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Azorean Underwater Tourism in good hands.

Underwater tourism has an enormous potential in the Azorean islands and has been growing considerably in the last few years. Gathering dive operators, tourism associations, governmental entities, scientists and specialists of the different subjects concerning the underwater world has been important to embrace a sustainable growth. The Biennial of Underwater Tourism of the Azores (BUTA), has closed this third edition with the feeling that this mission is not fully accomplished but is, once more, one step ahead in converting this nine amazing islands in a world reference, not only for their natural beauty and resources, but especially in terms of quality of service and equipments, technical education, and complementary activities. The event took place in Graciosa Island last weekend (14-16 October 2011), and were many the speakers who deserve to be mentioned both for their knowledge and experience. At the opening speeches the Organizers of BUTA, Fernando Louro, from Agraprome and José Toste from ART welcomed all participants and thanked everyone’s efforts in promoting underwater tourism in Azores. The city municipality representative, spoke about the importance of this and other events related to diving for Graciosa Island. The Regional Economy Secretary, Mr. Vasco Cordeiro, was responsible for announcing the European Underwater Photography Championship to be held in Graciosa Island in September 2012, along with a winter low cost air fairs campaign sponsored by Azores Regional Government. Whale sharks and blue sharks were some of the main themes approached. Nuno Sá, internationally awarded wildlife photographer, presented his experience in diving with and photographing these animals; Paulo Reis, dive operator in Santa Maria Island, explained the importance of cooperation between dive operators and commercial fishers in the number of sightings and how can both benefit with this cooperation; and João Pedro Barreiros, from the University of Azores, spoke about the Azorean dangerous species, including sharks, and how to prevent accidents.The environmental impact of diving with sharks was approached in the intervention of Jorge Fontes, investigator at the Oceanography and Fisheries Department at the University of Azores, focusing the need for knowledge and responsible actions. This intervention mentioned important characteristics of these species and how to interact with them without altering their feeding routines or behaviour. The potential of technical diving in the Azorean islands was presented by João Neves, undoubtedly a pioneer in Portugal, having introduced Nitrox, Trimix or Rebreathers in the country among other equipments and techniques. In a second intervention he also explained more about the planning, logistics and operational aspects of the different types of Technical Diving, and how diving operators should explore them. Francisco Silva, specialist in Tourism and Leisure for the ESHTE, the most important tourism university in Portugal, Adventure Sports Trainer, and ART’s consultant, has focused the importance of a measured stable promotion for a measured stable growth, together with the evolution of infrastructures and human resources, in quantity and quality. Presenting last few years tourism statistics for the Azores, Francisco Silva showed the desirable evolution and the means to achieve them, including selling and promotion tips and resources.The creation of protected areas, both natural and archaeological, was also part of the event themes. Marco Aurélio Santos, from the Regional Authority for Ocean Related Matters, explained their importance for the evolution of underwater tourism; and Catarina Garcia, investigator, representing the Regional Authority for Culture in Azores, presented the creation process, along with historical and technical aspects of the Dori wreck, as Underwater Archaeological Visitable Park. An article about this archaeological site will soon be published in Portugal Diving, with Dr. Catarina’s cooperation. Artificial reefs, shipwrecks and the sinking of vessels for diving was presented by Rui Guerra, former world vice-champion of underwater photography, in the photographer perspective; also Carlos Freitas from the Madeira National Park, presenting the Madeirense wreck as an example of a ship sunk for diving, the sinking planning and process and the remarkable results in the dynamism of diving in Porto Santo Island; Alex Lorente, biologist representing the Montagrí, Medas Islands and Baix Ter Natural Park, shared the Spanish experience in this matter along with the impacts of diving in the environment and strategies to minimize them. Also from Spain, Dr. Mercedes Olmedo, investigator at Spanish Oceanography Institute, responsible for the development of the Galician Atlantic Islands National Park, presented this park and how numerous leisure activities can co-exist with protected areas and species, as well as the efforts that have to be made to enable it. Doctor Oscar Camacho, director of the Hyperbaric Unit of the Pedro Hispano Hospital and PHD specialist in sports, underwater and hyperbaric medicine, analysed the risks and probabilities of accidents and casualties among divers, concluding that inexperience and unpreparedness are the main causes of most of them. Prevention was focused and comparisons between this and other sports and activities showed that even routine actions in daily life can be more risky then diving, especially when well planned and guided. This was also the opinion of David Perea, PADI’s regional manager for Portugal and Spain, in his intervention about safety. He also spoke about improving quality for dive operators and the importance of new technologies in promoting diving services. ART’s Director, José Toste spoke about the Regional Tourism Association strategies for the development of underwater tourism in Azores and incentives available for the implementation and growth of tourism related companies. Together with Francisco Silva, José Toste presented a new printed and online guide for touristic and maritime touristic operators. In a second intervention, Rui Guerra focused on underwater photographers’ needs in a dive centre and how can a dive operator benefit with their presence. The Portuguese Underwater Activities Federation was also represented by its president Ricardo José, which spoke about how underwater sports can benefit dive and tourism operators. Other presentations included suggestions for the Behaviour Code for Diving with Sharks, by Frederico Cardigos, Director of the Regional Authority for Ocean Related Matters; and the opening of a new four star eco and charm hotel with diving centre in Santa Maria Island in middle 2013, that was announced and explained by one of its promoters. The event’s conclusions were presented by Agraprome representative, José Ávila. Next Biennial of Underwater Tourism of Azores, in 2013, intends to open its doors to English speaker specialists and to the general public with several interesting presentations and leisure activities. Hopefully, the nearly 300 seats in Santa Cruz da Graciosa will be few for all the participants. From this event we can conclude that the future of underwater tourism in the Azores is in good hands. We have dive operators willing to improve their qualifications and infrastructures, a tourism association willing to learn more about underwater tourism and to help dive operators and a local association full of good ideas and good will who has placed Graciosa Island in the tourism map, especially underwater tourism. Bringing the first CMAS European Championship of Underwater Photography to Graciosa Island and organizing the Open Fotosub da Graciosa, both in 2012, will definitely project the island in Europe and in the world. Portugal Diving would like to thank the promoters for inviting us for this remarkably well organized event.

 

More about Graciosa Island.    More about Diving in Graciosa.

More about Azores.     More about Diving in Azores.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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