mostly active over fewer months compared to tropical destinations. Associated with an overall higher labour cost and more structured framework ruling any aspect of commercial operations, this has management and economic consequences that may affect the success of a business and, in turn, its environmental and social performances. On the other hand, temperate and cold water destinations tend to be served by fully developed infrastructures e.g. for the provision of electricity from the grid, for the discharge of grey and black waters, as well as for the disposal or even recycling of other types of wastes. In short, and just like in tropical areas, temperate or cold water dive centers operate under a blend of internal and external drivers. This means each dive centre (and its staff) holds the power to implement environmentally and socially responsible approaches. How to, in temperate and cold water destinations?