The subject of inland/local diving continues to be a subject of intense discussion within the dive industry. The noticeable decade-long decline in local diver participation has created concern in the minds of many dive industry leaders. In fact, one well-known dive instructor in the mid-Atlantic area made the comment that the dive industry is actually DYING! Many problems have been presented and debated, but very few and practical solutions have been forthcoming.
For the recreational dive industry to survive now and in the future, a strong emphasis needs to be made on creating freshwater dive sites that irresistibly draw divers to them. Consistent and regular inland diver participation is the key to a healthy and vibrant dive industry, and if that’s going to happen, something drastic has to change at inland dive sites themselves.
Ocean and exotic freshwater diving have an automatic and compelling attraction. They provide vibrant colors and gratifying visual stimulation, an almost infinite variety of plant and animal species to observe and learn about, and sunken wrecks that have a ghostly and historical appeal. Even if you visit a particular spot on a regular basis, you’re bound to see something new. That’s what makes ocean and exotic freshwater diving so popular. Our powerful sense of sight, the strong human craving for variety, and the almost insatiable drive to discover and explore, are huge motivators when it comes to diving in those extraordinary underwater worlds.
Inland dive sites do not have anywhere near the same level of attraction. That’s why so much stuff/junk are put in them, and even then they don’t really offer significant fulfillment of our dive cravings in the long run. Objects like buses, cars, planes, etc. are interesting at first, but are rarely, if ever, rotated and replaced with other things. They soon become covered with silt, muck, and algae, and are allowed to remain like that for extended periods of time without regular attempts to clean and maintain them. A single diver, with a slight kick of a fin, can dislodge the sludge into the current-less water, greatly diminishing visibility for other divers in the area. After a couple dives in environments like that, the "WOW!" factor lessens significantly.
Divers soon lose the motivation to keep diving at those sites, and will usually only go back when the "itch" needs to be scratched, or if they want to add another cert card to their logbooks. The majority of recreational divers want compelling things to see and enjoy if they are to visit those sites on an ongoing basis.
Divers who have been around long enough know the common adjectives used to describe most inland freshwater dive sites. Four words come to mind: “cold”, “green”, “dirty”, and “boring”. Except for the technically-oriented diver, all those adjectives tend to suppress the passion to get wet for the vast majority of recreational divers.
Another unfortunate reality is that inland dive site managers/owners do not usually go out-of-their-way to accommodate divers in terms of comfort. Very basic and necessary amenities are usually provided (e.g. porta johns), but not much else. Most divers are forced to don and doff gear out in the open, or under some type of canopy structure. Many buddies have told me they don’t mind diving in cold or chilly water as long as they are properly suited. The problem tends to be ambient temperatures experienced before and after getting wet, especially during cold days and the winter months. Having to put on or take off gear when it is 40 degrees, cloudy, and windy can be absolutely miserable!
Let’s be honest about something else: folks who live in this country, particularly young people, have been conditioned to pursue constant sensory stimulation to keep from getting bored and restless. That’s the reality of our fast-paced, technologically advanced society, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. For ocean and exotic freshwater divers, the sensory stimulation provided in those environments is powerful and continues to engage both young and old.
The same can’t be said for inland diving, so the effort must be made to increase the level of sensory stimulation at inland dive sites.
Here’s another important point to consider: when people (and in our case, divers) have their senses stimulated, they also become much more inclined to LEARN and absorb information. That is where the museum aspect of my project, The Divearium (divearium.com), will be particularly beneficial. The multi-purpose facility will greatly enhance the educational drive for those that visit and participate.
The ultimate result will be divers that become increasingly marine educated while having a sensational time doing so.
Hail to inland diving!