Matias and I are here for a couple reasons. The primary one, though, is to perform a risk assessment on the hyperbaric chamber here on the island to make sure it is functioning properly and able to treat injured divers. That is one of the many functions we serve at Divers Alert Network. Believe it or not, I end up talking about diving more than actually doing it. But, I do get to at least talk about it in some really cool places.
Part of the surrounding area is called the Vizcaino Marine Protected Area (MPA) where no harvesting or fishing is allowed. This area is designed to help the fisheries recover, giving fish, sea cucumber and lobster a place to reproduce and grow. To offset some of the potential lost revenue that comes from making a portion of their fishing area off-limits, the local divers are looking to find ways to diversify. One possibility is eco-tourism into the MPA. The island already has some limited tourism from surfing (they were telling us that a couple big name surfers were here just last week) and they have opened a tourism office. It’s still pretty rustic and visitors are typically camping but it has some possibilities. But, before they can really offer tourism diving here, they want to make sure their chamber is up to standards.
In the midst of our review, though, one of the harvesting divers who works on the island got the bends yesterday. Sort of threw a wrench into our plans (and his of course) but we have ended up helping organize the treatment. Never hurts to travel to places like this with a hyperbaric physician. The case ended up being one of the worst, if not the worst, cases of the bends they have ever seen.
The connection to the ocean is what makes these divers continue doing what they are doing in spite of the risks they face. They take great pride in being fishermen and divers. The diver in the chamber, as a matter of fact, has the diving cooperative logo tattooed on his arm.
There is very little to do on the island that doesn’t actually involve the ocean. They work in the water, they commute to the mainland and have goods delivered by boat, the kids play in the waves and most of what they eat comes from the ocean. Today, the divers had a party to celebrate the last day of diving for sea cucumbers for the season. They celebrated with a cookout of flank steak—they eat seafood every day so this was something special.
What is rewarding to see is that these divers, and the cooperative they belong to, recognize how important the ocean is to them and their way of life. They are more than willing to change if it means ultimately preserving their way of life. Obviously, I wasn’t here when they decided to set portions of the area aside as MPA and I am sure they had arguments and fights and people were scared by it. But, by taking these steps and changing how they operate—realizing that while the ocean is vast it’s not infinite—they are finding ways to preserve their way of life for themselves and their children..