Older, Less Healthy Snorkelers Allowed on Great Barrier Reef

By Nancy LaFever / Posted on 04 July 2013

older scuba divers on great barrier reef

For snorkelers and scuba divers, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has one of the world’s most amazing displays of underwater scenic vistas and is a destination for many. A recent article on an Australian website, Cairns.com.au reported a major revision to Queensland’s state rules regarding medical certificates required for snorkeling and diving. “Out-dated regulations” were cited as making Queensland the most difficult state in which to receive permission to take a diving course.

Prior to the change, anyone wishing to take a snorkeling and diving certification course was required to pass the criteria and acquire a medical certificate. Now the certificate is only required for those over 45, have what is considered an at-risk medical condition or an obese level body mass index (BMI) combined with a “wide waist girth.” Certificates are not needed for introductory or snorkeling/diving offered at resorts.

Senior Divers Shown by Study to be Safe
While the relaxing of this requirement may sound more inclusive than before, age 45 seems like an arbitrary cut-off considering how many seniors are in great health and physically fit. In fact a 2003 study at the Duke University Medical Center, reported by WebMD.com, found that older scuba divers didn’t differ that much from younger divers when their lungs responded to water pressure. Senior participants were aged 58 to 74. Concerned that older divers might retain higher levels of carbon dioxide, the study showed with moderate exercise, older adults did retain higher levels of carbon dioxide at the 60-foot depth, but not significantly higher than younger test subjects.

A major safety issue for divers, retaining too much carbon dioxide can cause seizures, mental confusion and even loss of consciousness. By using a hyperbaric chamber for the study allowed researchers to control for many variables. The overall conclusion was healthy older divers should be able to safely continue to scuba dive.


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