The Diving Equipment & Marketing Association launched a Gulf State Diving website and a Penacola, Fla., dive shop manager wrote he's ready anytime to provide a "no B.S. update on local conditions."
I took Merrick VanLandingham, manager of Gulf Coast Dive Pros in Pensacola, up on his offer.
The shop runs training classes for divers and charters, and VanLandingham says the business is "down" and the influence on area tourism has been "devastating."
But VanLandingham says there currently are "georgeous diving conditions," an unusually large number of fish -- including "monster Amberjack and Warsaw grouper" -- and great "water clarity."
"There are schools and schools of incredible fish even though lots of people are cancelling," the dive shop manager says.
He say the media are doing the area a "disservice," allegedly running stories on the situation in Pensacola and the rest of the Florida Panhandle while using footage of mucked-up beaches and their surrounding waters in Louisiana to depict their stories.
VanLandingham says he went to Pensacola Beach yesterday, the last day of Spring, and there were no tar balls.
"The beach normally would be slamming, jamming full at this time of year with nowhere to park," he says. "But, yesterday, it looked like March."
As the Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues to gush hundreds of miles away, the problem for area dive shops, hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions is that no one can guarantee when or if tar balls or oil sheens will arrive to mess with everyone's fun and businesses.
VanLandingham acknowledges that two weeks ago there were tar balls "up and down the beach," although equipment was quickly brought in to get rid of the mess.
"I walked up and down the damn beach yesterday and there were no tar balls," he says.
However, there were sightings of some scattered tar balls out in the water way offshore yesterday and a "couple of big boats" could be seen about two miles away working on some oil sheen, VanLandingham adds.
But, that's all in the distance, he says.
"The word is out on the dives," VanLandingham says. "The volume of fish and the fish we are seeing are a once in many year, blue moon kind of thing."
The problem is that nature and a faraway oil spill that intrudes and withdraws, subject to the currents and winds, can't be controlled or predicted.
VanLandingham says he's not trying to paint an unrealistic picture.
"If it's bad, we'll tell you," says VanLandingham, who's run Gulf Coast Dive Pros for about 15 years. "If it's not bad, we'll tell you. Otherwise, let's go have some fun."
Meanwhile, the dive shop has filed a compensation claim with BP, but VanLandingham's shop has yet to see "any of those magical checks."
The Diving Equipment & Marketing Association's Gulf State Diving website is a subpar affair, lacking much of the basics you'd expect in any kind of online presence these days.
However, it aims to provide a bit of a forum for dive shops in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to get the word out about local conditions in the wake of the oil spill.
Harry's Dive Shop in Metairie, La., notes that is it coping by opting for an inland, freshwater dive site, even as it mandates positive thinking only, by its would-be customers.
Harry's Dive Shop writes on the DEMA website: "Because the likelihood of getting into the Gulf of Mexico for diving in our region is extremely slim, we chose an alternate inland freshwater dive site for certification purposes. Speaking negatively about how the disaster is affecting us is not permitted on the premises of the business. Our action is to accept change and look forward to new opportunities.
"Of course, we are unhappy and financially affected but . . .
"On the brighter side, we have scheduled trips to farther destinations that can be reached by car and do not require a passport. We anticipate getting to see and dive locations we would have otherwise neglected. And, . . . wishing the drive to these new locations was not so long does not make it so. Knuckle Down, Buckle Down and do it (or don't). Put a smile on your face, look in the mirror and say to yourself, . . . . It's Show Time. Then walk away and make the best of your day."
Gulf Coast tourism businesses, with diverse conditions to deal with because of the oil spill, are trying to make the best out of it all.
Unfortunately, as large destinations ramp up to market themselves during this crisis, the so-called long-tail of travel distribution -- the small tour operators, the B&Bs in small towns and the dive shops -- sometimes are forgotten.