Scuba Diving and Coral

Scuba Diving and Coral (SCUBA Case)

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     CASE NUMBER:   277
     CASE NAME:     Scuba Diving and Coral


1.   The Issue

On reefs all over the world, divers kick, grab, and break corals,
and bang them silly by dragging high-tech consoles that hang below
them as they swim."  With the steadily increasing popularity of
scuba diving and the increasing accessibility of recreational
diving to remote, caribbean locations, concerns for the well-being
of the living coral have been expressed.  Poor diver etiquette,
including inexperience at controlling buoyancy, improperly secured
gear, photography flashes, and blasts from fin kicks, is the main
cause of diver induced damage to coral reefs.  Over the Caribbean
coral reef system, more than 300,000 dives take place per year on
Grand Cayman alone.  Divers, ecologists, and the island local
government need to know: Are marine protection and tourism
compatible?  What are the trade-offs between protection and bio-
diversity?  Are there physical limits on multiple use of protected
marine ecosystems?  Furthermore, if a balance between protection
and tourism can be found, what is the threshold of stress a coral
reef can take from divers without sustaining permanent reef

2.   Description

A little-known fact about coral reefs is that they are a living,
breathing animal life.  Because they have a very hard limestone
exoskeleton, many people incorrectly think that coral reefs are
just big, colorful marine rocks.  Not true.  While the size and
shape of coral reefs provide a superb natural habitat to sustain a
marine ecosystem such as numerous varieties of fish, sponges, and
plants, it must not be forgotten that the reef itself is alive.

As such a wondrous marine spectacle, coral reefs are the main
attraction for under water sight seers.  Enough snorklers and scuba
divers throng to small Caribbean islands each year that dive
related tourism accounts for anywhere from 10-50% of those nations'
annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  The small Caribbean islands
of Bonaire, a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands located 100 km
north of Venezuela, and the Cayman Islands, a part of the United
Kingdom located about 300 km directly beneath Cuba, have pristine
coral reefs and are widely chose to be among the top dive
destinations in the Caribbean, according to a survey of divers by
Skin Diver Magazine.   Exploiting their natural coral reefs for
economic revenues has long been the norm for small Caribbean
islands such as the Cayman Islands.  However, the world wide diving
population has continued to grow at a rate of 20% per year.  There
are 10 million certified divers in the United States alone--and the
Caribbean is commonly joked about by US divers as a convenient 
back-yard pool" for a quick dive vacation.  Direct flights to Grand
Cayman are frequent from many southern US states along the gulf
coast and Florida; and with its relaxed banking rules, Cayman is a
favorite tax shelter for thousands of US businessmen who frequent
the island.  A Grand Cayman survey found that 14 percent of those
arrivals who participate in scuba during their stay are primarily
in Cayman for other business related activities.  Furthermore, a
full one third of all air arrivals to the Cayman Islands partake in
scuba diving, generating over $16,000,000 in direct revenue toward
the Cayman economy.  The Cayman Islands do not have a record of the
total number of divers for a given year for all three islands, but
the survey of all dive operators for 1993 showed that Grand Cayman,
the largest of the three islands, alone logged 371,847 individual
dives that year.  Of course all these dives recorded by the Cayman
Islands were not taken at the same site.  Many sites exist off the
coasts of each island--some sites frequented more often by divers
than others.

Although there are many sites to disperse frequency of the many
visitors to the under water attractions, not all sites are visited
equally.  If a majority of divers are concentrated on a few sites,
then the diver-related impact of that load will be greater on that
site than on a less frequented site.  Thus, the concept of a 
carrying capacity" for a reef was devised.  A carrying capacity is
the number of individual dives a reef can sustain without receiving
irreparable degradation.  As a living organism, reefs have the
ability to heal.  Minor bumps, brushes or occasional bites from
fish are wounds which easily heal.  Anchor slams, knife cuts, and
air-tank bangs require much longer recuperation.  However, it is
the accumulative effect of thousands of touches and glances that
exacerbate a lethal situation for the reef.

A thin film of living tissue drapes over the stony skeleton. 
Whenever a diver presses a hand or a foot against this, for example
to steady buoyancy, the layers of tissue are punctured against the
animal's skeleton.  Alina Szmant, a coral biologist at the
University of Miami put this to an analogy.   This then exposes the
corals--like someone cutting you down to your bone--and things like
algae, bacteria, and fungi can get in there and start an
infection." (Fishman, 17). 

A study on Bonaire, headed by John Dixon, an environmental
ecologist with the World bank, found that reefs do in fact have a
very dramatic threshold of stress under which the reef can thrive
but when surpassed can wreak devastating havoc.  Dixon's study,
through a series of photoanalysis over time, suggests that the
threshold level of a reef is between 4,000 to 6,000 dives per year. 
This is assuming that there is consistency in the ratio of
inexperienced divers (who typically cause more damage) to
experienced divers (whose superior knowledge of marine life and
controlled diving skills allow a substantially less damaging
visit).  By reviewing the scientific evidence to support the idea
of a threshold level for reef protection, the tourism department of
the Cayman Islands, who have long wondered of the possible adverse
effects of mass diving on their reefs, began considering policies
and methods for maintaining reef quality without sacrificing the
revenue from dive-related tourism.

The Cayman Islands had already established marine parks as
designated protected areas and enforced strict rules on diving
behavior.  However, after Dixon's study on the reefs of Bonaire,
now the Cayman Islands are implementing programs to establish a 
carrying capacity" of their coral reef dive sites.  Although the
island of Bonaire, where the study was performed, is considering a
safe carrying capacity for a reef of 4,000 dives per year, the
Grand Cayman office of tourism is considering 4,500 to 5,000 dives
per year as the carrying capacity for its most popular dive sites. 
The establishment of this carrying capacity can be considered as a
type of regulation on the dive industry to regulate and control the
number of divers enjoying the Cayman coral reef system.

Ironically, although the establishment of a carrying capacity which
limits the number of divers that can visit a particular dive site
per year, will have a significant economic impact on the CI$16
million revenue for the dive shops, the dive operators support the
move to regulate wholeheartedly.  Dive operators, who personally
guide each dive group, are really the only ones in the position to
actually control the actions of divers during a dive, and it is the
operators who have taken steps to try and protect the reefs,
especially from the damaging dive techniques of a novice diver.  
Improper buoyancy control, the hallmark of a beginning scuba diver
and the chief cause of the physical damage done by divers, is
almost always associated with a diver wearing too much weight. 
After they enter the water, over-weighted divers smash down on the
reef bottom.  Without proper buoyancy in the water, divers knock
into the corals on the reef, pushing off to raise themselves up or
holding on to stay down."  Dee Scarr, a marine naturalist and dive
group leader on Bonaire, has established his own policy towards
beginners.   Until they are taught how to master buoyancy control,
these divers are menaces.  I only take a few people with me at a
time so I can watch how they're doing." (Fishman, 16).

Dive related tourism on the Cayman Islands generates 10 percent of
the nation's GDP.  When calculating the multiplier effect of diver
spending on non-diving goods and services (hotel, restaurants,
shopping, etc) during their visit, dive-related tourism accounts
for 34% of the total tourist revenue.  Dive related tourism is a
large contributor to the welfare of the island.  Divers flock the
Cayman Islands because the coral reefs there are considered some of
the best coral reefs in the world.  Therefore, because preserving
the integrity of the coral reef system for the long term benefit
will be to the best interests of the future of the island, the
Grand Cayman Office of Tourism has opted to pursue a policy of
regulating the number of dives per site per year even if that has
an adverse effect on the short term revenues of dive related (and
thus tourist generated) revenue.

National marine parks, unlike their terrestrial counterparts, do
not have blazed trails and garbage cans to keep the visitors from
trampling all through nature.  There is proper dive etiquette for
interacting with corals (which can be summarized as  look but don't
touch"), but ironically, even though the novice diver is notorious
for wreaking the worst havoc to an innocent coral, specific
behavior is not taught in introductory dive courses.  Training in
proper interaction techniques with marine life is reserved for
advanced and dive-master courses.  Thus, coral degradation
continues at no fault to the coral except that mother  nature did
not equip it with the ability to skitter away with a flick of a fin
to safety as other  sea critters do when an awkward, day-glo clad
intruder comes banging wrecklessly on top of it. 

3.   Related Cases


     Keyword Clusters

     (1): Ocean
     (2): Tourism
     (3): Habitat Loss

4.   Draft Author: David Baldwin


5.   Discourse and Status: AGReement and INPROGress

Scholars; marine ecologists, biologists, and naturalists; as well
as divers themselves are in agreement that careless diving on the
part of divers is one cause of coral degradation.  However, policy
prescription to alleviate that cause has not reached consensus.  In
actuality, storms and wave movements cause more severe damage to
reefs than divers do, and studies to establish the actual impact of
diving on coral reefs is in its infancy.  Information to determine
carrying capacities for reefs may not be congruent from site to

6.   Forum: Cayman Islands, and Scope: UNILAT

Although the protection of coral from pollution or trade has been
addressed in many other organizations such as the United Nations
and CITES as well as other regional organizations, no official
standing has been delineated to regulate diving, snorkeling and
other water sports to protect coral. However, actions of individual
states to establish appropriate measures to protect coral reefs are
being implemented unilaterally by many countries which possess a

7.   Decision Breadth: 2 to 109

Their are approximately 109 countries which rely on a coral reef
system to protect their shores from storms and coastal erosion. 
Many of these also utilize their coral reefs to lure dive-related
tourist revenue to their countries.  However, Bonaire and Cayman
Islands are the first real efforts by any diving community to
initiate preservation policies in regards to the direct effects of
scuba diving on their coral reefs.  Hopefully the trend will catch
on to the remaining 107.

8.   Legal Standing: Treaty, National Law, and None

At present, several countries have implemented an international
treaty governing the trade of live corals; many national laws
govern cutting, mutilating or removing coral exist.  For Cayman
violators of these laws which regulate marine park resources, the
maximum penalty is US$5,000 fine and one year in jail.  However,
there is yet no law regulating the skill level of a diver to visit
coral or the frequency to which divers may visit a coral reef site. 
The Cayman Islands are contemplating this type of regulatory
measure to preserve the livelihood of the reef systems.  


9.   Geography

     a. North America
     b. Caribbean
     c. Cayman Islands, United Kingdom.

Although this report is concerning the case study of the Cayman
Islands, the issue is not limited to just this geographic area. 
The problem of scuba divers causing damage to coral reef systems
relevant to any country which draws revenues from dive-related
tourism of their coral reef.

10.  Sub-National Factors: Yes

The implementation of regulations to govern the frequency of dives
to a reef must be followed by dive-shop operators.  For dive-shop
operators to restrict their business to conform with carrying
capacity rules will mean a loss of revenues at worst due to a
decrease in dive quantity, or a scheduling inconvenience at best to
reroute dive tours to less frequented sites.

11.  Type of Habitat: Ocean

D.   TRADE Filters

12.  Type of Measure: REGSTD

The enforcement of a carrying capacity of a reef can be described
as a  regulatory standard."  However, if the number of individual
dives to particular site were regulated, then it might be termed a
quota.  Nevertheless, since these measures are not yet imposed,
merely being contemplated in light of new information, it is hard
to determine which category this regulatory measure would fit into. 

13.  Direct vs. Indirect Impacts: INDirect

14.  Relation of Measure to Impact

     a: Directly related to service: YES number of allowable dives 
    b. Indirectly related to service: NO
     c. Not Related to service: NO
     d. Related to process: YES habitat loss

15.  Trade Product Identification: SCUBA diving tourism

16.  Economic Data

Industry Output:    CI$224 million for general tourism
               CI$ 69.0 million for diver-related tourism
(including multiplier effect)

Divers contribute heavily to other non-diving activities while
visiting Cayman.  When adding the money spent by divers on non-
diving related goods and services (lodging, meals, shopping etc.)
a multiplier effect can be seen. The Cayman study found that, in
1993, the Cayman Islands generated about CI$224 million for their
general tourism; of that, CI$ 69.0 million was spent by divers for
diving and non-diving related activities.  Thus, the diver tourism
amounts to about 10% of GDP and 34% of total tourism revenue.  From
this CI$69 million scuba diver centered revenue, CI$41.6 million
was from primary divers (primary purpose for coming to Cayman was
for diving) and CI$27.4 million was from secondary divers (purpose
for visit was something other than diving such as business or
honeymoon, but also participated in diving).

17.  Degree of Competitive Impact: LOW

The relationship to trade (scuba) and the environment (coral reefs)
can be thought of as low impact in two ways.  First, compared to
other causes of coral damage such as hurricanes, cruise ship
anchors, sewage pollution from the islands, diver impact is
minuscule.  Secondly, experienced divers rarely if ever come in
contact with a reef so their contribution to environmental impact
is low.  On the other hand, novice divers average 15 contacts in an
hour dive, and although this is an extremely high rate of contact,
the comparable damage when considering other causes of reef damage,
(ship anchors, island sewage pollution, gasoline and oil from ships
etc.) can only rank medium at the most.

     Cost: Bonaire - US$518,000 initial costs
                -  US$150,000 annual recurring costs

Although Cayman does not have specific cost figures available, a
similar island such as Bonaire provides a helpful and relative
example of maintenance costs to protect the coral reefs.  Bonaire,
in 1992, began a diving fee of US$10 per year for tourists to pay
for a reef maintenance program.  It receives approximately
US$170,000 in revenue from the fees.  This is enough to pay for the
maintenance, employees, and means necessary to maintain the marine
parks.  Interestingly, a survey found that 80% of the visitors were
willing to pay at least US$20.  This includes 48% who were willing
to pay US$30, and 16% who were willing to pay US$50.  The mere
US$10 fee represents a huge consumer surplus.

18.  Industry Sector: TOURism

19.  Exporter and Importer: USA and the Cayman Islands


20.  Environmental Problem Type: Habitat, Coral Loss [CORAL]

21.  Species Information

     Name:     Coral
     Type:          Animal/Radiata
     Diversity:     NA
     IUCN Status:   NA

22.  Impact and Effect: LOW (1), and Structural [STRCT], product
[PROD], and scale        [SCALE]

Since the dive-related depletion of the resource (coral) is so
gradual and slight, the impact this depletion has on the ecosystem
and island is so low it is barely measurable even over several
years time.  However, if the depletion, or degradation of coral
reefs, continues at the same pace without change, the long-term
impacts on the marine environment could be severe.  If the
depletion of the coral reefs surrounding the islands continued to
a drastic amount, structural changes would occur in the coast line
hastening coastal erosion, and the bio-diversity of marine life
would alter significantly to impact on fishing other sea harvests. 
Furthermore, the degree of effect that this depletion has on the
marine ecosystem and island is proportional to scale of the amount
of coral which is lost.

23.  Urgency and Lifetime: LOW and Unknown

24.  Substitutes: ECOTR

Diver induced damage to live coral reefs can be considered an issue
of ecotourism, however, conservation measures are the best way to
preserve the corals that exist, however, in places where no natural
coral exists, divers have resorted to man-made reef systems as
substitutes to stimulate increased bio-diversity by providing a
habitat.  However, man-made reef systems are not considered a
viable substitute to the depletion of natural coral reefs.

F.   OTHER Factors

25.  Culture: NO

26.  Human Rights: NO

27.  Trans-Boundary Issues: YES

28.  Relevant Literature

Dixon, J.A., Scura, L.F., van't Hof. T. 1993.  Meeting Ecological
and Economic Goals: Marine Parks in the Caribbean. AMBIO 22: May,

Fishman, David J. 1991. Loving the Reef to Death. Sea Frontiers 37:
March, 14-18.

Gleason, Bill. 1988. Oops!--There Goes Another Coral Reef... Skin
Diver 37: April, 6.

Lucey, Nick. 1996. World's Best Marine Parks. Rodale's Scuba
Diving. December,  35-43.

Madigan Pratt & Associates. 1995. Diving in the Cayman Islands:
Economic Impact &  Requirements for maintaining Its Premier Status. 
Prepared for the Cayman Islands  Department of Tourism.

Murphy, Geri. 1993. Travel Tips: 20 Ways to Prevent Coral Reef
Damage. Skin Diver    42: January, 120-123.

Murphy, Geri. 1990. 14 Hints on Coral Ref Etiquette. Skin Diver 39:
November, 92-96.

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May 6, 1996