Gone are the halcyon days of the 1970s when I could roll backwards off of a boat with my scuba gear on and break the azure-coloured surface of the Caribbean Sea and slowly descend through its gin-clear water to be greeted by an explosion of bright colours from hard and soft corals. My favourite corals are the simple, soft, purple-coloured fan coral which move rhythmically back and forth as if set to a melody composed by the gentle waves above.
This visual feast would be further enhanced by the large numbers of small, brightly coloured fish scurrying between coral to avoid being eaten by larger predators. Hovering, I would watch intelligent 45 kg (100 lbs) groupers remaining motionless, visually tracking their pray between the coral, suddenly shooting out to swallow their next meal. By contrast, sharks, the lazy hunters of coral reef kingdoms, would slowly swim overhead trying to pick up the convulsive movements of a dying fish while keeping their distance from me. The majestic shark is a coral reef’s top predator; a reef teeming with sharks is a healthy reef.
These memories came cascading back last week when my son returned home after diving off the southern shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu and spoke about the dead reefs he had been diving on. Much the same as when he first began scuba diving off Maui several years before at the age of twelve. Unfortunately, for his generation of millennials, what he experienced off Oahu is the norm rather than the exception.
With 90% of the coral reefs in the Florida Keys dead, 80% of the Caribbean’s reefs dead or dying and approximately 45% of the world’s reefs in the same condition, he’ll have a very good chance of only seeing the white skeletal remains of once thriving colourful coral reef ecosystems. Gone are the shark and grouper found on healthy coral reefs.
There are several underlying causes for the decline of coral reefs world-wide; they involve climate change and human stressors. But undoubtedly, a serious contributor to the degradation of coral reefs in popular tourist regions, are the swarms of scuba divers brought out daily to the reefs by scuba tour operators, like locusts on a wheat field.
Along with global warming, the island of Utila off Honduras’s Caribbean coast is afflicted by global warming and several different human stressors with scuba tourism playing a significant role. Two years ago on a recreational dive trip organized through the University of Toronto’s Hart House Dive Club, I saw firsthand the devastated coral reefs of Utila, which three decades ago, where one of the most vibrant fringing reefs in the Caribbean, a diver’s mecca.
It is ironic that the so called eco-resort we stayed at had to blast away limestone rock along its waterfront and import beach sand to create an artificial beach which contributed to the degradation of its offshore coral reef. To a normal tourist the eco-resort snuggled away in its heavily treed tropical surroundings looks natural and idyllic, in harmony with the environment.
Continues in Scuba Tourism And The Death Of Coral Reefs – Part 2
Photos are © Joseph Frey – All Rights Reserved