Diving for conservation

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The relationship between scuba divers and conservationists can sometimes be tense and prone to prejudice. While scuba divers may see conservationists as an obstacle to their sporting activities, conservationists tend to overestimate the impact of divers on biodiversity and underestimate their interest in nature. This initiative sought to bring the two worlds together through joint action in support of conservation.

There are more than 5 600 lakes in the north-eastern regions of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany. Over time, many have gone from oligotrophic (i.e. nutrient poor and oxygen rich) to meso- or even eutrophic waters, which has not only affected their fauna but also significantly changed their characteristic floral composition. The original habitat type is now in an unfavourable conservation status across most of the EU.

The most prominent example is Lake Stechlin, where the project initially began. Over the last three decades, the lake, which is now a Natura 2000 site, has lost more than 100 ha of its submerged vegetation, resulting in a dramatic increase in turbidity (cloudiness). To address this problem, an alliance was forged between conservationists and scuba divers. The first objective of the project, led by the German Birdlife Partner NABU Gransee, was to find out more about what lies beneath the surface of Lake Stechlin.

Conservationists began by training scuba divers in botanical and ecological surveys and discussing possible management solutions with them, which helped to break down past prejudices on both sides. This new collaboration also gives scuba divers an opportunity to explore lakes from a new perspective and enables them to contribute to the lakes’ conservation by regularly monitoring water conditions and macrophyte levels. Conservationists, administrations and private land owners benefit as well, since they can use this data as an early-warning system to indicate changes in a lake’s condition and, so, adapt their management measures accordingly.

Now that most of the lakes in the Stechlin region have been studied, the survey work is being extended to other similar Natura 2000 sites, including Wummsee and Twernsee. In the meantime, the German Divers Federation has also introduced a course on "Diving for Conversation" which is available throughout the country. This course represents another big milestone in cementing the relationship between scuba divers and conservationists.

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