How Green Is Your Team?
Supporting the local community and promoting eco-friendly tourism is just as important for the environment as clean-ups and coral surveys, according to the owners of a Dahab-based diving centre. BLUE meets EU sustainable grant recipient Desert Divers.
BLUE magazine, Issue 3, October/November 2009
Growing up deep in the Sinai desert, Bedouin dive centre owner Said Khedr, 37, has developed a special relationship with the nature of the area above and below the water. It was more than 15 years ago when he ventured from his desert home to become Dahab’s first Bedouin to learn to scuba dive. He remembers the area was little more than a palm covered desert beach fringing Red Sea reefs in those days.
Although much has changed in Dahab for Said – now an owner of one of the town’s main diving centres and a father of three – his passion for the environment around him has never wavered. As a result, his centre Desert Divers has always been highly active in environmental initiatives both underwater and topside.
With the support of the local community and guests, Desert Divers organises a number of desert and reef clean-ups each year.
Following a mass clean-up from the Blue Hole to Ras Abu Galum – a popular diving area than can only be accessed by camel – the centre was presented with a PADI Project AWARΕ Award. More than 30 guests and locals took part in the 2006 event, removing more than 1,500 kg of rubbish, mostly by camel…
Desert Divers also supports a number of initiatives by helping to promote and protect the unique desert environment and support local businesses and Bedouin communities.
As a result of its efforts in this area, it was awarded an EU grant in 2007 to promote sustainable tourism in the Sinai.
The EU South Sinai Regional Development Programme (SSRDP) was set up to manage grants that help protect the culture and natural resources of the region and better the living conditions of local communities, particularly Bedouin.
“Dahab gave me something, so I wanted to give something back,” says Said. “I wanted to work with the whole environment: mountains, desert and sea.”
In seven years Desert Divers has developed a number of tours that incorporate desert excursions, camel diving trips and more recently rock climbing. With the grant, the centre has been able to expand this further. All of its excursions are organized together with the communities within Dahab, which Said says not only educates visitors about the environment but also ensures the ecosystems and culture are better protected.
The grant has been used to fund marketing for eco-tourism and buy equipment, as well as help to subsidise training course for Bedouin climbing and diving guides.
“The people who find us are more active holiday makers,” says Said. “They mix diving and desert adventure with a love for Dahab, the Sinai and the Bedouin life.
Our objective is to expand and promote Desert Divers eco-adventures, in partnership with and for the benefit of Bedouin communities. The project focuses on camel diving safaris, deep desert safaris and rock climbing – all of which bring income to Bedouin in remote areas who might otherwise be forced to forsake their way of life to make a living.”
Said’s wife, Tanis, says they keep track of all salary payments made through the eco-adventures. “Within three years a greater amount of money will have been paid back into the communities as salaries than the grant we were awarded by the EU,” she says. (And this work/these salaries keep going long after the project is finished.) “That is why such initiatives are so important.”
Both Said and Tanis believe it is vital for the health of the environment to educate people about the ecosystem and promote less commercialized, more ‘culturally authentic’ excursions in the Sinai. The growth of eco-tourism will only help promote better environmental practices, they say, as well as encourage more tourists who are interested in protecting the marine and topside environments they visit.
Realising the couple’s passion for the environment and the community, and the energy their team is prepared to give to eco-friendly and sustainable initiatives, it is hard to argue against such work having a positive and significant impact.
“To bring eco-tourism, you need the environment to be protected,” Said explains. “You have to ask yourself the questions, does the tourism you support exploit the area or does it help it?”