Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Sub-Aqua Association (SAA)

  1.  The diving organisations and divers in general have been supporting efforts to improve the marine environment. The adverse report by divers leads the SAA to believe that government lead improvements have been too long in forthcoming.

  2.  Divers, by their very nature, are the first to appreciate a healthy marine environment. At first hand they experience and observe the environment, but are also amongst the first to suffer the consequences if it is polluted. Accordingly they can be considered a stakeholder in every sense of the word. It is therefore surprising that the diving organisations were not consulted in DEFRA's "Seas of Change" Consultation Paper and in other initiatives on the environment. Their involvement could have helped to implement protection of the marine environment.

  3.  Divers are a key resource for of the under-sea environment. Many hundreds of thousands of dives are made every year around our coast and both the natural environment and man-made structures could be monitored effectively by voluntary divers during routine dives. Changes in sub-sea conditions can quickly be detected and the appropriate authorities informed.

  4.  In view of this, it remarkable that DEFRA, and its forerunners, have not utilised this vast untapped low-cost resource. This monitoring could form a vital part of Strategic Environmental Assessments. Some of the delay in this area could be attributed to neglecting to use large scale monitoring by divers from the voluntary sector.

  5.  Many sub-sea habitats are under threat and, although organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and Seasearch continue to make important contributions to monitoring and researching such habitats, it is important that the 50,000 or so divers are part of the monitoring process. The use of the general diving population should be harnessed in the identification of Marine Environment High Risk Areas.

  6.  The "Seas of Change" purports to embrace a holistic approach to marine environment and yet there is scant mention of the man-made facet below the surface of the sea. Divers are vital in the in situ identification of Marine Environment High Risk Areas, particularly wrecks at risk through changing marine conditions. Wrecks form a habitat for a host of marine life with their attendant Eco-systems. If the wrecks are threatened by changing conditions, then the Eco-systems are threatened as well. Thus wreck monitoring by divers serves a dual function in monitoring the marine environment. Many divers are already actively involved with monitoring and recording under the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) rapidly expanding "Adopt-a-Wreck" scheme and in this way are custodians of the environment.

  7.  However, if such monitoring is to be successful, diver access should not be unnecessarily restricted. Rather, access should be encouraged, to allow as wide an area as possible to facilitate immediate monitoring.

12 September 2003

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