The 1st International Scuba Diving Sustainability Workshop, a 3-day intensive hosted by ReefCheck Italy – was held Oct 19-21, 2018 in Genoa, Italy. A highlight of this was the big reveal of Green Bubbles’ 5-year Blue Economy project. An initiative of ten different universities and research organizations that studied the dive industry as a sustainable business model.
Present at the 1st International Scuba Diving Sustainability Workshop were economists, marine biologists, social scientists, engineers & technology pros, marine parks managers, NGO’s, students and businesses. We’ll be filling you in on more of the results in upcoming BON articles.
The aha moment for me in this 3-day event was how much science needs regular people with diving skills RIGHT NOW to assist in real scientific research and data collection. With the rise in popularity of citizen science on a global scale, underwater citizen science is a opportunity where science, business and divers all benefit.
The upsides and challenges of underwater Citizen Science were highlighted in a variety of presentations: With a workshop full of problem solvers, discussions went straight to four core issues: (1) The level of accuracy of the data collected – was it robust enough for scientific use? (2) The relevancy of data collection points – is the data being collected of real use to solve problems in resource management and policy setting? (3) The lack of availability of regular teams of citizen scientists to carry out projects on an on-going basis and (4) The absence of free access to data collection databases for everyone to use.
Reef Check A Case Study
ReefCheck is an illustrative live case study: An international marine conservation NGO, it has a track record of collecting data on the health of coral reefs.
With years in the field, ReefCheck has training systems and clear protocols in place that allow regular divers to collect robust and relevant data that researchers, resource managers and policy makers can confidently use in their work.
ReefCheck provides free access to their database by anyone, anywhere.
The common problem faced by science-based organizations that rely on citizens is the lack of a system in place that can consistently attract, funnel and engage divers in their projects, on an ongoing basis so that this research doesn’t die in the field.
That’s where the rest of us come in.
First of all, it’s nice to know that more often than not, scientists are embracing average Joes and Jills as valuable members of field research teams. Secondly, the discussions showed how far we’ve come in acknowledging the role that travel & recreation can play to help understand and solve some of the biggest environmental issues we all face.
The question now is a system (or systems) that connect divers and snorkelers to destinations, operators and science projects in an effective manner that enlivens business (in terms of producing revenue and embedding a compelling mission within its daily operations) AND that gives science the robust data it needs.
Another dimension of this current conundrum is providing satisfying and authentic entry level guest experiences that encourage ongoing diver engagement.
Several examples of “greenwashing” of citizen science activities were brought up, showing how poorly planned or scientifically-pathetic activities left customers feeling dissatisfied and suspicious of the operator and the data collection organization.
Several different models that worked in specific locations with particular activities were discussed by Workshop participants.
All agreed that having a scientist as a dive operation team member is a major selling point for the dive operation, and for the ongoing success of the project.
With ongoing fieldwork that relies on a regular funnel of trained divers, marine archaeologist Irena Radic-Rossi currently relies on a few foreign dive clubs; some of these club members have morphed into a revolving crew of dedicated science divers who carry out ongoing work to uncover wrecks in the Adriatic Sea. (photo – Irene Radic-Rossi)
All you need to see is a pile of amphorae to see why they are such committed citizen scientists!
Relying on Dive Tourists
ReefCheck relies on dive tourists to carry out its work, to varying success depending on the destination. ReefCheck Egypt needs citizen support, but with a tourist base of all-inclusive, cheap trip travelers, it is currently relying on locals – dive masters, instructors and a small rotating expat community to carry out coral reef monitoring work.
There is great opportunity to bring science, business, conservation and travelers together to create rewarding holidays and valuable research.
A starting point is understand the citizen science ecosystem that applies to travelers; There is no ‘starter’ list of ongoing citizen science projects that are both robust and relevant that need diving skill sets to collect data.
A next step is awareness building that informs dive operators of citizen science opportunities for their business; the right dive operator is one who is passionate enough about the environment to champion this kind of activity within their operation.
And a third piece is to put the right citizen science activities in place that allow the dive business AND its guests to benefit too.
The final piece is a system that provides an ongoing source of citizen science travelers who want to devote a portion of their vacation to this activity.
A champion at the dive operations level is a key piece. Dive operators wondering where the heck are they going to find a scientist willing to pump tanks and lead guest dives discovered that there is an untapped resource of young marine biologists who are keen AND trained for this kind of job.
In fact, we met several skilled young marine scientists at the workshop who are driven to contribute to a better planet. Through networking opportunities such as this workshop, they find job opportunities, valuable life experiences, and a means to be the change they want to see in the world. And they abound in this community! The solutions are right in front of us.
Many thanks to Green Bubbles for the opportunity for Blue Ocean Network to present at the 1st International Scuba Diving Sustainability Workshop.
All abstracts from this workshop can be downloaded here.
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