Diving for Conservation
The relationship between scuba divers and conservationists can in many places be described as tense and peppered with prejudice. While scuba divers see conservationists as an obstacle to engaging in their sports activities in nature, conservationists have overestimated the impact of divers on biodiversity.
There are more than 5 000 lakes in the Northeast German regions Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. These formerly oligotrophic lakes mostly turned into mesotrophic and eutrophic waters. This not only affected their fauna, but also seriously changed their characteristic floral composition. The most prominent example is Lake Stechlin, where the project initially started. It is classified as natural habitat type 3140, ‘Hard-water oligo-mesotrophic lakes with benthic vegetation of Chara spp’, protected under the Habitats Directive. Within the last three decades, the lake has lost more than 100 ha of its submerged vegetation. This also occurred with the same habitat in other lakes in the region, leading to a loss of habitat structures and a dramatic increase in turbidity. Nature conservation is often restricted to the littoral zone, as are its measures and instruments, and hardly any data referring to conditions underwater are available.
Conservationists and scuba divers soon formed a new alliance and carried out extensive monitoring.
Via preparatory training and intensive dialogue between divers and conservationists over the last few years, prejudices have been overcome in the Stechlin region and they are now all cooperating with each other on the conservation of the site. This new collaboration gives scuba divers an opportunity to see their diving areas from a new angle. Furthermore, by being trained by conservationists, divers have been able to independently evaluate water conditions on the basis of determining macrophytes and thus actively contribute to lake protection. On the other side, conservationists as well as administrations and private land owners can use these data collected as an early-warning system indicating changing conditions and thus adapt management measures.