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Beyond the obvious physical damage caused by flailing fins, it has recently been reported that high tourist numbers also increase the risk of coral disease.
Researchers from Australia and Thailand set up ten monitoring sites around the popular diving destination of Koh Tao, Thailand. Surveying over 10,000 corals, they found that dive sites which experienced high numbers of tourists were twice as likely to be show signs of coral disease than less visited sites.
Analysis of the data also revealed that injured corals have greater chances of succumbing to disease. While there are many causes for coral disease, the researchers concluded at that high diver number placed corals under unusual levels of stress, increasing their likelihood of infection and disease. Divers and boat propellers kick up sediment, which covers corals and reduces their access to sunlight, also leading to tissue death and associated ‘white syndrome’ coral diseases.
In countries heavily reliant on diving tourism, unsustainable use and management of reefs can also have long term negative consequences for local communities. Regulation of tourist numbers and avoiding high levels at vulnerable sites is vital.
So what can you do? Do some homework – both you, and the corals will thank you for choosing to avoid high traffic areas. As importantly, think about the way you dive and about your buoyancy control and trim, to avoid making contact with the bottom, stirring up sand or silt, or colliding with any of the wonders you travelled all that way to admire.
Buoyancy control is as simple as making sure you are not-overweighted and routinely practicing breathing techniques to modify your depth without constantly inflating and deflating your BCD (and correspondingly bouncing around like a yo-yo!). If in doubt, ask a more experienced diver on your trip to offer a few tips – you are guaranteed to have a more enjoyable dive once you master this skill!
The original article by Joleah Lamb and his co-authors in the October 2014 issue of Biological Conservation is available here: ezproxy-prd.bodleian.ox.ac.uk:2054/science/article/pii/S0006320714002730?via=ihub