SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 15, August 2016 - Page 80

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?

The dive industry has been through a lag phase that has lasted for some years, and has especially affected mature or saturated markets like Europe. A new momentum has been generated by strong divers’ specialization and by the ongoing

deep revision of training as well as quality standards. From certifying agencies down all through the service providing chain, operators, instructors and dive masters need to keep the pace if they are to stand out in an increasingly competitive market. Based on interviews and observations during the first phase of Green Bubbles, operators are learning quickly that investing in sustainability is a winning strategy. Indeed, both divers as well as territorial authorities value efforts that go beyond legal requirements. This can be nicely matched with branding strategies that, as a positive side-effect, reinforce the message and may prompt competitors to take action along the same line. Also, more specialized clients look for dive centers that can match their higher-than-average expectations. In the real life situation of a temperate or cold water dive centre, this may entail re-thinking training and guiding strategies towards more tailor-made and individually-focused experiences, including longer training periods and smaller groups to accommodate specific needs or expectations. Business-wise, increased costs are in part exposed to the client-diver and in part compensated by the establishment of a stronger relationship between client and business. Unlike distant tropical destinations, this is usually possible in temperate and cold water destinations receiving

a good number of “local” divers who may be repeatedly coming over week-ends and short

breaks. Such relationships are positive on both sides, and far beyond. Of course, operators can rely on a given base of clients, which besides economics facilitates any practical and personal aspect of the work. Divers are more easily stimulated to progress into their education and training, which leads to empowerment and satisfaction but also to more responsible underwater behaviour. Taken together, operators and divers become a team at a given location. Often, these teams are active also during the less favorable winter season and one would argue motivations to dive must be rooted deep inside! The next step, developing a sense of stewardship, is just a natural evolution.

One tangible measure of this process can be found in citizen science initiatives, i.e. scientific projects that to a variable extent rely on observations and data provided by non-specialist volunteers - in this case SCUBA divers. Divers can pick from a variety of citizen science initiatives, differing for overall scope, geographical or temporal extension, protocol, user interface etc. In some cases divers specifically dive to gather data while in other cases observations may be recorded if a given species is spotted during a normal dive. Also, volunteer divers may be asked to measure organisms’ sizes or extensions, take pictures or just record data such as quantity and distribution on a wet note. Engaging divers in citizen science is an invaluable opportunity to raise awareness about the marine environment, its life and the drivers of change that may affect them. Further, it is a powerful way to build a sense of ownership both in returning divers and in local operators. Taken to the next level, successful citizen science initiatives bring together often conflicting actors, such as managers, scientists and operators, for the sake of the same cause.