Technically Speaking: In Support of the UN-conventional

As divers, we're a lot more used to regulations than any of us like to let on, really. From the days of basic training right through to how long you can park at a marina, diving by its very nature is as much subject to rules of nature as it is practice or legislation.  Divers are part of a diverse fabric of people with claims to sea. We share our passion for the ocean alongside mariners, swimmers, fishing enthusiasts, biologists, maritime archaeologists and a host of watercraft and other recreational salties. But one other very particular thing unites the lot of us.....none of us like having any rules imposed on us by anyone 'else'.

Divers don't want non-divers (or any other party, for that matter!) deciding what we can or can't dive, how we should or shouldn't dive or how our industry is or isn't regulated.  It's worse than having a vegetarian cook your steak, more like being subjected to the whims of someone on the other side of the world writing laws for your local town - in a completely different language and with no idea on local customs or conditions.

Globally, underwater cultural heritage including shipwrecks, submerged villages, underwater cave art, war graves, etc, have been practically uniformly neglected by governments in regards to maintenance, funding, research, protection or any sort of attention. The historical sites of the underwater world are suffering after lagging behind what the historical sites of the surface are benefitting from. Australia has loads of these land-based sites - from The Rocks in Sydney, Fremantle Prison in WA, the MCG in VIC, etc; public places for everyone to see and use, which enjoy the protection their ripe old ages and unique status warrant. But the whole approach to managing underwater cultural heritage has to be bought out of the dark ages and up to speed with the resources that land-based sites are privilege to.  But how to ensure this happens in a reasonable and suitable way without some non-diving genius practically banning anyone from getting in the sea again?

The conventional way of regulating an industry is for some government monopoly somewhere to slap together of bunch of restrictions and consider it law.  But the ocean and all the interested parties are far too complex for someone 'uninvolved' to get too involved, so to speak. This writer agrees with divers from all over the world, in that none of us want one unrelated party of any political persuasion to restrict our diving unnecessarily.

Fortunately, enough divers, boaties, mariners, etc, have been making their voices heard and have paved the way for us to ensure we continue to have access to (and a say in how we manage!) our favourite underwater playgrounds. Last year, 2011, marked the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.  This meeting represented people from countries all over the world who recognised the need to update how underwater sites are managed, but they also managed to reconcile that with the existing relationship between these sites and the people who dive them.  They very diplomatically agreed on a whole bunch of topics (full text at UNESCO Convention), with some particularly pertinent actions being to;

  • Keep access to sites open to divers
  • Share information on sites
  • Let countries make up their own rules specific to local conditions
  • Promote public awareness, information and training


So certainly not the conventional 'fun-police' mentality of restricting diving or closing sites! The United Nations made the articles of the convention and guidelines on best practices freely available for countries to adopt as their own. Over 35 countries have already seen the sense in this and ratified the convention, bringing their respective legislations in line with those outlined in the United Nations Convention and coming up with ways on how to manage their own sites. It's rather embarrassing that Australia, particularly as a first-world island state, hasn't yet ratified the convention.

It might not be seen as conventional to support the introduction of regulation, but that very much depends on what those regulations are and what the alternatives would lead to. This writer supports the Australian Government ratifying the convention, and for other divers interested in preserving our shipwrecks and still being allowed to dive them, to read up on the UNESCO Convention and make up your own minds.

And of course, then get out on that ocean and go for a dive!

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