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Training the Dive Voluntourist for Marine Research and Conservation

Volunteer training with Reef Check Australia on Orpheus Island

In dive voluntourism, the volunteers participating in scuba diving tourism can help towards marine research and conservation in Australia. Marine Parks Authorities around Australia recognise the useful contribution of volunteer and community watch groups. However, there are also legitimate reasons why universities and research institutions do not use willing volunteer labour more. 

Involving non-scientist divers in marine research sometimes has to overcome scepticism in the scientific community that the integrity of data collection could be preserved. Time would be required to train up the diver in survey and data collection methodology. Some studies have been conducted to examine the efficacy of using tourism operators and community volunteers to collect reliable data. These studies concluded that, with appropriate training and research topics, non-scientist divers could make a meaningful contribution towards marine conservation and research.

In Australia, various community underwater research groups and non-profit environmental organisations have developed protocols for training and data collection suited to the non-scientist diver. Many are grant funded, and grants run out. There is potential to tap the recreational dive dollar to develop alternative channels of non-grant funding. The challenge is to find a way to do this without compromising the conservation objectives of the organisation, and at the same time, making the recreational diver’s participation meaningful and fun.

Generally training a volunteer will involve an introduction to survey or data collection methodologies such as laying a transect line and the dive pattern to be employed in the survey. As surveys take place in sometimes exposed environments and can be in the shallows where the dive volunteer has to maintain his or her position in currents or surge, optimal bouyancy control is expected of the diver. Most training sessions start with a check out bouyancy dive and DiVo places great emphasis in ensuring that divers DIVE AWARE, ie., know about finning techniques that will minimise reef damage.

Check out a real life volunteer training session with the University of New South Wales and Sydney Institute of Marine Science with the January 2012 Sydney crayweed underwater forest regen project.

As a sample of training that a voluntourist may expect from a fish biodiversity survey, you can look up the training protocols for Reef Life Survey which will be applied in the upcoming December 2011 Reef Life Survey expedition in the Great Barrier Reef and Lizard Island.

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