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A Five Step Program

Developing an underwater park is a long term project, you should be willing to commit a minimum three to five years to the site you adopt.  Over time and step by step, you can significantly enhance recreational diving opportunities at the site.  Be sure you select a site where you'll want to dive again and again during the development process.  In order to make progress you'll need to stay focused and dive often.


First, you'll need to select a site, form a committee and name a project coordinator.  If more than one group is interested in adopting a site, a joint committee may be formed.  Write a one-sentence mission statement in which your purpose is encapsulated.  Make sure the mission statement has a concise focus.  Then contact WSA to acquire a mentor to work with you.

The mentor will be available to guide you as you work through the five steps.  Use him or her as much or as little as you need.

Step One: Research

At the end of this step, you should be able to chart and map out both the upland and underwater areas of the site you select.

Contact the park managers (Washington State Parks, county, and city park managers) to introduce yourselves and let them know your general intent, i.e. to develop the recreational aspects of the site, and ask how to make this a cooperative effort in order to ensure success.  Let them know your intention to comply fully with all applicable federal, state, and local regulations.  Request information about the site and any existing developmental plans for the upland areas.  If there is a survey department, they may be able to provide you with charts, maps, and photographs.

Contact the local Salish Sea Tribe. Washington Scuba Alliance recognizes that we are on the traditional lands, and in the traditional waters of the Indian tribes on the West Coast.  They have been stewards of these waters since time immemorial, and are co-managers of them today.  It is important to work with them, and accept their guidance when doing this work.  You can find out more information on the Pacific Fishery Management Council here.

Search out existing maps, charts, and historical information at the University of Washington, local libraries, museums, and community centers.  The U.S. Coast Guard may be able to provide information on buoys (past and present), the Department of Natural Resources may provide information regarding tideland, the Department of Fish and Wildlife will fill you in on some requirements, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has info on permits and sinkage, and county departments can let you know about codes and ordinances.  Look in diver guidebooks such as Northwest Shore Dives and 141 Dives in the Pacific Northwest.  Check known websites for dive sites such as plan your dive.  Also, talk to old-time divers and locals.  NOAA's custom chart creator can also be a good starting point for understanding the depths of the area.

Write down your impressions of how well the upland areas are kept including the grounds, parking, and facilities.  Is there signage, including maps for divers?  Are currents easy to figure out for the site?  Are park rules posted? What are they?  What about night dives? Is the parking and/or drop-off areas?  Are there surface buoys?  Restrooms? Showers? Other facilities?  A telephone for emergencies? Suitable entry and exit options? Anchorage?  How many divers use the site?

During the survey, in a systematic way, gather information about depth, substrate (including sediment size), vegetation (eel grass, algea, and kelp), invertebrates, and vertebrates (fish).  This information should be gathered in such a way that you can fill in the information on a map.  Is this a site known on  If not, should it be?  This can also be a great website to gather and report data on species in the area.


In addition, is the underwater environment in good shape, or is it stripped?  Are the features or native beauty as expected?  Does the information in the dive guidebooks and on the websites match with what you find?  If photos and video are taken, be sure to note the exact location and time of year.

Useful equipment for the survey includes: clipboards, waterproof paper and pencils, 200' measures tape stakes, transect squares, video recording devices like GoPros.

During the first step, be sure to note how safe the site is, and what makes it safe or unsafe.  Also, note potential obstacles to underwater development.  Examples include physical obstacles, limited volunteer resources, legal restrictions, and protected habitat.

Step Two:
Organize and Synthesize

Sort and organize the above information into a useful form.  Evaluate the information.  Go back and gather more information.  Evaluate your resources: people, equipment, supplies, finances.  Create a base map. Issue a report to WSA and park managers.  <TODO add a link to an example report here>

Step Three: Plan

During this step, you'll plan each phase in detail, including costs, timelines, equipment needed, etc.  Get feedback and approval from the local tribe. Sell your plan to park managers. Plan fundraising strategies.  Recruit volunteer help and set up a way to replenish your volunteer base as people move on.

What are the two most important goals for an underwater park at your site?  Safety, no-harvest regulations, education, history, access, maintaining existing features, restoring historical wildlife?

Which activities do you want to pursue at the park? Sightseeing, photography, wrecks?

What features are most important? Showers? Changing facilities? Signs and maps? Parking?

What safety features should you pursue?  Buoys? Trails and feature markers? Signage detailing the tide and current situation?

What species are you planning to have a site?  Having large structures may look cool, but will attract things like lingcod and rockfish that may eat many of the smaller species you used to love.  This is also important to consider the historical species at a site.  We need places for young and small fish to grow too!

Are your changes environmentally friendly?  Our waters certainly do not need more tires or plastic in them.  Make sure what you add isn't a regret of future generations.  Natural rock, fostering plant life like kelp and eel grass, fostering oyster reefs, and other natural additions are always preferred.  If you're considering some sort of structure, consider ph neutral concrete.  Your mentor can work with you on all of this.

Write your plan in phases so you will have milestones to track your success.  What are your specific objectives for each phase?  What exactly will be done, when will you start, when will you finish, how much will it cost, what materials are necessary, how will your success be measured?  Write your plan down and submit it to WSA and park managers.

Step Four: Implement

Do it. Develop a bias for action rather than just talk.  Plan regularly scheduled dives. Raise funds. Move along one step at a time.  Submit progress reports to WSA and park managers.

Step Five: Monitor the Plan and Measure Your Impact

Track your progress at each phase.  Monitor costs and resources.  Do regular surveys of the wildlife to know your impact on the environment.  Measuring and monitoring what is going on will allow you to change course and revise the plan as needed.  When diving, stick to your plan rather than re-creating it each time you dive.

Having before and after surveys of the wildlife in particular helps give credence to our work.  It let's us know our impact and allows us to continue our work knowing we're doing good for the environment and our divers.  Without this we can make horrible mistakes like the tire reefs scattered around the Puget Sound that now need to be removed.  Know your impact and take steps you'll be proud of going into the future.

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