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Recreational diving and benthic communities

Recreational diving (1)When talking about human activities and their impact on the environment, we usually think immediately on commercial activities; unfortunately, recreational sports can also have a large and underestimated impact.

In the area of diving, it is well known the damaged caused by recreational diving, especially in those very delicate ecosystems and micro-habitats, like coral reefs, caves, shipwrecks, etc, where the ecological equilibrium is much more delicate. This ecosystems, ARs included, attract an incredible amount of tourists because of their beauty.
In recent years, easy access, improvement of technology and safety in diving have increased the number of divers worldwide with a consequent negative impact that cannot be ignored.

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Recreational diving (5)Bethic communities are the most vulnerable to physical contacts and damages due to:

– hands;
– body: e.g., photographers, wrong bouyancy control;
– equipment;
– fins: wrong bouyancy control, wrong weight.

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According to Fernandez-Marquez (et al., 2010), a single diver or a single dive can have a pretty limited impact on benthos; the real problem is represented by cumulative effects, source of significant localized damaged.

Recreational diving (3)There is a general  idea that all this is mainly due to unexperience and wrong behaviour withing diving communities. While dive instructors usually take care of benthos, explaining what to do and not to do during their courses, divers and tourists use to ignore the recommendations due to common sense.
In addition, in diving communities is becoming very popular the idea that certificates and logged dives cannot reflect the experience of a diver. It can be pretty clear if we consider than a diver can become an instructor with less than 100 dives. And it can be much clearer if we compare a diver with 200 logged dives in coral reefs (clear water, warm temperature, hired equipment, guided dive) and a diver with 100 dives in different conditions (cold and warm temperature, drift, responsible of his own equipment, not guided dive). The diving experience would be definitely different and cannot be based on logged dives.