[Coral-List] Diver damage thread - Impacts of mass dive tourism

Judi Lowe judilowe at gmail.com
Wed Aug 7 22:06:35 EDT 2013

Good to see this discussion of dive tourism impacts on coral reefs and its
place, relative to other human impacts.  It is true that dive tourism is
just one impact on coral reefs but as divers, we shouldn't downplay our

Dive tourism isn't a homogeneous market. There is a spectrum from mass to
elite dive tourism operations, with at least three  segments in the dive
tourist market, say; novice, newly certified and experienced enthusiast.
One theory is that, for a range of reasons, when you put novice and newly
certified divers into mass dive tourism locations you get the highest level
of negative impacts from dive tourism (negative impacts extend beyond the
biophysical and include cultural and economic effects).

Here's an excerpt from a paper by Cesar in 2003, looking at the Red Sea.
 There are a number of research papers of a similar nature  on the
Caribbean and other coral reef locations with mass dive tourism in the
developed and developing world.

In Hurghada on the Red Sea, tourism has developed since the 1980s, and the
impacts of dive tourist have caused significant decline in the value of
coral reefs. (Cesar, 2003).

In recent years, anthropogenic impacts have reduced coral cover in many
places by 30%, both through direct contact (fins and trampling) as well as
through land reclamation, artificial beach construction and hotel sewage.
Around 61% of the country’s coral reefs are estimated to be at serious risk
from human impacts. A recent study has shown that in areas where the number
of divers far exceeds the diver carrying capacity, coral cover is gradually
declining over time and that an upper limit of around 10,000 divers
annually per dive site seems to prevent serious degradation. Some of the
most popular dive sites in Hurghada, however, are now hosting well above
100,000 divers a year. In such sites, the percentage live coral ranges from
29-34% in such sites versus 69-75% in non-diving control sites around
Hurghada (Figure 7). (Cesar, 2003)

That mass dive tourism causes damage to coral reefs is incontrovertible.
 Many coral reef locations, particular those in developing countries where
resources bases and income sources are limited, rely on or are attracted to
dive tourism as an economic saviour.  Research on the true extent of
negative and positive impacts of dive tourism on coral reef conservation
would help understanding of dive tourism's true contribution.

And lets not forget the links between dive tourism and overfishing and
destructive fishing on coral reefs.  Setting licensed fishing aside, dive
tourism operators, divers and customary owners of coral reefs all have a
vested interest in the health of coral reefs and fish stocks. It makes
environmental, economic and moral sense to work together.  Local fishers
and communities have a right to harvest marine resources for food and
income and generally, have no wish to see marine resources decline. The
need for food security and basic income to support families, puts pressure
on marine resources. Dive tourism has the capacity to work with local
fishers and communities to protect coral reefs in a range of ways.  This is
a big topic I see little awareness and discussion of in the dive industry.
Would love to see that change.

With knowledge of the true extent of the positive and negative impacts of
dive tourism on coral reefs, managing dive tourism becomes a management
issue for all stakeholders; governments at all levels, the customary owners
of coral reefs,  protected area managers, tourism authorities, dive tourism
operators, dive certification agencies, dive industry leaders and divers
themselves.  It would be good to see the dive industry recognised as
stakeholders in the management of coral reef conservation, with a proper
seat at the table. That doesn't happen now.

A great thing about this discussion is raising awareness of the need to
work together to conserve coral reefs and help alleviate the poverty
of customary owners of coral reefs.

Kind regards,


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