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January 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 37, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Why no Statia?

from the January, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The St. Eustatius marine park ranks high on the list of good Caribbean diving. So why would the Caribbean Explorer drop it from its itinerary and add more time at mediocre St. Kitts?

The Statia marine park welcomes liveaboards as long as they pay the park and immigration fees. However, Kate Walker, the manager of St. Eustatius National Parks (STENAPA), says that “It is a requirement for all divers to dive within the park under the supervision of island operators. In the past this was done by one of the dive centers for the CEX, however this arrangement stopped working, so the marine park offered the supervision services of the park staff for free. When I took over as manager of the parks I found that we could not realistically continue. We are under funded, under staffed and cannot feasibly afford the staff time away from the park work to continue this for CEX.”

According to Walker, local STENAPA suggested this past July that CEX use dive operators again. However, Clay McCardell owner of Caribbean Explorer vessels, doesn’t want to hire local guides. He wants to “send our instructors (who have many years of diving supervision experience) to be certified as guides there, but we have been turned down.”

While potential passengers of the CEX might not be pleased, Walthers says: “we are not unhappy with this . . . it is not a loss for the island. The guests on board don’t (or almost don’t) go on shore. They take advantage of the marine park and that’s it. They don’t bring anything to the local economy (restaurants, gift shops, etc.). Besides that, the CEX is also an unfair competitor for the local dive shops. The CEX does not have to pay taxes, work and resident permits for the employers, mandatory insurances, etc.”

McCardell says that “the discontinuation of our Statia visits was largely a result of popular demand, but also a result of the local politics – the local dive shops just don’t want us there, because they feel we’re taking their business . . . we weren’t welcome to dive the best sites and certain local shops would complain about our operation even to our clients who stopped in their stores during their tour of the island…”

Somehow, I don’t think that is going to happen. Too bad. Statia diving is a crown jewel missing from its itinerary

This is an issue that can exist between all liveaboards and local communities: the interloper vs. the locals. When amount of exchange is enough? Off a liveaboard in Fiji, we divers visited the chief, shared a little dancing, then contributed $25 each to the village larder. Everyone felt like they were getting their money’s worth. I can imagine the resentment on Statia when a dozen faceless divers who have sprung for a couple grand show up and dive the local waters without leaving much green behind How much should they spend to be welcome? Would a much more substantial cash contribution to the underfunded park be enough, or are the dive operations powerful enough to demand business as part of the deal? Are the dive shops being short sighted? After all, I know of several divers who were so impressed with Statia, they returned for a landbased dive trip and to volunteer for cleanup with the Park. That’s some payback.

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