Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cheap diving doesn't have to be environmentally destructive

by Charles Roring
In my previous article I wrote about how people can dive across the coral reefs of Indonesia in cheaper way. This morning, I read a comment in my previous posting which criticizes me of my opinion on recommending local fishermen as tour guide for divers. Actually, I don't try to drive or attract the recreational divers away from diving centers. Permanent diving sites such as Bali and Bunaken have diving resorts that offer packages at reasonable price. I even suggested the divers, if they are budget travellers, to go in groups to Bunaken or Bali in low season. By doing so, they will get more discounts. Diving has always been related to diving centers and diving resorts. New recreational divers are now seen as potential customers who can generate millions of dollars of income to diving operators and other related businesses around famous coral reefs such as Bunaken.
But there are still a lot of coral reef sites in Indonesia that have not been explored by divers. Only fishermen and local islanders know their locations. Many of these sites are in remote islands far from diving resorts, and luxurious hotels. Experienced divers can enjoy diving there by travelling from one island to another. The cheapest way to travel is by sailing with PELNI's passenger ships and or renting fishermen's boats.
Experience divers will definitely want to explore new diving sites outside the conventional ones printed on tourist maps. They won't visit the same sites every year. They will try new diving sites which are mostly located in remote islands although they might be less comfortable.  They will only be able to stay in villagers' houses.  There, when divers, also if possible NGOs, and fishermen meet in the same reefs, they can share ideas on how best to protect the marine environment.
Traditional fishing communities have local wisdoms which have helped them protect their marine environment. In Moluccan islands, there is sasi tradition - a temporarily no take zone applied to certain fishing grounds and coral reefs. In West Papua, there are local beliefs, among certain tribes in Geelvink bay, which prohibit villagers to eat certain sea animals such as turtles, dugongs and groupers.  These animals are seen as their ancestors. Such beliefs have helped them maintain the balance of marine ecosystem which is their most important source of food.
Financial contributions which divers directly give to these villagers will improve their economy. At the same time, they can give suggestions on how to provide mooring equipment around coral reefs instead of throwing anchors to the bottom of the sea. Most traditional fishermen use canoe that does not need heavy anchoring for fishing among the coral reefs which is much less dangerous if compared to diving yachts in Egypt.
So, the exchange of ideas between traditional fishing communities and recreational divers on such matters as marine protection and coral reefs preservation is important in developing sustainable eco-tourism business side by side with sustainable fishing.