Earlier this month, a group of past and present CIEE Bonaire staff, interns, and students published a research paper titled, “The effect of recreational SCUBA divers on the structural complexity and benthic assemblage of a Caribbean coral reef” in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation. For many of the group of interns and students, the paper is their first peer-reviewed scientific publication, a major step in the path to becoming a scientist. CIEE Bonaire is very pleased to have been able to offer this opportunity to these first-time authors.
The goal of this research project was to examine the specific effects that divers have on the benthic organisms (hard corals, soft corals, sponges, etc) that make up tropical reefs. It has been known for quite some time that divers break, dislodge, and abrade benthic organisms. However, it is less understood how divers might affect the structural complexity of reefs and the relative abundance of different benthic organisms. The research project examined these two aspects through a series of underwater surveys conducted at areas that are heavily and lightly trafficked by SCUBA divers.
The results indicate that divers reduce the structural complexity of reefs (make them flatter), which is alarming because much of what makes coral reefs so diverse is their complexity. Additionally, in areas of high diving traffic, there was a shift from a reef dominated by hard corals to one dominated by sponges, soft corals, and rubble. This could be problematic for the future of corals because hard corals make up the structure on which coral reefs are built. The results of the paper indicate that more needs to be done to educate SCUBA divers on how to minimize their effect. This is crucial for island nations like Bonaire that rely on having healthy reefs to attract SCUBA tourism.
If you would like to read the full paper, please email the project leader Dr. Patrick Lyons (firstname.lastname@example.org) and he can send you a pdf version.