Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Diving: Enough controls?

Diving is a sport that has really taken off in the last fifty years. With groups like PADI and BSAC allowing more and more people to take up diving, there are more divers than ever. These divers are travelling the world seeing the sights which for so long have been unseen in marine ecosystems.

In places like the Red Sea, off of the shores of Sharm El Sheik in particular, divers are now flocking to see coral reefs and large numbers of fish. The currents moving around this area carry lots of nutrients which cause an abundance of fish to come there to breed.

However, to go diving and see these sights is to share the sight with hundreds of other divers. Several dive boats pull up to the same sites with three boats sitting at each mooring. A current limitation is set, although several moorings are often at each site meaning overcrowding can occur. The abundance of fish, whilst still appearing large is believed to have decreased over the last forty years.

People have the right to see these animals living in this environment, and the educational value of diving is high, but are the number of divers and boats affecting the marine ecology? Should there be more limitations in the numbers of divers set up to protect these areas?


  1. Interesting post. Im wondering what is the evidence for a decrease in local fish populations? Monitoring, anecdotal? What would you reccomend for managing this situation?

    The video of the harbour is eye opening. One issue that could be a problem is the impact of sewage outflow from the boats and impacts from anti-fouling paints. Do you have any information on this you can post?

  2. The local fish population decrease I personally discussed with Egyptian dive shop owners who have noticed a decrease over the last fifty years. Also I know that the Egyptian authorities are creating more and more areas that are to be protected and not dived by any group. If any are found to be taking divers to these areas the authorities would fine the centre who dropped the divers off.

    How to manage this situation?
    Coral Cay Conservation is a group who use volunteers to monitor the reef systems in Tobago and the Philippines. They take volunteers who pay to go to them, they train them to dive and teach them techniques with which they take a record and monitor the organisms in this area. A similar scheme in the red sea could be implemented and without too much difficulty with the large number of divers which already frequent the area.

    Another possibility is by limiting the number of dive boats allowed at any one site during the day, this could be done by putting authority boats at the sites. The downside of this is that many in this area rely on the industry for their jobs.

    The sad thing is the video does not in fact display the full number of boats and people at that harbour. That is probably at the most, only half the number of boats in that harbour.
    The sewage outflow from these boats is literally dropped over the side of the boats as to what the impact of this I am unsure however it will be having some effect on the marine organisms.

  3. Jessica Giannotti-WolffFebruary 13, 2009 at 1:56 AM

    In order to find an adequate solution, it would be important to determine, by means of scientific investigation, the real cause/causes for this problem. On top of the "apparent" reasons some other issues may or may not be involved as well.

    For example, during the early 90s a mass dead of the majority of the fish population and corral reef within a certain area of the marine national park Morrocoy, Caribbean coast, Venezuela, was said to be caused by intensive touristic activities.

    However, after some investigations, the real cause was determined to be a combination of a temporary drastic decrease in water temperature and salinity. An very unusual appearance of cold-water masses from other latitudes along with extreme precipitation caused this misfortune. After that, the ecosystem recovered spontaneously while the boats where there. Of course, this does not mean that touristic activities should not be regulated and numbers of visitors controlled.

    The Read Sea will surely benefit from a environmental assessment and a long term sustainable management where strict regulations applied with enthusiastic local support will permit divers to enjoy their activities while protecting the environment. Easy to say...

  4. One thing that we must not forget is the fact that diving is becoming increasingly popular all over the world, not just limited to the tropics. There are instances of multiple moorings in Scottish waters, with sites like St. Abbs and St. Kilda being heavily dived, OK, its to a lesser extent than Sharm.

    Would diving's educational value be diminished if we were to suggest limits on the number of divers in certain locations. Would people actually respect them? The dive operators, local governments and most importantly, the diver's themselves owe their hobbies and incomes to amazing marine life. For that very reason, they should be the ones driving forward marine conservation.


  5. Links to just a few papers looking at the effect of divers on coral reefs and to some extent the effect this can have on reef fish.

  6. thank Andy, will look these up.

    It is a general trend that the varierty of users and usees is increasing. Just in marine recreation we are seeing increased diving, sailing and watrsports in the UK, as well as eco-tourism. Many of the rec industries go by voluntary, self policed agreements - codes of conduct etc. An example is the Green Blue (

    Voluntary initiatives have a role in marine resource management, but are they enough where differrent uses are increasing and cumulative impacts can occur? I don't think the proposed Marine Bill has really thought enough about this, particularly when it comes to recreation.

  7. One large problem would be, any study that was to be carried out, would take years to actually see if there was a change occuring. In the meantime it could be too late.
    I sometimes get the feeling this is an issue which is almost dismissed, its so obvious to people that is overlooked. Multiple studies into something that everyone thinks are elementary could be of interest.