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Research Technical Reports:
Diver Disturbance Report Cover Letter

March 9, 1998

MEMORANDUM FOR: Sanctuary Advisory Council and Interested Parties

FROM: Superintendent William J. Douros, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

RE: Diver Disturbance Report

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) is developing programs to monitor critical habitats and assess Sanctuary health. One of these habitats is temperate reefs, including flora and fauna within kelp beds.

The impacts of increased visitation in recreational areas is well documented for many systems, but not temperate reefs. A contributed papers session at the 1997 Western Society of Naturalists focused largely on this general issue, the topic was addressed for ecotourism and rocky shores in particular at Sanctuary Currents Symposium '98 last week and this issue has recently received significant attention at Yosemite National Park. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary also considered this issue in the development of their management plan. Though diver access is limited at Point Lobos State Reserve, and Monterey is common destination for SCUBA divers, no studies exist on their influence to temperate reef systems.

In September 1997, Dr. Foster, a recognized expert on temperate reef systems, was contracted ($2,000) to assist in planning a monitoring program for kelps in the MBNMS. The contract also included partial support for his laboratory to assess preliminary evaluation of disturbances caused by SCUBA divers. The report was completed in January 1998.

While the study demonstrated that divers cause a variety of disturbances, the report states that determining the ecological effects of these disturbances would be difficult because of the natural spatial and temporal variability of these systems. However, the report provides interesting information for resource managers in general, and specifically in the planning of future parks and reserves; factors such as the location of entry and exit points, continual education, and the concept of "trails" should be considered.

A goal of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is to enhance visitor experience while minimizing impacts to resources. A significant MBNMS focus is on including education in recreational activities, and this study suggests some new opportunities. For example, diver education could include resource information by having divers consider that: there may be optimal areas to practice activities that require contact with the seafloor (e.g., sandy areas are less sensitive than sea grasses); perfecting neutral buoyancy techniques will avoid unnecessary kicking of algae and invertebrates; using a buddy system is useful in disentangling algae from equipment; and removing and replacing animals will result in different behavioral responses than simply observing them.

In the future, the Sanctuary hopes to also assess the relative impact of divers compared to natural or other human effects in temperate reefs, including kelp beds.

The Sanctuary has many partner organizations, working groups, and an advisory council that effectively shares the opportunities of reports such as this with the general public.

For more information on the report, please contact the Sanctuary's Research Coordinator, Dr. Andrew De Vogelaere (831) 647-4213.

Link to the Diver Disturbance in Kelp Forest Study (Schaeffer and Foster, 1998)

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