Inclusivity In SCUBA
As a SCUBA diver, one of the most common questions I get is “what do you see down there?”. This question speaks to the sense of unknown that still entrenches our costal oceans. This air of mystery is particularly strong here in Northern California’s cold murky water. People who have not been exposed to our coastal waters are frequently shocked that there are communities that spend much of their free time plunging into the icy waters in a similar fashion to going on a hike. So, why are California’s waters such a mystery? Why is it that only certain groups are the ones that get to enjoy our aquatic parks?
It’s an unfortunate truth that your average Californian would probably be more familiar with the scenery of a tropical coral reef in Hawaii than the rocky kelp forest less than an hour from their doorstep. I wouldn’t say the reason for this phenomenon is a mystery. Unlike a coral reef in Hawaii our waters are not conducive to the casual beach visitor to take a quick plunge with a mask and snorkel. The Northern California waters are unrelenting and leave little room for mistakes. While we may not have many animals that are a serious danger (other than white sharks), the combination of waves over 50 feet, dangerous undercurrents and icy water make it a force not to be reckoned with. Because of this, to really experience the beauty of our kelp forests there’s a serious investment in both training and gear. I’m not sure I could think of a more expensive sport compared to SCUBA diving. After getting a certification and the necessary gear you’d probably be looking at a price tag of a about $3000. This economic barrier is blaringly obvious in a sport made up of predominantly white men. While this phenomenon is not unique to SCUBA diving and is true in most other outdoor activities, I would say that SCUBA diving takes it to the extreme. I would also like to point out that unlike many other outdoor activities where there are organizations that strive to provide recourses for underrepresented demographics, SCUBA diving makes no such attempts. The members of many SCUBA diving communities seem to almost pride themselves on being part of this elite group of people that can afford to buy the thousands of dollars-worth of equipment and training necessary to enjoy this sport.
As California continues to be on the forefront of creating marine protected areas that serve many of the same purposes national and state parks serve it is important that we make an effort to be inclusive of who can access these areas. We need to create programs that strive to expose underrepresented communities to California’s marine ecosystems. This is not only a moral obligation but would also create a population that is more invested in preserving these areas.
Author: Jeremiah Ets-Hokin
Photos: Timothy McClure