Effects of self-guided snorkeling trails on corals in a tropical marine park

Plathong, Sakanan, Inglis, Graeme J., and Huber, Michael E. (2000) Effects of self-guided snorkeling trails on corals in a tropical marine park. Conservation Biology, 14 (6). pp. 1821-1830.

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Abstract

Underwater trails are intended as interpretative tools in marine parks, but concentrating divers and snorkelers in defined areas may negatively affect the surrounding environment. We examined spatial and temporal patterns in the effects of use of underwater trails on coral reef flats in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia. Changes in benthic assemblages were assessed on two new trails used by snorkelers, two unused (control) trails, and two undisturbed areas. Total percent coral cover, numbers of broken colonies, and living coral fragments were counted 6 months before and 6 months after the new trails began to be used. Spatial patterns of effects around concentrated nodes of use were determined by stratified sampling around and away from the interpretative signs within each trail. Despite comparatively low levels of use (approximately 15 snorkelers per trail per week), snorkelers caused significant damage to corals along the trails. Branching corals (non-Acropora branching corals and Millepora spp.) were most affected. More damage occurred near the interpretative signs than elsewhere on the trails. The numbers of broken branches and damaged coral colonies in the snorkeling trails increased rapidly but stabilized within 2 months of the commencement of use. There was no significant change in overall benthic assemblages within the trails after 6 months of use by snorkelers. Although concentrating snorkelers within confined trails caused increased damage to corals, the effects can be mitigated by appropriate design and placement of the trails and by managing the behaviour of snorkelers. Interpretative information should warn users about the damage they may cause when swimming along the trails. Managing the behaviour of snorkelers in the water is likely to be more effective in reducing damage than simply applying fixed limits to the amount of use the trails receive.

Item ID: 12819
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: coral; Great Barrier Reef Marine Park; protected area management
ISSN: 1523-1739
Date Deposited: 16 Jul 2012 01:26
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050211 Wildlife and Habitat Management @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9613 Remnant Vegetation and Protected Conservation Areas > 961303 Protected Conservation Areas in Marine Environments @ 100%
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