Are Scuba Divers Getting Older and Bored?

It’s interesting to see that, regardless of where you are in the world,  the scuba diving industry calls for renewing commercial offers. This has been highlighted during the first international workshop on Scuba Diving Sustainability organized by the non-profit organization Reef Check Italia and the EU-funded Green Bubbles RISE project.

Marco Palma scuba divers, 4Dive Citizen Science

Scuba divers are changing; the lower recruiting rate observed in the last years is balanced with a higher segmentation of the training offers which support a more complex system of small groups of divers with similar equipment, skills, and soul. But improving the divers’ underwater skills and their efficiency in challenging environmental conditions could represent a short-term goal. The lack in offers on how and why to apply those competencies which different diving niche markets possess would be next gap to fill, to ensure the sustainability of the scuba diving industry.


Free Time is the Real Luxury

During the workshop, several presentations pointed out that scuba divers are willing to pay more for exclusive services (i.e. less crowded boats and dive sites) and at the same time, have fewer possibilities to invest in long holiday periods. Therefore, despite the magnitude of the economic investment for holidays, the lower availability of tourists to be engaged in conservation projects has been observed. Only those already close to environmental issues and with the strong passion for protecting nature are sustaining fundamental research programs running all around the globe.

But how to cope with these changes? And how to engage larger numbers of scuba divers in conservation programs for promoting research and environmental awareness?


Positive Examples

In recent years, underwater archaeology projects have overcome financial constraints and the little availability of experts by training volunteer scuba divers dedicated at specific archaeological excavation sites, demonstrating the sustainability of historical studies and triggering new mechanisms for promoting scuba diving at the local level.

marco palma underwater archaeology sunken wreck 4Dive Citizen Science

Being part of a project from the beginning, discovering unknown histories guided by experts and communicating the results to the public are driving a growing group of skilled volunteer scuba divers willing to invests in exclusive life experiences. These examples have to be considered in designing the new generation of participatory research, or Citizen Science (CS), programs.


The Turning Point in Underwater Research

During the 4-year long Green Bubbles, we designed and tested a brand new, Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry based CS program for mapping underwater scenarios. SfM is a developing technology which can be successfully implemented in underwater conditions by using a wide range of cameras (i.e. from action cameras to full frame cameras). In recent years, several ecological studies explored the capabilities of SfM, reinventing in several cases traditional underwater sampling methods.

marco palma underwater archaeology sunken wreck 4Dive Citizen Science

We are facing a turning point in underwater data collection, which will have significant effects on how traditional research will be performed, and consequently on all the CS programs based on underwater data collection. It’s a revolutionary moment, like when satellite imageries became available and new research streams developed in land cover and sea surface monitoring.

Despite satellite imageries, SfM outcomes include not only high resolution photographic orthorectified mosaics but also point clouds from which 3D models and Digital Terrain Models are generated.

The main constraints related with SfM uses are the little application for ecological studies which is related to the lack in standardised methods, and the need of strong computing resources which constrain the application of SfM data processing to limited size datasets.


4Dive: Challenging Citizen Science Program for Skilled Scuba Divers

The 4Dive program is based on the experiences gained in data collection and data processing by the team in UBICA srl and UNIVPM, with the collaboration of the Institute of Information Technologies of the Italian National Research Centres. The research team published several scientific papers presenting procedural frameworks to standardize underwater mapping, and benthic communities characterization methods. Moreover, they developed tools for cloud data processing within the e-infrastructure D4Science, which has been developed as a collaborative cloud research environment. Here researchers can submit processes for data analysis, share results within the community and receive reports and results.

4Dive is empowered with the computing capacity of D4Science supporting large image datasets processing. Images can be recorded by different cameras handled by several divers, and time series datasets can be processed all at the same time or by ten steps. The outcomes are 3D models published in the 4Dive portal and can be explored with virtual reality devices (i.e. Oculus) through interactive 3D widows embedded in the portal. Point cloud, 3D models and orthomosaics can be calculated as well and shared with scientists willing to process the generated informative layers.


The 4Dive Experience

Within Green Bubbles project and with the support of Divers Alert Network Europe (DAN) and scuba diving associations in Malta, during 2018 4Dive launched some pilot initiatives in Malta. Four diving centres (Orange Shark, DiveMed, Nautic Team, Atlantis) were involved in promoting the actions and a total of 30 divers with different level of experience (from instructors to customers) were involved in mapping activities during 4 events in 4 different diving sites.  More than 7400 images were acquired, selected and processed generating 3D models of shipwrecks and underwater habitats.

During the 1st International SCUBA Diving Sustainability Workshop held in Genoa (Italy) last October, an additional event supported by Portofino Divers diving center involved 6 divers in the reconstruction of the Mohawk Deer shipwreck in Portofino Marine Protected Area.

In Indonesia (Bangka Island) testing long-term monitoring actions on coral reef structure and diversity with the support of the organization Reef Check Italia and the scientific resort Coral Eye.

marco palma scuba diver at surface 4Dive Citizen Science


The Enthusiasm of Divers and Operators

It has been clear since the beginning that this kind of underwater activity is attractive to both scuba divers and operators. Divers feel to play a key role in creating something useful for environmental conservation and society, they are stimulated in improving their scuba diving skills and receive effective feedback of the job done with 3D models that can be shared through social media profiles and be attractive to other divers.


Marco Palma & Ubaldo Pantaleo

Marco Palma is a PhD candidate at DISVA (Department of Environmental and Life Sciences) at the Polytechnic University of Marche, Italy. His research focuses on marine and coastal habitats assessments and remote sensing technologies, with attention towards creating applied methods for underwater mapping, suitable for citizen sciences programs.

Ubaldo Pantaleo is an environmental scientist and expert in underwater photogrammetric surveys applied to the monitoring of coastal marine habitats. Phd candidate at DISVA and coordinator for Reef Check Med in Southern Italy, he is co-founder of UBICA (Underwater Bio-CArtography), Italian enterprise working in the field of underwater scientific surveys and 3D cartography.

“We learned that underwater mapping is fun! We had a very interesting training sessions at sea and in the classroom” Cit. Abigail, DiveMed dive center, Marsaskala (Malta).
“Thanks to 4Dive initiative, I had the opportunity to discover and apply SfM. Now I’m aware of its potential: helpful for both research and tourism”  Cit. Antonietta, Master student in Marine Biology

Operators are happy with enthusiastic divers who can promote with their work the underwater heritage of the local area and support the economic income of the business, favoring new offers that can be implemented by the diving centre.

“It was a great opportunity to host the Green Bubble Project in our dive center. In this age of technology, it is very beneficial to have a virtual map of the dive site to use in dive briefings” Cit. Mikela, owner of DiveMed dive center, Marsaskala (Malta).
“I can really see lots of opportunities for my business. 4Dive is a sustainable project for nature, people and operators”  Cit. Marco, Owner of Coral Eye resort (Indonesia).


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