Scuba diving damage and intensity of tourist activities increases coral disease prevalence

Lamb, Joleah B., True, James D., Piromvaragorn, Srisakul, and Willis, Bette L. (2014) Scuba diving damage and intensity of tourist activities increases coral disease prevalence. Biological Conservation, 178. pp. 88-96.

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Recreational diving and snorkeling on coral reefs is one of the fastest growing tourism sectors globally. Damage associated with intensive recreational tourist use has been documented extensively on coral reefs, however other impacts on coral health are unknown. Here, we compare the prevalence of 4 coral diseases and 8 other indicators of compromised coral health at high and low use dive sites around the island of Koh Tao, Thailand. Surveys of 10,499 corals reveal that the mean prevalence of healthy corals at low use sites (79%) was twice that at high use sites (45%). We also found a 3-fold increase in coral disease prevalence at high use sites, as well as significant increases in sponge overgrowth, physical injury, tissue necrosis from sediment, and non-normally pigmented coral tissues. Injured corals were more susceptible to skeletal eroding band disease only at high use sites, suggesting that additional stressors associated with use intensity facilitate disease development. Sediment necrosis of coral tissues was strongly associated with the prevalence of white syndromes, a devastating group of diseases, across all sites. We did not find significant differences in mean levels of coral growth anomalies or black band disease between high and low use sites. Our results suggest that several indicators of coral health increase understanding of impacts associated with rapid tourism development. Identifying practical management strategies, such as spatial management of multiple reef-based activities, is necessary to balance growth of tourism and maintenance of coral reefs.

Item ID: 38817
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1873-2917
Keywords: ciliates; coral disease; damage; diving; Koh Tao; scuba; skeletal eroding band; sedimentation; snorkelling; Thailand; tourism; white syndrome; wounds
Funders: Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Cook University (AIMS@JCU), International Research Award, Australian Research Council (ARC), Prince of Songkla University
Projects and Grants: ARC Discovery Grant, Prince of Songkla University Grant No. SCI530221S
Date Deposited: 13 May 2015 04:40
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050202 Conservation and Biodiversity @ 60%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050209 Natural Resource Management @ 40%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960507 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Marine Environments @ 60%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9607 Environmental Policy, Legislation and Standards > 960701 Coastal and Marine Management Policy @ 30%
90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900303 Tourism Infrastructure Development @ 10%
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