Scuba diver behaviour and the management of diving impacts on coral reefs
Coral reefs worldwide are attracting increasing numbers of scuba divers, leading to growing concern about damage. There is now a need to manage diver behaviour closely, especially as many dive companies offer unlimited, unsupervised day and night diving from shore. We observed 353 divers in St. Lucia and noted all their contacts with the reef during entire dives to quantify rates of damage and seek ways of reducing it. Divers using a camera caused significantly more contacts with the reef than did those without cameras (mean 0.4 versus 0.1 contacts min-1), as did shore versus boat dives (mean 0.5 versus 0.2 contacts min-1) and night versus day dives (mean 1.0 versus 0.4 contacts min-1). We tested the effect of a one-sentence inclusion in a regular dive briefing given by local staff that asked divers to avoid touching the reef. We also examined the effect of dive leader intervention on rates of diver contact with the reef. Briefing alone had no effect on diver contact rates, or on the probability of a diver breaking living substrate. However, dive leader intervention when a diver was seen to touch the reef reduced mean contact rates from 0.3 to 0.1 contacts min-1 for both shore and boat dives, and from 0.2 to 0.1 contacts min-1 for boat dives. Given that briefings alone are insufficient to reduce diver damage, we suggest that divers need close supervision, and that dive leaders must manage diver behaviour in situ.