Diving tourism on coral reefs in Florida: Variation in recreational diver behavior and impacts on reef corals
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Ecotourism often is promoted as an ecologically-friendly use of natural resources, however if not managed carefully, can cause negative impacts to ecosystems. In the Florida Keys, minimal government involvement in regulating recreational diver behavior has led to local dive shops being mainly responsible for promoting diver behavior that reduces damage to the reef ecosystem. I determined patterns of recreational dive frequency and damage to reef corals at selected sites near Key Largo, and analyzed the effects of pre-dive briefings and other factors on diver behavior. Field observations revealed about 18 diver-coral contacts per each 60-min scuba dive. The majority of coral colonies were damaged, and live coral cover was as low as 11% at frequently-visited reef sites, indicating that current rates of recreational diving on some reefs in Key Largo appear to be ecologically unsustainable. This study reveals severe ecological consequences of current management practices of diving tourism in Florida.