DIve Travel Business News: The Ocean is our Silent Partner: Yet it has No Place at the Dive Industry Table



(Dive Travel Business News.com – Nov 15, 2013) — DTBN.com Editorial —  by Laurie J. Wilson

DEMA’s Moving Towards 2020: Developing a Strategic Vision for the Recreational Diving Industry brainstorming session was held on the closing Saturday of DEMA Show 2013 in Orlando, Florida.

Scheduled during show exhibit hours, the meeting was well-attended, and well-organized. Before we were divided into working groups, DEMA’s Executive Director Tom Ingram walked the participants through the latest findings of DEMA surveys that pointed to potential markets to re-engage lapsed divers and activate new ones.

It was the first slide that grabbed my attention:
The slide, entitled “Dive Industry Stakeholders” was described something like this: “You all know this already,
but we have to say it anyway”…

According to the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association, the Stakeholders in the Dive Industry are listed as follows:

1. Manufacturers
2. Certification Agencies
3. Media
4. Dive Centers
5. Travel Suppliers

Is there a stakeholder missing?
My first impression was, where’s the environment? Does it not have a seat at the table? Granted, the answer to this question is simple: the DEMA stakeholder list is based on the Association membership segments that have voting rights in the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association. In our association, you pay to play as a dive industry stakeholder.

This point of view completely misses the point, but I am getting ahead of myself.

The Saga of Sipadan
Earlier at DEMA Show 2013, I attended a thought-provoking seminar by Malaysia dive industry pioneer and International Scuba Diving Hall of Famer, Clement Lee. Now a retired partner in Borneo Divers, Clement was once responsible for opening up that gem of an Island called Sipadan, on the east coast of Borneo. And he explained at the Tourism Malaysia seminar how he was partially responsible for closing it down.

As a personal back story, I’d met Clement when I visited the much lauded Sipadan after speaking at DEMA Asia in Kuala Lumpur in 1996. It was the best coral reef diving I’ve ever done. In fact, David Doubilet – along with his 18 cameras – was at Clement’s resort shooting Sipadan’s spectacular coral reef drop-offs and helixing schools of barracuda for National Geographic. Sipadan was really remote – it took a lot of time and effort to get there. It wasn’t cheap either. And the accommodations were “rustic”. Surely with all these factors in place, it would be a gem forever?

But not 7 years after this visit, Clement had decided to pull his resort operation out of Sipadan because of the state of the reefs. He saw that if strong controls were not put in place, the reefs would be destroyed in as little as three years.

Sipadan was being dived to death.

Clement asked fellow dive operators to do the same – to give Sipadan a rest. He explained to the members of the Malaysia Sport Diving Association (MSDA) that while they were all in competition with each other, they shared a common value – and more to the point – a common valuable asset called THE OCEAN. If they could all agree to take care of the ocean together, all the other aspects of their businesses would fall into place in a collaborative win-win.

“The environment is our silent partner,” said Clement to his peers. These are the words of a wise and very successful businessman; yet they fell on deaf ears.

Even with this enlightened plea, the other operators were not interested in leaving Sipadan;  they were hoping to reap all the advantages they could while the going was still good. Clement chose to exit anyway. And it was soon after that that the government asked all operators to leave the island. A strict  limit of 120 divers per day was imposed on outside operators to the island, and several other beautiful dive islands were opened up to balance and mitigate diver impact.

The Success of Sustainability
In 2014 it will be 10 years since Sipadan was “closed” as a resort island and proper controls were put into place to allow it to regenerate itself. It is a huge success story that I’ve asked Clement Lee to share more fully with us in an upcoming post. In a nutshell, the looming environmental crisis in Sipadan brought operators together to work together, it instilled sustainable dive business practices, it opened up new areas, it created more business for everyone, while protecting Malaysia’s marine heritage. The crux of this story is critical for our industry to understand:

The ocean is our silent partner.
And if we don’t take care of it we have no business. It seems so obvious, so essential to our business model and operational mindset, and yet the ocean has no seat at our industry table. It’s evident by its absence on the “Dive Industry Stakeholders” slide at DEMA’s Moving Towards 20:20 brainstorming session.

This is a huge oversight, and we are ALL responsible. The ocean has been our silent partner all along. But with stronger and more frequent storms, coral reef degradation, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, plastic pollution, dwindling shark numbers, diseased whales and dolphins, disseminated fish populations, the ocean is talking to us loud and clear – in the only way it can.

Who cares enough?
Up until now, only a minority of dive operations can be viewed as being truly eco-friendly; giving back through volunteer efforts, partnering with non-profits and scientific groups, making environmental donations as part of doing business, engaging and educating the local community and its own customers, supporting marine protected areas, investing in sustainable infrastructure, and following sustainable practices to protect the environment on which their businesses are based:  Wakatobi in Indonesia, Misool Eco-Resort in Raja Ampat, Matava in Fiji, Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman are some examples.

There are wholesalers and tour operators like Deep Blue Adventures and G Adventures that have the environment and social responsibility as a core piece in their missions. There are dive center owners like Steve Mussman at Sea Lab Diving in Atlanta, Georgia and Sage Dalton at Ocean First Divers in Boulder Colorado who put the ocean first. We are seeing non-profits like the Coral Restoration Foundation partnering with dive operations and dive destination governments to restore reefs and generate new business.

This list of ocean-friendly businesses is by no means exhaustive, but it gives you some examples of those who have brought the ocean into their businesses as a full partner, and not as an after-thought.

It’s time to stop taking our ocean environment for granted.
It’s time to stop ignoring the problem. It’s time to stop paying lip service to marine conservation. Making short shrift of our environmental responsibility is epidemic in this industry.  It’s time to take responsibility.  It’s time for ocean action. We are on the leading edge of ocean protection. As dive business owners we have a vested interest in protecting our marine environment. We see what’s going on. We can do something about it.

Yes. We. Can.

This was the consensus of the participants at a session sponsored by the Colorado Scuba Retailers Association and the Colorado Ocean Coalition, entitled Bluing of the Dive Industry hosted by SSI president Doug McNeeese on Nov 8 at DEMA Show 2013. In spite of the last minute scheduling, and the fact it took place concurrently with the DEMA Show’s Keynote address, it was attended by an impressive cross-section of industry stakeholders who want the environment recognized as an industry stakeholder. Scientists, marine NGO’s, and government policy people were also at this “table”.

This concept of a Blue Industry is a no-brainer that only a relative few are willing to fully embrace. But it’s clear:  If we don’t make an honored place at the head of the table for our oceans, we will have no industry.  The environment must be a part of our business mission, and be an integral part of our day-to-day operations, education programs, trip planning and lifestyle. It’s good for profits, it’s good for the planet and it’s good for people.

It’s a blue attitude. And it’s how we must roll.

Bluing the Dive Industry
You can do one thing right now to make your operation more sustainable. What will it be?  We’ve provided a list of links to Ocean-Friendly Practices on this site. But you can start super simple with this National Geo Ten Things You Can Do To Save The Oceans.  And visit the websites of the examples mentioned above. They will give you some ideas as to where you can take immediate action.

As the Bluing the Industry working groups move forward, I’ll be able to share more specific practices, tools and techniques in upcoming posts.

If you have information, eco-friendly examples or best practices you’d like to share, I’m all ears. If  you would like to join one of the Bluing the Dive Industry working groups I’d be happy to put you in touch with those in the know. Either way, you can email me at Laurie.Wilson@divetravelbusiness.com

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