Many people say they would skip visiting a reef if that’s what it takes to protect it
By Bob Berwyn
Tourists are often charged with loving their favorite places to death, but when it comes to coral reefs, that may not be the case.
Oregon State University and the University of Hawaii recently completed an interesting study showing that people feel so strongly about the importance of protecting coral reefs that many would be willing to forego a visit if that’s what it takes to save the reefs.
The study suggests reefs are a rare exception to controversies over human use versus environmental conservation. The core belief is often strong enough that if it means people have to be kept out, so be it.
“It was really quite astonishing, almost shocking how much people wanted this resource protected for its own sake,” said Mark Needham, an assistant professor of forest ecosystems and society at Oregon State. “We fish and hunt wildlife for food or sport, we cut trees for timber. In most natural resource issues, we find conflicts over management for economic value versus environmental preservation or protection, but we really didn’t see that here.
“Our surveys found overwhelmingly that people visiting coral reef areas did not think that human use and access were the most important issues when it came to these areas,” he said. “And if anything was to have a deleterious effect on reef ecosystems, they would want it stopped.”
That results are of interest in Hawaii because the state’s coral reef ecosystems are a major draw for the tourism industry — seven million people a year who spend more than $11 billion, in part, to enjoy the glistening waters, multi-colored corals, and myriad tropical fish . They are a destination for everyone from snorkelers and scuba divers to tourists in glass-bottom boats and toddlers wading knee-deep, all who come to see the incredible diversity of marine life. More than 80 percent of Hawaii’s visitors recreate in the state’s coastal and marine areas, and a majority go snorkeling or diving.
Past research has measured physical damage or other pressures placed on coral reefs. in some cases, human use has been restricted to limit impacts. But until now, resource managers had no real barometer on just how much public support there was for such measures, especially among hobbyists and tourists who use this resource.
These recent surveys obtained attitudes and opinions from more than 3,500 residents and tourists visiting seven coral reef sites in the Hawaiian Islands, including state marine protected areas, fisheries management areas, and a county beach park. The surveys also measured attitudes about overuse and crowding, and opinions about management needs.
Opinions about coral reefs varied, Needham said, but were mostly just variations on how much protection might be needed, with some people feeling more extreme than others. Virtually no one wanted expanded use of coral reefs to the extent it might degrade them for enjoyment by future generations, and many were willing to endorse any level of protection needed, even if it meant banning human use. These views toward coral reefs reflected peoples’ core personal values and are unlikely to change much, scientists said.
Filed under: Environment, Summit County Colorado Tagged: | coral reefs, Environment, Hawaii, Hawaiian Islands, marine resours conservation, Scuba diving, Summit County, Summit County News, Tropical fish