As with so many governmental initiatives (regardless of which government) some people applaud them and others throw brickbats. That is the case with the Government’s plan to regulate scuba diving in Gibraltar. On one hand, their proposal would tighten control over the activities of scuba divers while on the other, promote diving as a prime tourist activity and revenue generator. And, on the third hand! they propose to better protect the marine environment but without tackling the tough issues of species conservation.
Because of safety concerns prompted by the death of several divers, the Government’s proposals include imposing new rules for safety and health as well as licensing and other admin. activities on diving clubs and commercial operators.
The health and safety issues, according to the Gibraltar dive shop owners, are due to Spanish dive operators bringing their customers across the border to dive in the waters of Gibraltar, without knowledge of local conditions or the provision of the necessary supervision. One local dive shop owner claims to have seen multiple diving accidents over a five year period, all involving Spanish scuba diving operators.
Another element of the Government’s proposal is that Areas of Special Interest (ASIS) would be established and rules for diving within those areas would be much stricter. One area, due to become an ASIS, stretches from South Mole’s southern end to just south of the Camp Bay Conservation Site.
The area is rich with wrecks and artifacts. As stated in the consultation paper the protection of the environment and of recreational diving as well as Gibraltar’s underwater heritage will require that diving activity within any ASIS must be organised and guided by a registered local dive club or licensed commercial provider.
Boating inside an ASIS would not be allowed except for vessels involved in dive-related activities. An additional provision of the proposal is that a “Diving Hub” within which clubs and commercial operators could set up their shops and other facilities would be established, thereby coordinating activities for their clientele. A building next to the ferry terminal is believed to be under consideration currently.
Amongst the groups dissenting is the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Organisation. They welcome the Government’s interest in regulating activities that impact marine environments, however they are not happy with the over-emphasis on exploitation of the marine resources rather than conservation for its own sake, particularly as some of the marine life off the coast of Gibraltar is of international significance and Gibraltar has a legal responsibility for its protection.
The Organisation also feels that the proposal does not address the continuing loss of marine species and habitats, without that regulation of fishing and diving will be of little importance.
No doubt the discussion of these important proposals will rage on.