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Posted by curious on March 09, 2004 at 00:24:41:

South African Divers fume at proposals for reserve permits
Could this happen here?

By Melanie Gosling

Scuba divers are angry at government proposals to make them pay for permits to dive in marine reserves which they say will seriously damage the industry and do nothing to protect the underwater environment.

They have also questioned why only scuba divers have been targeted while there are no proposals to permit other recreational users of marine protected areas like snorkellers, surfers, bathers, windsurfers, boaters or yachtsman.

They believe if the motive is to try to stamp out rock lobster and perlemoen poaching, only stepped-up law enforcement will stop it.

Cleeve Robertson, former chairman of the Western Province Underwater Union, said yesterday: "Most scuba divers are exceptionally conservation-minded. Scuba diving is a purely non-consumptive sport, like bird watching. I'm not aware of any research which says scuber divers have any negative impact on the environment.

"If the Department of the Environment's aim is to obtain revenue, then why not permit everyone who uses marine protected areas?"

Robertson said he was trying to set up a meeting this week with scuba divers and marine and coastal management to thrash out what he believed was a "silly bureaucratic" proposal.

Kevin Dolphin of CMASS, the training body of the SA Underwater Union, said yesterday research had been done on the impact of divers on the Sodwana coral reefs. It found that the weather did more damage to the reefs than divers did.

"Scuba diving has been self regulated since its inception and it has worked well. It was divers who decided to put buoys in the sea for boats to attach moorings so that they didn't drop anchors and perhaps cause damage. There is no law requiring that. We protect the environment," he said.

In Bloemfontein CMASS has already trained 524 children in scuba diving. About 40% came from disadvantaged areas.

"Will they be able to afford permits? No one has said how much they will cost. We're trying to broaden the base of scuba diving and the government is trying to make it more difficult."

Mike Klee from a Port Elizabeth dive shop said if the move was to control lobster and perlemoen poaching, it made no sense and the proposal also applied to Aliwal Shoal where these species did not occur.

A permit system would see a drop in diving and in employment in the diving industry.

Horst Kleinschmidt of Marine and Coastal Management said yesterday several non-consumptive sports were regulated, including shark-cage diving and boat-based whale watching.

"We need to know who is diving and what impact they're having."

Divers have until May 8 to lodge comments on the proposed legislation.

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