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March 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Divers Want Marine Parks - - But Donít Want to Pay for Them

from the March, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The primary purpose of marine parks is to preserve underwater life, but most people consider them first and foremost as a great place for diving and snorkeling. The problem is those activities can pose a threat to the coral reefs intended for protection. Besides breaking and abrading coral, divers can kick up sediment that can impact the entire ecosystem. The negative effects from scuba diving on reefs may seem trivial compared with overfishing, pollution and global warming, but they canít be ignored.

Researchers have investigated approaches to minimize diversí impact. For example, one study found that divers dabbling in underwater photography with quick-snap cameras werenít any more likely to harm reefs than divers without cameras, but ďspecializedĒ underwater photographers were the most damaging of all. Researchers have found that a onesentence reference to touching the reef did not reduce diversí contact, but an in-depth briefing by the divemaster did.

In a study published last year in Journal of the Human Environment, researchers from Clemson University and Texas A&M University created questionnaires to measure six diving factors: number of divers at a site; amount of marine park open to diving; level of underwater supervision; park fee; time spent on reef education; and amount of marine life expected to be seen on a dive trip. They recruited 646 divers to fill out the questionnaires. Divers were certified for an average of 13.5 years, and 80 percent of them had a level higher than basic open water.

In the questionnaires, divers had to indicate their preferences for a range of five hypothetical dive trips, ranging from the status quo to a very restrictive trip. For example, one could choose a trip with 15 percent fewer divers at a site but would have to have 30 minutes of coral reef conservation education and pay a $30 fee. The second trip would have no education component or fee but all dives are completely guided. Respondents could pick either trip or decline both.

Researchers expected divers to prefer the least-restrictive options but divers preferred some tighter restrictions. They preferred a decreased number of divers allowed at a site at any one time, even though fewer of them would be allowed to dive. They also favored increased levels of conservation education, up to 60 minutes of classroom time.

However, divers werenít pure conservationists. They didnít like the idea of completely guided dive trips and preferred no supervision. They donít want to pay to maintain a marine park, even with the stipulation that all park fees are invested into park management. They also favored access to the entire park instead of dive restrictions in some areas.

The researchers concluded that, ďPark managers must use strategies that are most effective for achieving their ecological goals. Often, they stop at this plan and implement a management plan without understanding its effect on users. Our model, however, further informs them by predicting how divers will respond to various conservation strategies. Theyíll either visit or go elsewhere.Ē

Michael Sorice, Chi-Oh Ok and Robert Ditton, ďManaging Scuba Divers to Meet Ecological Goals for Coral Reef Conservation,Ē Journal of the Human Environment, vol. 36, issue 4, pgs. 316-322.

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