Blacktip Island marine parks authorities have installed facial-recognition cameras like this one on the Caribbean island’s dive sites in an effort to reduce scuba diver-caused coral damage. (photo courtesy of Nick Hobgood)
Concerned with increasing diver damage to Blacktip Island reefs, authorities have installed facial-recognition cameras, disguised as coral heads, throughout the island’s dive sites to identify the most egregious offenders.
“The coral on some of our most popular dive sites is wiped out from so many divers with crap buoyancy,” marine parks spokesperson Val Schrader said. “We’ve tried being nice. We’ve tried educating people. Now we’re getting ugly.
“There’s not enough dive staff, or marine park staff, to patrol the reefs, so we’ve installed hidden cameras,” Schrader said. “Whenever someone crashes into coral, we’ll be able to track them down and take appropriate action.”
Authorities say punishment for damaging coral will be stiffened as well.
“In addition to the fines already in place, we’ll be posting violators’ names and faces on our website,” Department of Tourism head Rocky Shore said. “We’re going for an all-out, island-wide full-court press. Naming and shaming’s an integral part of that.
“Additionally, we can move the camera housings from site to site,” Shore said. “Dive staff will be able to spot them, but tourists down for the week will never know. They’ll have to assume they’re under surveillance the entire time they’re under water.”
Many scuba diving visitors raised concerns about the program.
“This is a serious invasion of privacy,” Bill Fisch said. “They say it’s to protect the coral, but who gets all that data they’re collecting on every diver, and who are they selling it to later?
“Plus, how can divers relax and unwind is they know they’re being spied on?” Fisch said. “I’m gonna get fined and insulted time my fin brushes a sea plume?”
Others supported the plan.
“If it protects the coral, I’m all for it,” longtime island visitor Suzy Souccup said. “Plus, it’s fun to watch divers striking poses underwater, as if there’s a camera in every coral head. The guy who mooned the brain coral, though, I could have done without that.”
Park officials were quick to defend the program.
“Divers waive some of their privacy rights when they enter the marine park,” Schrader said. “That’s stated quite clearly on every dive operation’s waiver. And we’re only concerned with major reef crashers.
“You put out a fingertip to keep surge from slamming you into coral, no worries,” Schrader said. “We’re going after the yahoos who crawl across the reef, drag their gauges over it, kick the crap out of sea fans or stand on coral. We expect this to be a major revenue enhancer.”