July 22, 2008

Diving in South Africa is facing a number of new legislative challenges.

We are seeing changes in laws regarding Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), tour guides, cylinder and equipment control, as well as working regulations. In some cases, the very freedom of a diver to go diving is going to be called into question. In this article, I hope to highlight some of the issues regarding the potential diving bans in various areas and try to explain some of the steps being taken to mitigate this threat.
Although diving is officially recognised as a sport and therefore falls under the Department of Sports and Recreation, it takes place within oceans, rivers and lakes.

This gives the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) some rights over the sport. In terms of the Constitution, DEAT is required to co-operate with other departments when dealing with their sphere of influence, but DEAT seldom worry about this technicality. When it comes to the marine environment, the Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) branch of DEAT have clearly taken steps to obtain some control over sport diving. Whether they have done this for environmental reasons, or because they believe that taxing the sport will provide a lucrative income stream, is a matter for hot debate. The fact is that MCM have regulated aspects of sport diving and unless challenged in the High Court, will continue to do so.

Until recently, divers were generally free to dive wherever they pleased and whenever they pleased. Logical restrictions did apply, such as in genuine nature reserves and busy harbours. During discussions with the MCM, a very different picture of the future emerged.
One official described a future scenario where diving would be generally banned along our coasts and only allowed in a few specific areas designated for the sport. To participants in a sport where freedom and exploration are part and parcel of the activity, this scenario was viewed with absolute horror.


Thank you very much for your support in opposing South Africa's proposed diving bans!
With your help, Underwater Africa has collected a total of 4213 signatures.
This success is all the more remarkable given the comment period, which took place over South Africa's Christmas holidays. Some 2572 signatures were collected on the petition website and another 1641 from a paper-based petition.
We'd like to keep you informed about current and future issues that affect divers and the environment. Please visit our website at www.uwa.org.za, and register there if you have not done so already.
Thanks again for showing that you care, and standing up for your beliefs.

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