Diving, head-first! | Clayton Bartolo

As a government and as a ministry we have just launched a strategy scoped to boost our diving industry sustainably

File photo
File photo

One of the most beautifully evocative diving quotes is this: “To dive is not to escape life, but for life not to escape us”. In a nutshell it captures the mystery, the peace and the magical wonder that lies beneath the surface of our seas.

As a government and as a ministry we have just launched a strategy scoped to boost our diving industry sustainably, in line with global trends, is the result of widespread consultations and research and encourages more investment through alignment with our tourism strategy.

Let’s face it, we have an enviable head start. Our climate, warm waters, good visibility, and spectacular underwater scenery are second to none. At the same time, as the industry emerges from the ravages of the pandemic, we are keeping both our feet on the ground.

We remain cognizant of the challenges that have been with us all along – badly needed improvements in infrastructure, operations, product diversification and marketing. It is also clear that a sharper focus on marine reserves and parks, and the deployment of artificial reefs would bolster this drive. In parallel there needs to be more streamlining of regulation and more training programmes.

These are the general benchmarks we have set for the diving industry and for ourselves. These desirables now need to be turned into deliverables. How?

Dive sites will be getting a much-needed infrastructural makeover. The strategy includes the installation of permanent mooring buoys, especially at the more environmentally sensitive sites. We will also be assessing what shore-based infrastructure is required to support boat diving. The most popular recreational and boat dive sites will be formally recognised and managed as such, thereby strengthening their protection, management, and safety. To push up the low level of marine life and safeguard the underwater environment we are envisaging more enforcement of current regulations as well as the establishment of new marine parks.

Training and recruitment are pivotal to the strategy and to enhance our competitiveness compared to other destinations. Consequently, we are looking at creating a facility to train dive instructors locally. Furthermore, beyond the BSc in Diving Safety Management, we shall be exploring the potential to expand the prospectus to include training for diving instructors. In parallel, we are also foreseeing the provision of online real time wave and weather conditions for divers and swimmers. We will also be reviewing the installation of cameras at dive sites to assist their operators in their day-to-day management and on-site usage.

New diving attractions are also firmly on our agenda. An attraction option is the creation of appropriately designed and located artificial reefs which promote fish stocks and increase overall marine life. By the same token, scuttling will not be discontinued but done more smartly, sustainably and safely. The nurturing of the technical diving sector, particularly for the deep diving aficionados, is yet another way we plan to diversify our product.

I started with the ‘what’ and moved on the ‘how’. I shall conclude with the ‘who’. The principle guiding the implementation process is the active involvement of all key stakeholders. Apart from the Malta Tourism Authority as the key driver and the Ministry for Gozo supporting it we are involving a range of institutional partners – the Planning Authority the Environment and Resources Authority, Transport Malta – Ports and Yachting Directorate, the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Professional Diving Schools Association Malta. Finally, our strategy will also have all the private stakeholders on board - dive centres and clubs, the diving community, the Federazzjoni tal-Għaqdiet tas-Sajjieda Dilettanti Malta, the Federation of Underwater Activities Malta, and the Malta Skin Diving Club. Clearly, we will all succeed only of we succeed together.

The creation and now implementation of this strategy has brought me closer to the diving sector than ever before. The economic potential is massive, the operators are raring to go, and the wealth of ideas is impressive.

We are ready to dive in. Always using our head, first.