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2Q2016UJ_LivingSeas_Business

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  1. 1. BUSINESS SHUTTERSTOCK Adopting and enshrining conservation measures in your practice can expand your dive business BY TED ALAN STEDMAN I n 1985, Stuart Cove bucked conventional wisdom of the time and began what eventually led to shark interaction dives in the waters of his home turf on New Providence Island, Bahamas. Though he never imagined what that decision would spawn – one of the Carib- bean’s most successful dive centers, PADI Five Star Instructor Development Center Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, and comprehensive shark protection regulations – he had a gut feel- ing recreational diving was poised to take on a sense of purpose greater than its grandeur. “I was already known as a ‘shark wrangler’ and had experience with movie produc- tions handling tiger sharks, and I knew the negative public perception about sharks as ‘man eaters’ was largely unfounded,” he recalls, adding that killing of area sharks at the time was widespread. “We’d been-there, done-that with wrecks and reefs, and we looked at shark diving to add another dimension, something that would fully engage divers and hopefully lead to a greater awareness of their plight.” D o T h e R I G H T T H I N G PA D I . C O M 41
  2. 2. 42 T H E U N D E R S E A J O U R N A L 2 Q 2 0 1 6 BUSINESS After adding shark dives on his regular itinerary in the late ’80s, his business grew “exponentially,” he says. A five-year study later determined no negative effects to sharks, and in fact shark populations had grown healthier. Fast forward and Cove says 40 percent of his dive customers now come spe- cifically for shark dives. Yet he’d argue the resulting increased environmental awareness and meaningful changes are what count most. “I’m a huge shark advocate and now they’re celebrities. People dive with sharks, mantas, groupers – whatever – and they become their ambassadors.” An upshot of public pressure elicited by Cove’s evangelizing had the government of the Bahamas enact complete shark protection spanning 259,000 square kilo- metres/100,000 square miles of ocean. “Divers by nature are conservationists, and our [dive centers] role should be to nurture that,” Cove says. Cove’s success at integrating envi- ronmental stewardship isn’t unique. Supported by Project AWARE, a global network of PADI Dive Centers is putting ocean advocacy front-and-center, essen- tially making the environment part of the new normal of doing business. As dive industry members report, taking this role not only reflects a commitment to protect- ing an indispensible asset, it enhances and grows their business. Take PADI Five Star Career Devel- opment Center Rich Coast Diving Co. in Playas del Coco, Costa Rica, where co- owner Brenda Van Gestel says sharks in peril and marine debris – central tenants of Project AWARE – are major focuses of their marine resources messaging. Van Gestel reaches kids early on by con- ducting marine science classes at a local school. “I started a curriculum three years ago for a 90-minute class for stu- dents age 9 to 12, and now we’re targeting home school kids with marine ecology – why recycling plastics is important, why sharks need protection, what we can do to make a difference,” she says. Her workshops have kids visiting mar- kets to evaluate canned seafood and see if it has dolphin/shark-safe labeling. That awareness extends to restaurants, with discussions about removing shark from menus. Rich Coast also supports Mis- sion Tiburon’s shark-tagging efforts, as well as sponsoring the Nakawe Project’s anti-shark finning and marine pollution campaigns that have become causes célè- bres throughout Costa Rica. Van Gestel says dive centers can encour- age involvement from local businesses that also rely on tourism as a consequence of a healthy marine environment. “We get businesses to support by donating prizes for raffles while we donate diving. And we have Carlos Hiller [noted Costa Rica marine mural artist] create life-sized paintings of sharks, which last year raised $1800 US that we donated to Project AWARE,” she explains, noting that Rich Coast is a 100% AWARE operator. Her shop’s distinctive dives have become a hit and include shark, manta, turtle, debris, whale shark, plus Van Gestel recently cre- ated a PADI Distinctive Specialty course for bull shark diving. She stresses that leading environmen- tal awareness goes with the territory and is a motivation in itself. Yet as a natural byproduct, a portion of Van Gestel’s stu- dents as well as other locals have taken PADI and AWARE Specialty and Dis- tinctive Specialty Diver courses. With education, business growth follows, she says. “When they learn, they care. Now we have kids intent on becoming dive- masters once they turn 18. It’s the next generation.” Half a world away in Malaysia, that “next generation” concern carries weight with PADI Course Director Clement Lee, who cities an example of unintended con- sequences when marine conservation isn’t part of the diving equation. The retired PADI Dive Center oper- ator – a 33-year veteran in the dive industry and the country’s first PADI Course Director – was a diving pioneer of Sipadan and experienced wild success with his Borneo Divers. But in the course of a decade, he was drawn toward the conservation message as he saw a flood of dive operators and tourists swarm the island he loved. He voluntarily left the island in 2004, and was later followed by other operators under a government decree seeking to protect the marine environment. Now, a quota of 120 divers per day regulates visits, and the island’s marine life has rebounded magnificently. “Closing shop wasn’t a popular decision among operators,” he recalls, “but I wit- nessed a downward slide in the marine environment with Sipadan’s popularity. If something wasn’t done, Sipadan would disappear as a world-renowned diving destination.” Lee’s sacrifice led him to his life’s calling as Tourism Malaysia Advi- sor for Diving, a position enabling him to preach the importance of integrat- ing environmental awareness into the diving experience. “We have coral resto- ration, species protection and dive centers are adopting the environmental ethic – a complete turnaround. Operators at first thought they’d go under, but instead the dive tourism receipts have grown mark- edly and Sipadan and the Malaysian state of Sabah are experiencing the highest quality of diving,” he states proudly. Some might say the Caribbean island of Bonaire got out front with the marine con- servation message early on after listening to early dive operators and establishing the encircling Bonaire National Marine Park in 1979. That commitment runs particularly strong at PADI Dive Center Dive Friends Bonaire, which operates five dive centers and four retail stores. As I’M A HUGE SHARK ADVOCATE AND NOW THEY’RE CELEBRI- TIES. PEOPLE DIVE WITH SHARKS, MANTAS, GROU- PERS – WHATEVER – AND THEY BECOME THEIR AMBASSADORS.” “ COURTESYIMAGESCLOCKWISEFROMTOPLEFT:DIVEFRIENDSBONAIRE;STUARTCOVE’S;DIVEFRIENDSBONAIRE;STUARTCOVE’S;RICHCOASTDIVING;STUART’SCOV
  3. 3. Shark Awareness, BahamasBonaire Eco-Challenge Bahamas underwater cleanup Debris Free Bonaire Coral nursery, BahamasCosta Rican classroom
  4. 4. 44 T H E U N D E R S E A J O U R N A L 2 Q 2 0 1 6 BUSINESS General Manager Carolyn Caporusso sees it, there’s no substitute for enthusiasm. “You can’t fake it,” she says. “When you’re concerned about the environment, it shows. If you look at our ads, it’s not about offers and sales but about recruit- ing more volunteers and promoting awareness” of marine conservation. Dive Friends heavily promotes issues facing the ocean, evident on one of its main web- site pages labeled “Eco Activities”, which looks at related programs and how visit- ing divers can help out. “We get countless dive guests who all say, ‘We choose Dive Friends because of your environmental programs,’” says Caporusso. For instance, the 100% AWARE dive center greets all clients with its over- arching “Without blue there is no green” slogan that serves as a roadmap to various PADI and AWARE distinctive specialty courses, such as Sea Turtle Awareness, Dive Against Debris, Reef Fish ID and others. With so many issues to tackle, Caporusso says it’s important for dive centers to “pick one thing that you can do locally and set aside some of your market- ing budget to promote it.” Case in point is Bonaire’s “out of sight, out of mind” eastern coastline, largely unseen by many visitors who congregate along the developed western coast. Dive Friends created the Debris Free Bonaire program to call attention to the problem and encourage volunteers through savvy persuasion. “Volunteers visit any of our shop locations for debris bags, enjoy a scenic drive to the eastern coast and basi- cally compete to pick up the most trash,” she says. Filled bags are later returned, weighed, sorted for recycling, and vol- unteers’ names are entered into a raffle. “It’s a fun way to do something positive,” she says, “and we make sure to notify the local newspaper to spread the word and give recognition to the program and vol- unteers.” Debris cleanups go below as well, with Dive Friends, customers plan- ning their Bonaire visits to coincide with the quarterly annual scheduled efforts. “These cleanups have become very popu- lar – we have about 100 customers who’ve returned many times for the cleanup dives and won’t book until they know the dates,” Caporusso says. “It’s a win-win if you help the environment because div- ers prefer to spend their money to support what you’re doing.” When it comes to confronting marine environment issues head-on as a stan- dard course of business, one of the more aggressive is PADI Five Star Instructor Development Center Scuba Dogs, based in Puerto Rico. In cases occurring this year, several turtles, a nurse shark, reef fish and other marine species were ille- gally targeted. For owner Alberto Marti Ruiz, who founded the dive center in 2002 and now operates an additional location, it was further proof that Scuba Dog’s role goes beyond simply providing a dive experience. “Our involvement is crucial,” Ruiz feels, “and as a PADI Five Star Dive Cen- ter, we realized early on that we could make an impact.” Ruiz says these latest incidents underscore why his business is involved in installing permanent signage around the San Juan waters of Escam- bron Marine Park, with a goal to educate the public about all manner of marine issues. The initiative is being developed in unison with the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Florida, which offered its exper- tise. The effort has gotten the attention of the Puerto Rico Natural Resources as well, a critical component for establish- ing the initiative countrywide. Ruiz says his commitment took on a life of its own with the 2002 creation of an educational campaign called “Trash Fish,” which leads 10 beach cleanups as part of the annual International Coastal Cleanup. The global effort, founded by the Ocean Conservancy, saw 560,000 volun- teers in 91 countries pick up more than 7 million kilograms/16 million pounds of trash in 2014. For Ruiz’s part, his local campaign got noticed by Ocean Conservancy in 2003, and requested that Scuba Dogs become their national Coordinators for Puerto Rico. As a result, Ruiz launched the Scuba Dogs Society in 2007 as an independent nonprofit environmental organization. Does his involvement help turn the tide, making divers and potential cus- tomers ocean advocates? By sharing information on its ongoing projects and initiatives, the answer is yes, Ruiz says. “We have the cleanups and many other events conducted throughout the year by the Scuba Dogs Society, and participation is amazing,” he says. Because underwa- ter cleanups occur on every dive, the exercise becomes second nature for div- ers thereafter. “I strongly believe our ‘education through action’ movement has gener- ated an unprecedented level of awareness and engagement,” Ruiz says. “Puerto Rico beaches are cleaner today in large part because of our society’s movement. It’s even more evident on the ocean floor.” And by offering many of the PADI Spe- cialty Diver courses that dovetail into the marine conservation ethos Scuba Dogs embodies, Ruiz feels his dive com- munity is further incentivized to become dive ambassadors for years to come. CALL TO ACTION Adopt these measures to reflect your com- mitment to the marine environment Be a proponent of Project AWARE and become 100% AWARE Provide information and education about the aquatic environment Engage local government to affect policy Be a community leader and a spokesper- son on marine ecology issues Inform local media of species awareness and debris cleanups Use social media as a tool to promote your participation and how involvement keeps diving fun Enable nondiving public participation Form and publicize fundraisers Offer PADI and AWARE Specialty and Dis- tinctive Specialty Diver courses COURTESYIMAGESCOUNTER-CLOCKWISEFROMTOPLEFT:DIVEFRIENDSBONAIRE;SCUBADOGS
  5. 5. PA D I . C O M 45 Debris Free Bonaire Bonaire Dive Against Debris Puerto Rico seahorse rescue

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