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Divers open doors for accessible tourism

While many locals are calling for a shift away from tourism as our key industry to promote economic longevity, two businesses have found a life-changing way to pivot within the industry.

Marlin Coast Diving and Octopus Dive are working together to create their own version of “accessible tourism” – a concept that creates fun and inclusive tourist activities for everyone, regardless of physical or mental limitations.

The idea was borne by Marlin Coast Diving’s Richard Stevens, who saw the incredible benefits the water could have for people living with PTSD and other ailments following his time in the Royal Navy.

He initially wanted to work exclusively with Defence Force veterans to help them use scuba diving as part of their rehabilitation program, but Richard eventually realised just how many people could benefit from his approach.

After reaching out to Octopus Dive’s Melanie Vio Seror, the two companies formed a partnership to provide accessible scuba diving for people with physical, emotional and mental disabilities.

“For me, it’s about giving individuals the same opportunities to enjoy the sport that I’ve enjoyed for the past 30 years,” said Richard.

“I think it’s important that we consider giving other human beings, irrespective of their ability or disability, the same opportunities that we are afforded as able-bodied people.”

Pictured: Jason East enjoying the water. Photo courtesy of Libby Sterling.

Mel said her first time assisting a dive with a paraplegic woman was life-changing for everyone involved.

“When I got her to glide in the water, it was just amazing,” she said.

“It was a beautiful feeling to see it happening.”

Richard agreed, saying every client’s first dive feels as special as if it were his own.

“To be a part of something so special to my clients when they enter the water with me is extremely humbling.

“I get the same feelings as I did when I first started teaching diving; excited but also nervous.

“It’s immensely satisfying knowing that I am, in some small way, a part of them achieving something they might not have thought possible.”

To account for the risks involved in taking people with disabilities out on the reef, Richard and Mel offer pool and lake dives for more controlled conditions.

One of Richard’s first clients for pool diving, former commercial crayfisher Jason East, said the pair have helped him return to his “home away from home”.

“I was always in or around water,” said Jason. “It was always my life before, so it’s
good to be home.”

Pictured: Jason East and Richard Stevens. Photo courtesy of Libby Sterling.

And while the local tourism industry continues to struggle through ongoing impacts of COVID-19, Jason said now is the perfect time for businesses to branch out and make themselves more accessible to a wider clientele.

“There’s a big market out there for people with disabilities to be able to get out and do things, but there aren’t enough things and not enough opportunities for us to do it.

“It’s just a matter of thinking outside the box, and it’s good for businesses to give us a go. If we can’t do it, we can’t do it, but if we can it just opens up another revenue stream for them.

“Have a talk to people in that situation and go, ‘What can we do to be able to cater for you?’”

Richard agreed, saying as Cairns struggles to adapt to the loss of international tourism, accessible tourism is one avenue the city should be looking into.

“Aside from individuals having the same opportunities as able-bodied people, it’s a huge market,” he said.

Connect // Octopus Dive 0401 609 303, Marlin Coast Diving 0400 324 664


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