WtF: The Decline in Scuba Participation

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ScubaBunga

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I always feel this is a double edged sword. I personally have loved diving for a long time even before I was certified (Cousteau fan growing up). But some days I wish fewer people would be diving on the reefs and wrecks as I've seen many divers crash into the reefs, poke at the fish, etc. I also hate large groups in the water - unfortunately more often than not, that's the type of trip I end up scheduling due to costs (large group packages are generally cheaper and far easier to book). These days I dive with my boys more than the LDS group and they enjoy it as well. But larger numbers provide lower costs - I've brought in several friends to diving so trying to do my part. Diving is not a lot of instant gratification in today's world and does take some investment (classes, travel, gear) and it's not as flashy which seems to be an important thing in today's world. Hopefully there is enough interest to keep the industry going and interest to keep reefs and fish populations healthy - but not too much to be crowded in such a peaceful environment.
 

TMHeimer

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I always feel this is a double edged sword. I personally have loved diving for a long time even before I was certified (Cousteau fan growing up). But some days I wish fewer people would be diving on the reefs and wrecks as I've seen many divers crash into the reefs, poke at the fish, etc. I also hate large groups in the water - unfortunately more often than not, that's the type of trip I end up scheduling due to costs (large group packages are generally cheaper and far easier to book). These days I dive with my boys more than the LDS group and they enjoy it as well. But larger numbers provide lower costs - I've brought in several friends to diving so trying to do my part. Diving is not a lot of instant gratification in today's world and does take some investment (classes, travel, gear) and it's not as flashy which seems to be an important thing in today's world. Hopefully there is enough interest to keep the industry going and interest to keep reefs and fish populations healthy - but not too much to be crowded in such a peaceful environment.
That was my first thought upon seeing the thread title. From what I read, there were far fewer divers many decades ago, also much healthier reefs, etc.-- though I don't think divers crashing into them is by any means a big reason for their decline (see pollution, warmer seas, agricultural runoff, etc.).
I also read that PADI's goal back in the 70s(?) was to try to include as many people in diving as possible-- not just the previous norm of young fit military-like males. Good goal, but maybe that did lead to too many divers in large groups at popular places. That is not a problem here in NS of course, and maybe a reason there has been no drop in diver population that I can see.
At any rate, I can selfishly say I'm not too concerned if someone in the tropics or South FL is frustrated with crowded reefs & dive boats and thus quits diving.
 

newmanl

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Hey John, I haven't traveled as much as you have, but I think I understand your point. I read your PDF and it struck a few chords.

When my wife started diving I couldn't wait to show her the amazing diversity of fishes and inverts in the tropics - not knowing at the time of her certification that she would eventually be as equally comfortable in our local waters, that I had experienced previously. We went to Maui for the first time with my wife as a diver in 2008. It was okay, but not so much when compared to my Grand Cayman experience in the 80's.

In 2009 we went to Bonaire for the first time - unfortunately, that set the standard for fish abundance expectations in the tropics. But, we still noticed the patches of cyanbacteria growing on the sand in the shallows - evidence of eutrophication caused by human activity on the island. Hopefully the new sewer system can mitigate the effects.

In 2014 we went to Catalina - the warm-water blob was there, the kelp wasn't and neither were the larger species we were hoping to see. We're hoping a re-do trip at some point will be better.

Really cheap flights got us back to Maui again in 2015. At one dive site, we saw only two fish (one goby and one butterfly) on the entire 80 minute dive - and we're both fish-nerds! At the crater, about 30-40% of coral was bleached. We likely won't go back to Maui again.

Last year we went to Siquijor in the Philippines. It might be a little off the beaten path for most, but the abundance of fishes and inverts was surprisingly amazing - yes, compared to the Caribbean, but also in light of the seemingly intense fishing pressure being exerted. Lost nets and traps were a common sight on many of the dives. I do realize that people have to eat, but maybe there's just too many people... However, we only saw one fish larger than 18'' in all of the 32 dives we did on that trip.

So, the fun to work ratio is now actually something we consider when planning a dive - local and exotic. I agree, I don't think it is something the dive industry can fix. If there's a lesson in this pandemic, it is that our health comes second to the economy. So what chance do you really think the oceans have in that case?

When chatting about diving, my wife understandably laments that she started diving too late.
 

Eric Sedletzky

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I couldn’t download the PDF for some reason on my phone, but I’ll try again later.
Anyway, the decline in diving participation is complicated and there are several reasons not just one thing.
Some quick reasons I can think of are:
1. Diving is not “new” anymore and the mystery of the sea has pretty much been demystified.
2. There are other hobbies and interests that people do now days instead.
3. People are less physical than of times past.
4. People are less adventurous than of times past.
5. There are less people born into the “sportsman” culture (applies to hunters)
6. Visual media (print, TV, movies) involving diving is much less or non existent than of times past.
7. Technology and virtual entertainment has taken the place of many hands on activities.
8. People have always been and continue to be afraid of sharks. Probably more than ever now.
9. People are generally scared of the ocean and the unknown, they have no spirit of adventure, see number 4.
10. The gear is expensive and complicated.
11. Training is expensive and time consuming.
12. People are less interested in in-water activities as opposed to times past (don’t confuse with ON water activities).
13. People in the US have less swimming experience and access as children than of times past due to swimming programs and access to pools declining. Over the years the cost of public pool operation and liability has skyrocketed.. People are less “water” oriented now as a result.
Less water oriented people means less water activities they will take up later in life.

Diving is just not something that is popular anymore and people don’t think about it as something they may want to do someday.
The golden age of diving is over.
There are other golden ages happening now but it’s not diving.
 

MichaelMc

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To John's point on habitat degradation or destruction:
- My phone is charging from an 8" solar panel and battery on my window sill. Though that's more an interesting electronics project and a small bit of power resiliency than any huge impact on the source of my energy.
- I'm hopeful we are going toward more renewable energy and fewer emissions. I think we are. California is often in the lead on that.
- Soon I'll be smashing some urchins for a kelp restoration project. Part of a valiant rearguard holding action.

My point is little and big things can turn this around before we lose more of what we care about.
 

wetb4igetinthewater

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@boulderjohn

I can't speak for everywhere, but one of the issues with recreation is how much of a great pain it is to get to places with increased traffic. Pre-covid, the traffic for me was horrendous and going for a dive after work had to be late or sit in traffic. Oh, and if there was a Mariners game, fuggetaboutit. I think this affects things like tennis and golf as well.

You have described the decline of reef environments. I believe you did address this when you were the primary author of the moving to neutral buoyancy. But 10 years later, that needle hasn't moved much. I don't think it is a matter of more divers, but rather more poorly trained divers. If the industry insists on poorly trained divers, I expect the industry to continue to shrink. I only have empirical evidence, but there is a clear separation of continued enjoyment and learning in diving between divers taught neutrally buoyant and trim vs on the knees. Yes, I'm still on the Quixotic (Sisyphean?) quest.
 

Rose Robinson

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I always feel this is a double edged sword. I personally have loved diving for a long time even before I was certified (Cousteau fan growing up). But some days I wish fewer people would be diving on the reefs and wrecks as I've seen many divers crash into the reefs, poke at the fish, etc. I also hate large groups in the water - unfortunately more often than not, that's the type of trip I end up scheduling due to costs (large group packages are generally cheaper and far easier to book). These days I dive with my boys more than the LDS group and they enjoy it as well. But larger numbers provide lower costs - I've brought in several friends to diving so trying to do my part. Diving is not a lot of instant gratification in today's world and does take some investment (classes, travel, gear) and it's not as flashy which seems to be an important thing in today's world. Hopefully there is enough interest to keep the industry going and interest to keep reefs and fish populations healthy - but not too much to be crowded in such a peaceful environment.

Hello Scuba B,

I think you/authors of submitted documents may be over-thinking this topic of decline.

Like so many other things, interest is cyclic.

Interest declines, renewed interest picks up.

It's also very much a generational thing, the real scuba generation is getting old(er), many have retired.

The ongoing pandemic certainly does not help, and unfortunately a lot of operators who were hanging from a limb, in the best of times, are not going to make it.

Scuba has always been a small circle and is very likely to remain so.

There are those who dive, and those who are divers, with the latter getting smaller rather than larger, due to a number of reasons, the most prominent being age.

A lot of popular dive locales, that used to boast multiple shops/charter operators are down to one, who is barely hanging on.

I haven't been a member here very long, but I have noticed a big difference in the number of the usual suspects. Some of the more knowledgeable members, those whose posts I really enjoyed, have not posted anything in a long time.

Time and Tide,

Rose.
 

Kimela

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It's a worthy topic. If you look at little kids, the work-to-fun issue is key; an activity has to get fun fast to engage and hold them. The main exception comes when some get older and play school sports; the workouts building athletic capability for the actual games are not 'quick fun.'

A number of adult activities look like more trouble than they're worth on the face of it. You wrote of the diminishing payoff of a deteriorating underwater coralscape, which led me to ponder what I get out of the dive hobby. I enjoy...

1.) Planning the trip.
2.) The diving itself, and some of the topside experience.
3.) Amassing my snapshot photos of it.
4.) Writing trip reports and research notes to share on the forum in hopes they'll help someone else.
5.) Reminiscing over time about the trip, and a sense that my life has been enriched by having these special experiences as a part of it.
6.) Hoping to inspire our daughter to have a well-traveled life taking advantages of opportunities she's blessed with.

But a lot of prospective divers aren't thinking like that. They think in terms of seeing what's down there while they're there as the main payoff. If that's all there is to it, then yes, the coralscape better be mind-blowing.

But there's more to diving than coral. A number of destinations offer good diving without a strong coralscape. I'm thinking of...

1.) Morehead City, North Carolina - deep offshore wrecks with sand tiger sharks and other creatures.
2.) Jupiter, Florida.
3.) California (where the kelp has suffered greatly, granted).
4.) The Galapagos Islands.

I know we have a member who enjoys wreck diving in the Great Lakes. Some people love cave diving.

Perhaps the recreational scuba 'industry' needs to market a broader spectrum of experiences more so than it does now?

For me, it's all about collecting experiences/memories that can be relived over and over and over. They include getting caught in a downpour trying to get on the ferry to Cozumel and sloshing to the hotel after, and discovering our clothes inside the suitcase were wet; realizing at the end of a night dive at ScubaClubCozumel that I had eaten something that didn't agree with me - and the outdoor bathroom was closed THE ONLY TIME we were there that week, and our room was on the third floor; taking video of a gorgeous eagle ray as it came within a foot of me in Roatan and pumping my fists in excitement and then realizing I still had the friggin macro lens on. It's the great experiences along with the bad and the ridiculous. I hate to sound like a Hallmark card or a yogi (no offense), but it really is about the journey rather than the destination. And perhaps that requires an ability to focus longer than the typical TikTok to learn a new skill. (I HATE TikTok).
 

tursiops

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There are a lot of ways to look at the return on an investment of effort; WtF is just one of them, even though it may have the most compelling name!

One of my favorite way of looking at the fun/return on an investment of effort comes from the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who talks about “Flow,” which most of us in the Western world know as “being in the Zone.” It is when all is going right and all seems effortless and you feel invincible and time kind of dilates. Being in Flow – in the Zone – is really cool, and is commonly experienced by athletes, performers, surgeons, rock climbers, etc. The goal is (rock climber) not to get to the top, but rather just to climb, as perfectly as possible, and you don’t want it to end. The goal is – as Kimela puts it – the journey, not the destination. Some dives are like that.

The key is how do you get into Flow, into the Zone? A basic idea is that you need to match the skills to the challenge. That is, not enough skills for the challenge produces anxiety…too much skill for the challenge produces apathy….but a match is a necessary condition for Flow/Zone.

Diving has a certain amount of challenge attached to it, and deep or high-currents or low-viz or beyond NDL or photography can all raise the challenge beyond your skill set…and thus produce anxiety. Being anxious is NOT fun. Being apathetic and bored (too much skill for the dive) is NOT fun.

So, for the discussion here, I submit that the purpose of Work is to raise your skill, and that you have Fun when your skills are matched to the challenge of the dive…when you are in Flow, in the Zone. So, yes, you want to have a low Work-to-Fun ratio, but more importantly you want to have had the right amount of Work to prepare you for the dive you are doing, so you have a chance for Flow.

All you folks bemoaning how good it used to be, here is an alternative possibility: you used to be less skilled, so the challenge of the dive could be less and you had a chance to be in Flow, in the Zone. But if you do that same dive after 20 more years of experience, you are doing that dive way outside Flow, way over in the apathy regime, and you are bored. Your skills have grown but the challenge has not. Maybe this is why people move to photography, or into technical diving? Or search for hidden spots in Indonesia when they used to be happy in Key Largo?

In other words: maybe YOU have changed more than the reef has changed?
 
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