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Differences between protected and unprotected reefs of the western Caribbean in attributes preferred by dive tourists

by Ivor D. Williams, Nicholas V.C. Polunin
Environmental Conservation ()

Abstract

Tropical marine protected areas (MPAs) may promote conditions that are attractive to dive tourists, but a systematic basis for assessing their effectiveness in this regard is currently lacking. We therefore interviewed 195 dive tourists in Jamaica to determine which reef attributes they most preferred to see on dives. Attributes relating to fishes and other large animals ('big fishes','other large animals','variety of fishes','abundance of fishes', and 'unusual fishes') were more appreciated than those relating to reef structure and benthos ('reef structure e.g., drop-offs', 'variety of corals','large corals','coral cover','unusual corals', 'sponges', 'unusual algae', 'lobsters, crabs etc.'). We then surveyed reef condition with regard to those aspects (abundance and variety of fishes, number of 'unusual', and number of 'large' fish) at four Caribbean MPAs and reference areas. In two cases, Hol Chan Marine Reserve in Belize and Parque Nacional Punta Frances in Cuba, these fish attributes were more pronounced in the MPAs than in the reference areas. Differences between the Montego Bay Marine Park in Jamaica (MBMP) and adjacent reference areas were mainly restricted to shallow sites (<6m), while at Grand Cayman no differences between fully protected and partially protected areas were detected. Management had not been fully effective in the MBMP in the preceding months, while fishing pressure in the partially protected areas on Grand Cayman was very light. We conclude that, if fishing restrictions are well enforced, western Caribbean MPAs can be expected to be effective in ways appreciated by dive tourists.

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