1. What is the difference between diving parks (DPs) and marine protected areas (MPAs)?
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) stretch over hundreds or even thousands of sea acres. Because of their size, MPAs may prove to be inefficiently supervised and difficult to manage, whilst the operational restrictions enforced on their territory (primarily on fishing), albeit pertinent to MPAs’ existence, may end-up antagonizing important local business interests.
The most important characteristic of MPAs, which makes them a less preferred vehicle for environmental sustainability purposes, is the scale of the financial and human capital necessary to match their operational requirements. Today, the scale of the resources needed to support an MPA venture may not be easily tolerated by ordinary public finances, increasingly succumbing to budgetary austerity measures.
To the contrary, diving parks (DPs) field size is regulated, it may not exceed 2 square kilometers!
Therefore, their operational expenses, the bulk of which aims to ensure the biodiversity of the park’s ecosystem (mainly policing fees), are significantly lower to MPAs’ and usually fully offset by the diving exploitation. Moreover, the expected hostility, expressed primarily by the local fishing community, is relatively moderate and in most cases it evaporates, soon after the positive spillover effects of the DP’s operation materialize.
2. Why choosing diving parks (DPs) and not marine protected areas (MPAs)?
As far as we are concerned, there isn’t a matter of choice between the two. As genuine environmentalists, we are in favor of both institutions, if not more for MPAs!
However, the modern world of rapidly depleting resources and budgetary constraints, requires a less pluralistic approach to the dilemma.
Experience has repeatedly suggested that, for MPAs to deliver their beneficial effects to the ecosystem they belong, they need substantial public funding. No matter how determined and skilled the managing agent is, the MPA may not become an economically viable experiment without adequate financing.
At the same time, environmental imbalances are continuously exacerbated as a result of the poor diagnosis of the critical problem areas, the absence of the appropriate corrective mechanisms, but most importantly, due to the lack of an environmentally aware culture and education among the front-end users of the different environmental resources. To counteract for these negative influences, policing intervention is, more often than not, the only way to prevent the ecosystem from entering into a vicious cycle of deconstruction. Yet, even policing doesn’t come for free. It requires certain human, but most importantly financial resources, which are difficult to allocate, especially in our country, which strives to fulfill a never-ending austerity engagement since the beginning of this decade.
On the other hand, DPs are financially self-sufficient, totally un-reliant on public finances. Their viability is assessed on the basis of standard financial analysis used for SMEs, which is always very sensitive to the uninterrupted fulfillment of a unique business objective, that is the prohibition of any fishing activity in the assigned area, for DPs. To the extent this objective is adequately serviced, a typical DP is subject to limited investment risk, albeit at moderate returns.
3. So, shall we turn all our coast line into a diving park (DP)?
As much as diving parks may be considered a true blessing for the environment and the local economy, this isn’t exactly a viable prospect.
The last few years, we have received numerous calls from different municipalities in Greece, seeking advice and guidance on their intention to host a diving park.
Yet, very few of these prospective DP developers have a decent understanding of what is a DP, which are the parameters for a successful operation and what may be expected from it.
To a large extent, this confusion is encouraged by the nature of the operation, which is essentially a self-funded labor intensive venture, for which size matters only to the extent that it can accommodate an increasing number of visitors, irrespective of seasonality.
This finding is supported by a recent cost-benefit analysis conducted at the Athens University of Economics & Business (AUEB) as part of a desk-top study of the social-economic impact of diving parks.
Among other things, the study looked into DPs from a pure investment perspective under the Greek territory, and in that context it has been testified that DP’s viability may be exclusively attributed to its attractiveness, that is to the systematic inflow of visitors throughout the year, corresponding to a minimum average of 40.000 dives annually!
For any passionate traveler of the Greek coastline with elementary environmentalist instincts, it is understood that this operational threshold is very difficult to sustain in just any part of Greece.
So as a conclusion, we feel that the locations with clear potential to fulfill the requirement of 40.000 dives annually are so few, that there is no real threat for Greece to become a big diving park any time soon!