Most SCUBA divers disturb the seabed, Spanish researchers say. A study published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science found that nearly 97% of divers in marine protected areas (MPAs) made contact with the bottom. Inexperienced, male divers carrying a camera or torch were the worst offenders.

Creating a marine protected area tends to increase diving in that vicinity. Scientists from the University of Alicante studied the behaviour of divers in marine protected areas, the effects of diving on the natural environment and the characteristics that influence diver behaviour. They found that impacts caused by recreational scuba activity vary widely among different divers.

The scientists followed a total of 181 recreational divers in Mediterranean MPAs, recording the contacts they made with the seabed and the effects produced. They also made notes on the features of the dive. Their observations revealed that 175 of the divers observed (96.7%) made at least one contact with the seabed. Flapping was the most frequent type of contact, and the main damage by this action was to raise sediment.

Contact with the seabed was greater for males than for females, inexperienced divers than for experienced divers, camera or dive light users than for non-users, and divers unaccompanied by a dive leader or who had not been briefed about avoiding seabed contact before undertaking a dive than for accompanied or briefed divers.

The research team hopes that a greater understanding of the causes of harmful behaviour may be useful for stricter management, reducing diving damage and assuring the sustainability of diving in marine protected areas.

Journal Reference:
Luna, B., Valle Pérez, C., and Sánchez-Lizaso, J. L. 2009. Benthic impacts of recreational divers in a Mediterranean Marine Protected Area. – ICES Journal of Marine Science, 66: 000–000.

What do you think of this news item? Join a discussion.