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April 2004 Vol. 19, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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No Touching the Reef?

from the April, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In our February issue, we had a story about Cayman's Conch Club Divers policy of not permitting divers to touch any part of the reef, dead or alive. The policy was supported by comments from marine biologist Bill Alevizon. Some of our readers thought the approach was overzealous. Here are two comments.

"Naturally, no one wants to damage the reef, but it appears that Conch Club Divers is of a zero tolerance frame of mind, to the extent that even dead coral is untouchable. (This reminds me of schools that eject little girls for having butter knives in their lunch pails.) There might be a coral cell on the dead spot trying to regenerate the colony, it was said, but it can be observed that most dead coral stays dead for a long time. The argument is a stretch. The photographer exercised good judgment in steadying himself with only two fingers on apparently dead coral. There is nearly always a current or surge requiring some stabilization effort if good pictures are to be obtained. It isn't the apparently dead coral that is paying Conch Club's bills, but divers including the photographer. Nothing was said of an alternate means of helping the photographer.

"It could be argued that the reef would be 'healthier' without divers at all, but Conch Club's bank account wouldn't be. It's hard to achieve a perfect world. Given major calamities like storms, parrotfish and crowns-of-thorn that destroy coral, and coral diseases, just how bad can it be that a photographer put two fingers on apparently dead coral? Zealotry allows no sense of proportion."

-- Nick Ferris
Arvada, CO

"What about marine biologists when they are doing scientific studies on the reefs? They don't touch anything? There are many divers who have learned through diving with marine biologists how to explore the reefs without damaging things.

"I've been diving for 30 years and practice neutral buoyancy, and all my hoses are hooked onto my BC so they don't drag on anything. If I find an interesting macro critter to photograph, but I can't get close without harming something, I won't take the picture. I wonder how many of those great macro photos we all see in the dive magazines taken by the pros were done without anything being touched?

"Regarding Conch Club Divers, with whom I have dived, I find it interesting that with this strict policy, they still lead divers through tunnels and ledges where I see air tanks hitting the reef and divers using their hands to help themselves along."

-- Wayne Joseph
San Mateo, CA

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