Snorkelers impact on fish communities and algae in a temperate marine protected area
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Multiple-use marine protected areas (MPAs) are used to manage marine resources, allocate space to different users and reduce conflicts while protecting marine biodiversity. In the Mediterranean, MPA managers are increasingly interested in containing the effects of coastal recreation within underwater trails, but snorkelers impacts on the surrounding ecosystem remain largely unknown. In a Mediterranean MPA, an underwater snorkeling trail was established to concentrate snorkelers and increase their awareness of marine habitats and species. The high level of summer frequentation may have negative impacts on the surrounding environment through trampling on the sessile flora or disturbance to the vagile fauna. We used a before-after-control-impact (BACI) design to analyse these potential human impacts. The structure of macroalgae and fish assemblages were used as indicators. Permutational multivariate analyses of variance (PERMANOVA) were carried out to assess potential temporal and spatial changes of the indicators between the trail and a control location within the adjacent no-take/no-use area. Fish communities and macroalgae were subjected to natural temporal trends but no significant impacts of snorkelers were found. Four reasons could explain the absence of snorkelers impact on the surrounding marine environment: (1) the absence of very fragile organisms within the trail (and the control no-take/no-use area) such as gorgonians or bryozoans; (2) the life cycle of the algae with a natural decreasing trend in summer, corresponding to the trail opening period; (3) only a few snorkelers are practicing apnoea; and (4) the information at the entrance and along the trail may influence the snorkelers’ behaviour.
KeywordsCoastal management Human impact Impact assessment Indicator Marine protected area (MPA) Marine reserve Mediterranean Sea Recreational impact Recreational uses
We acknowledge the CBNMR and the Regional Council of Pyrénées-Orientales for financial support.
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