The Dangers of Diving in Galapagos

June 9, 2011 § 2 Comments

The waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands are one of the top dive destinations in the world. These seas is chalk full of unique marine life and opportunities to dive with big animals like giant mantas, hammerheads and whale sharks. Infamous for swift currents and cold waters the Galapagos was once considered a destination only for advanced divers.

Scuba diving is an extreme sport with inherent dangers, however like anyone who participates in an extreme sports you have to now how to minimize these risks, one of these ways is by surrounding yourself with competent people. In the Galapagos divers have been putting themselves in harms way in order to save a few dollars. Too many with knowledge of the situation it is referred to as The High Price of Low Cost.

There are a number of Dive Centers located on the main street in Puerto Ayora. As you walk through town you will see many shops with their signs in front offering low cost dives sites like North Seymour and Gordon Rocks. In the evening divers can be seen hanging out in the front of the shop talking about the Thrill of the day all of this designed for one reason: to get your money.

While there are licensed dive boats offering day dive trips in the Galapagos. Many of these centers are travel agencies operated by an island resident, they then hire a local fishing boat along with its captain to discount dive trips. Sounds like a good idea when you first think about it however there is one big problem: safety.

There are simple rules for operating a dive boat, they may even seem obvious…like making sure all the divers are clear of the boat before turning on the engines…to avoid endangering the lives of the divers. However, the captains of these unlicensed fishing boats are untrained in the nuances of diving.

You might think, so what the dive master can help with those issues. The problem is they cant, in an effort to increase the bottom line these same dive centers are putting as many divers as possible on the same boat, mixing inexperienced and experienced divers. In many cases everyone is diving with just one dive guide. The result is no one is paying attention to safety and there are far too many dive accidents.

Most recently, on May 31, 2011, the boat Jetli I departed Puerto Ayora with a captain, dive guide and 5 unsuspecting divers. The boat did not have permits to offer diving to its passengers nor did it go to the port captain to apply for permits to leave port. The only activity in which the Jetli I has permits is to take its owner fishing, and then only when it had permits to depart from the port captain.

Last Tuesday, when the Jetli I traveled to North Seymour where the divers expected to enjoy a day of diving in the waters between North Seymour and Mosquera.  They had been promised the opportunity to dive with schools of fish, white tipped reef sharks, golden rays, garden eels, fur seals and maybe even some hammerheads. Though there are conflicting reports of what actually occurred – the Jetli I sank.  The passengers and crew were rescued by the yacht Esmeraldes II, where the passengers received first aid. The National Park, Port Captain and Navy are all currently investigating the situation.

Dive accidents like this with these unlicensed agencies is not a new story – it has become far too common place.  Divers have been seriously injured and there have been a number of accidents over the past few years. What all the accidents have in common is a serious lack of safety precautions and training on the part of the people offering the dive experience.

Everyone looks to stretch their money as far as possible these days – however at what cost? What you may not think about beforehand is what do you do if you have a problem? The reality of the situation if you dive with an unlicensed agency there is no documentation to prove you were diving with that company or even left port on the boat. If you have a problem or want to report an incident there is no way to prove anything ever happened and nothing can be done.

The best way to protect yourself when engaging in any sport with inherent dangers is to make sure you are knowledgeable about the sport. If you are diving in Galapagos only dive with licensed boats and with licensed dive guides. Do not dive with any company that allows more than 8 divers. Ask to see the Boat’s National Park Dive Permits before you buy the trip and the port captain clearance before embarking in the morning.

We call upon the National Park, Navy and Port Captain to more strictly enforce dive regulations in order to protect tourists from dangerous dive operators and by doing so encourage the growth of the Galapagos dive industry and a safe and responsible manner.


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§ 2 Responses to The Dangers of Diving in Galapagos

  • John says:

    your writeup is timely. I was thinking about the same thing. After completing dives at Gordon Rocks and Kicker Rock (San Cristobal) I was quite concerned with very new divers diving in these locations. At Gordon Rocks we had a newer diver who really could not handle his buoyancy in the current, ran low on air very prematurely and then wound up ascending way too fast and blowing his safety stop altogether after we had spent lots of time at 100+ feet. Unfortunately I was paired up with this diver as a buddy and I had to suffer the consequences of ending my dive prematurely as well!

    The same thing at Kicker Rock, had a diver that had not dove in 3 years and this was her 4th dive after Open Water in total! Are these people mad to allow this? Well, to her credit she did extremely well for her experience level but even so, perhaps things could’ve gone wrong…it was a deep wall dive and not exactly for someone inexperienced. Again, this particular diver was unable to maintain a safety stop and went straight to the surface despite a 90+ feet dive. Not good! She confided in me later that she had tried to verify if she was ok to dive given her experience and the shop said “no problem at all, the DM will be holding your hand”

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