Intensive recreational SCUBA diving threatens coral reef ecosystems. The reefs at Dahab, South Sinai, Egypt, are among the world’s most dived (>30,000dives y−1). We compared frequently dived sites to sites with no or little diving. Benthic communities and condition of corals were examined by the point intercept sampling method in the reef crest zone (3 m) and reef slope zone (12 m). Additionally, the abundance of corallivorous and herbivorous fish was estimated based on the visual census method. Sediments traps recorded the sedimentation rates caused by SCUBA divers. Zones subject to intensive SCUBA diving showed a significantly higher number of broken and damaged corals and significantly lower coral cover. Reef crest coral communities were significantly more affected than those of the reef slope: 95% of the broken colonies were branching ones. No effect of diving on the abundance of corallivorous and herbivorous fish was evident. At heavily used dive sites, diver-related sedimentation rates significantly decreased with increasing distance from the entrance, indicating poor buoyancy regulation at the initial phase of the dive. The results show a high negative impact of current SCUBA diving intensities on coral communities and coral condition. Corallivorous and herbivorous fishes are apparently not yet affected, but are endangered if coral cover decline continues. Reducing the number of dives per year, ecologically sustainable dive plans for individual sites, and reinforcing the environmental education of both dive guides and recreational divers are essential to conserve the ecological and the aesthetic qualities of these dive sites.
Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2008, Vol 56, Issue 10, p. 1788-1794
Marine tourism; Coral reefs; SCUBA diving; Red Sea; Damage; Sedimentation; Growth form