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Effects of recreational diving on early colonization stages of an artificial reef in North-East Atlantic


Increasing interest for recreational SCUBA diving worldwide is raising the concern about its potential effects on marine ecosystems. Available literature is still much focused either on impacts on coral reefs of tropical regions or on diver’s behaviour underwater. In this study we analysed, through photo-quadrats, the benthic community composition in a section of a decommissioned Portuguese navy ship that was sunk for touristic purposes. The ship broke down and became separated in two sections enabling a Control versus Impact sampling design, as one section is less attractive for diving. Gorgonians (mainly belonging to the species Leptogorgia sarmentosa and Eunicella verrucosa) were the taxa more negatively affected in the dived ship section, with smaller coverage and size. More resilient species such as the acorn barnacle Amphibalanus amphitrite were positively correlated with the Impact samples. In the case of the study area, according to the available data, 70% or more of the total amount of dives are now on the sunken ships. From these results, lessons can be taken to apply on natural reefs and related management plans.

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This project was funded by Associação para a promoção e desenvolvimento do turismo subaquático (Musubmar) and G.C. had the support of Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT), through the strategic project UID/MAR/04292/2013 granted to MARE. The authors would also like to acknowledge the assistance from Subnauta diving center in logistics regarding data collection as in providing valuable information about the number of dives in the study sites and adjacent diving spots.

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Correspondence to João Encarnação.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors. Only non-invasive methods were applied to acquire the biological data.

Sampling and field studies

All necessary permits for sampling and observational field studies have been obtained by the authors from the competent authorities and are mentioned in the acknowledgements, if applicable.

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Encarnação, J., Calado, G. Effects of recreational diving on early colonization stages of an artificial reef in North-East Atlantic. J Coast Conserv 22, 1209–1216 (2018).

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  • Artificial reefs
  • Decommissioned ships
  • Coastal management
  • Diving effects
  • SCUBA diving
  • Atlantic ocean