By Reef Check Program Manager for Mexico Mary Luna
Divers Alert Network (DAN) staff traveled to Isla Natividad this July to conduct a technical assessment of the local hyperbaric chamber to determine what improvements are needed for the chamber to operate at international standards. In addition to benefiting the local fisher-divers, the goal of the training and recommendations provided by DAN is to support the development of sustainable dive tourism in Natividad.
During their stay on the island, DAN’s Latin America Medical Coordinator Dr. Matias Nochetto, and Director of Training Eric Douglas alongside the local chamber operators, conducted the assessment using DAN’s “Risk Assessment Guide for Recompression Facilities.” A meeting was also organized for fisher-divers and their teams to ask questions and discuss the effects of diving on the human body. Eric opened the meeting expressing high regard for the organization level of the Natividad fisher-divers, and interest in presenting their case to the Miskito fisher-divers of Honduras’ Mosquito coast (another group DAN is working with), as an example they may learn from. Elaborating on the similarities and differences between the two communities, Eric explained that the Miskito fishers use SCUBA to capture lobster, their only commercial fishery, and are known to “burn” through eight SCUBA tanks per work day. They are employed by independent fleet operators, earn extremely low wages, and the work sites are open access and located at least three boat days from the nearest chamber. The majority are of indigenous origin and illiterate. The net result is a community with high rates of dive-related disabilities and deaths.
In contrast, the Natividad fishers have concessions to the waters surrounding the island, and are organized in a Cooperative through which business and legal matters are conducted. Members receive a high percentage of the fisheries revenue, and the remainder is invested in social services. Lobster is captured with traps; a method that may be less effective in an open access system. Other species like sea cucumber are collected using hookah, a technique where a compressor on a boat is used to continuously pump air through a hose to the diver. The fishing areas are located a maximum of 40 minutes by boat from the chamber. Although the length, depth and water temperature at which these divers work make them more susceptible to decompression than the average recreational diver, there is no record of dive-related casualties in Natividad. Some interesting observations that came up during the presentation were the difference in the number of daily immersions per fisher-diver using SCUBA vs. hookah, quick access to hyperbaric treatment, level of organization of the fisher-divers, and the advantage of a concession vs. open access, which might result in longer fishing trips and increased risk.
Two workshops were also held where fishing teams got to practice setting up an emergency oxygen unit and administering oxygen to a partner. The DAN meeting and workshops were very well attended, and the fisher-divers showed great enthusiasm and interest in learning, asking questions and sharing their stories. Cooperative administrators will present the DAN report to all the members during their upcoming annual meeting in September, where all will discuss and vote on the next steps to take in the improvement of their chamber operations. On behalf of the Natividad Cooperative, COBI and Reef Check, we thank the Divers Alert Network for their support, and Matias and Eric for their commitment. Please click here to view pictures.
Editor’s Note: Reef Check has been involved in promoting safe diving practices among hookah fishermen in the Philippines and Indonesia since 2003.