Australian divers throw tax on breathing to the sharks

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Scuba divers have been left breathless by a proposed Australian State Government fee to raise funds for marine conservation, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

Diving bodies say the levy on recreational divers – ranging from $6 for a three-day licence to $75 for three years – amounts to a “tax on breathing” that will discourage people from taking up what is already an expensive sport.

Proposed by the Primary Industries Minister, Ian Macdonald, the recreational scuba diving fee mirrors the recreational fishing licence introduced in 2001.

The fee, Mr Macdonald says, would fund marine conservation, including a breeding program for the endangered grey nurse shark.

But John O’Brien, Asia Pacific manager of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, called the proposal a “tax on breathing”. “That’s all we do: go in the water and breathe, and they want to tax us for it?” he said.

Pro Dive, Australia’s largest scuba diving company, says it already supports conservation by teaching marine awareness, helping NSW Fisheries monitor the grey nurse population and contributing to the Australian Conservation Foundation.

But Mr Macdonald said scuba divers were far more “intrusive” than surfers, snorkellers and swimmers, particularly in the critical habitats of endangered species, including the grey nurse. The sharks, common in the 1990s, are now estimated to number fewer than 500 in the wild.

“They should be good citizens by assisting with the management of these areas through a small fee,” Mr Macdonald said.

A discussion paper suggests three options: a fee for grey nurse recovery levied on divers only at critical habitat sites, of which there are 10 in NSW, including Magic Point, off Maroubra Beach; the same fee, but used for wider conservation programs and the promotion of scuba diving; or a fee for all divers in NSW waters.

Divers expressed their doubts. “I’m all for preserving and helping [the sharks], but very sceptical when it involves the Government taking the money and distributing it,” said Sydney diver Lynn Fenwick, 32.

Andrew Clegg, 32, said he worried that the three-day fee would “put a lot of people off, especially backpackers”.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald