Chisholm, C.

Diver impact on coral and fish communities: A comparison of sites with varying intensities of diving at Yellow Submarine, Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean

SCUBA diving on coral reefs is a beneficial economic option for small tropical islands, that can have a lower impact on the environment than alternative options, such as the fishing industry. However, diving can also have a negative impact, when divers physically damage the reefs. The effects of diving on reef fish populations have received little study, though alteration of fish distribution or recruitment in areas with high levels of diving is likely. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of diving on coral and fish communities in Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean. Coral and fish communities at six sites adjacent to a popular dive site were studied. Sites studied included two sites immediately adjacent to the entry where most divers pass, 2 sites (120 m from entry) with intermediate levels of diving and 2 sites (240 m from entry) representing less dived sites. Benthic video transects were conducted at two depths (8-10 m, 15 m), recording coral cover and abundance of Atlantic Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment fish species. Coral cover increased with increasing distance to the north of the site, peaking at 31.2%. Coral cover decreased south of the site, which could be attributed to anthropogenic influences occurring due to southern sites proximity to a main population center. A known relationship between Agaricia spp. and Montastrea annularis complex was observed, with the first increasing at intermediately disturbed site, and the latter decreasing at the same sites. All other factors varied greatly across sites and could not be associated with changes in diver intensity; however they could be associated with anthropogenic pressures. Overall, this study did not show significant diver impact, though it displayed negative trends in relation to anthropogenic factors.

This student research was retrieved from Physis: Journal of Marine Science XI (Fall 2012)19: 21-28 from CIEE Bonaire.

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