[Coral-List] Reassessing Coral Reefs
Alevizon, William Stephen
alevizonws at cofc.edu
Sun Apr 5 11:21:38 EDT 2015
I would like to specifically address several of the main points raised by the many thoughtful comments responding to this thread.
1. ARE DIVER IMPACTS “TRIVIAL” IN TERMS OF CORAL REEF CONSERVATION?
This is a key question, raised by several posts. While global warming and ocean acidification impacts certainly would seem have the capacity to make other coral reef conservation efforts appear useless, so does uncontrolled human population growth.
I thought that the question originally posed here was what can we do now, at local scales to at least slow the tide of destruction while we seek long-term solutions to root-cause problems at the global scale.
In that context, the following quote summarizes the issue nicely:
“Excessive dive tourism has been shown to cause serious degradation of coral reefs in numerous locations. Reef degradation due to diving activity has been quantified in terms of decreased live stony coral cover (Hawkins et al., 1999) or increased damage to corals (Schleyer and Tomalin, 2000). When diving rate is below carrying capacity for a given reef site, coral damage is minimal, but above carrying capacity, coral damage may increase greatly… “
Zakai, D., & Chadwick-Furman, N. E. (2002). Impacts of intensive recreational diving on reef corals at Eilat, northern Red Sea. Biological Conservation, 105(2), 179-187.
2. ARE COMMERCIAL DIVE TRAINING COMPANIES (PADI, NAUI) REALLY THE PROPER (MOST EFFECTIVE) TARGETS FOR ANY MESSAGE OR GUIDELINES WE CAN AGREE UPON?
No! The dive industry will never voluntarily curtail the number of divers any more than McDonald’s will volunteer to sell you only 1 bag of fries per visit to protect your health.
Given that our best hope in conserving coral reefs lies with ever more (and larger) MPAs, AND the fact that this is where most recreational diving occurs, then it would seem that it is within MPAs that we should focus our “diver impact” control efforts.
Reef areas not under active management and subject to unrestricted fishing efforts will not likely be helped by managing the impacts of recreational diving. On the other hand, even MPAs designated as “no-take” are NOT “fully protected” if reef areas are subjected to improperly regulated dive tourism.
I suggest that we try to convince coral reef MPA managers worldwide that they need to carefully control recreational snorkeling and scuba diving both in terms of number of divers allowed and diver/snorkeler behavior. We should help provide them the tools to do that; specific recommendations, legal language, and science-based justification.
Further, to alleviate economic impacts on dive operators who would be limited by proper regulation of most reef areas, we might suggest that MPA managers dedicate a comparatively remote already degraded reef site (or two) as “sacrificial reefs” where unlimited numbers of visitors can do all sorts of silly things. As many here have already pointed out, most folks have never seen a healthy reef and are perfectly happy trampling all over an algal covered rock in the nice warm water.
3. DO WE NEED TO START FROM SCRATCH, OR SHOULD WE SIMPLY BUILD UPON THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF GREEN-WHATEVER?
Not entirely. I looked at the posters and other materials prepared by Greenfins and see that they seem to have well covered the bases regarding diver behavior. However, if we decide to make the effort to provide generic tools to help MPA managers implement more effective control of diver impacts, we could build on that by providing specifics using already crafted legal language rather than simple “don’t kick the corals” statements.
Also, and far more importantly, I have yet to see an example of diver impact “guidelines” from any conservation group that explicitly addresses carrying capacity - which almost all published research in the area of scuba diving impacts points to as by far the most important single problem.
For example, long-term studies at Bonaire and Saba (Caribbean) have shown that sustained, properly regulated (in terms of behavior) scuba diving at the permitted level of less than 6000 dives/site/yr. causes negligible damage.. Note that this amounts to no more than 20 divers/day/site over a 300 diving-day year. Contrast that with Gene Shinn’s recent observation of 50 dive boats at one time at a reef in the Florida Keys.
I am willing to put some time into such an effort, but only if there is consensus and commitment among willing participants here that this will be a group effort and that it is worth doing. It will take a fair amount of work, but if we share the load it should be readily do-able.
William S. Alevizon
Dept. of Biology
College of Charleston
58 Coming St.
Charleston, S.C. 29424
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