Specialization and Marine Based Environmental Behaviors among SCUBA Divers

Article excerpt

Introduction

Coral reefs are a major attraction for SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) divers, and with the global growth in diving, concerns about the negative impacts of divers on the reefs has grown. It has been estimated that there are between 5-7 million active divers worldwide, and the United States alone accounts for between 1.6-2.9 million divers (Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), 2005).

Recent accounts have projected that 60% of the world's reefs are currently under threat (Mastny, 2001), while 27% have already been lost (Status of the Coral Reefs of the World, 2000). Major tourist dependent communities that specialize in dive tourism have experienced substantial damages to their reefs due to heavy concentration of divers at certain sites (Hawkins & Roberts, 1994). In addition to visitor numbers, lack of technical competence in diving and inappropriate behaviors, such as direct physical contact, often lead to irreversible damages or death of the coral (Talge, 1993). However, the impact can be minimized with education and improvement in technical competence among divers, such as proper buoyancy control skills and finning techniques. Highly developed buoyancy control skills allow divers to direct their bodies and equipment in order to avoid contact with coral. Also, higher confidence levels and the ability to adapt to different diving situations, such as strong currents, poor visibility, or different diving environments, can reduce contact with marine environments. Through an observational study, Davis and associates (1995) found that more experienced divers made significantly less contact with the reef than less experienced divers whose buoyancy control is less developed. Similarly, Harriott, Davis, and Banks (1997) noted that a disproportionate amount of damage was caused by divers who had poor buoyancy control and finning techniques.

In addition to skill level, the lack of knowledge about the marine ecosystem and environmentally responsible behaviors all contribute to negative impacts. Environmental education about the marine ecosystem is fundamental in the promotion of responsible behavior. Education and behavioral instructions offered during pre-dive briefings by dive operators are usually brief and specific, but can have significant impacts on diver behaviors (Medio, Ormond, & Pearson, 1997; Townsend, 2000). Additional education aimed at creating an environmental ethic among divers has been instituted within the certification process by numerous diving organizations. Furthermore, certain destinations such as the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary have been proactive with on-site education and interpretive programs (McCawley & Teaff, 1995).

Previous research suggests that level of skill and experience are major determinants of proenvironmental orientations among recreationists. Bryan's (1977) theory of recreation specialization underlies much of this research. Bryan (1977) defined recreation specialization as "a continuum of behavior from the general to the particular, reflected by equipment and skills used in the sport and activity setting preferences" (p. 175). Basically, as individuals increase their level of specialization within their respective activity, their attitudes, values and behaviors related to the activity may simultaneously change. Since the introduction of recreation specialization based on anglers, subsequent empirical research has examined a multitude of appreciative, consumptive and motorized activities (Scott & Shafer, 2001). Studies have examined differences with respect to various associated correlates, such as motivations (McFarlane, 1994), place attachment (Bricker & Kerstetter, 2000), perceived crowding (Graefe, Donnelly, & Vaske, 1986), recreation choice behavior (Kuentzel & Heberlein, 1992), and norms of depreciative behavior (Wellman, Roggenbuck, & Smith, 1982). Moreover, specialization theory has also been employed to examine recreationists' proenvironmental orientations (Dyck, Schneider, Thompson, & Virden, 2003; Katz, 1981; Kauffman, 1984; Mowen, Williams, & Graefe, 1997; Thapa, 2000). …