Washington: One of the first set of studies to examine what tourists and recreation enthusiasts actually think about coral reef ecosystems has suggested that their stunning beauty is so extraordinary that almost everyone wants them protected in perpetuity.
The analysis, done in Hawaii by researchers from Oregon State University and the University of Hawaii, found that most people visiting the state’s coral reef ecosystems care deeply about these areas and very much enjoy visiting them, but will generally endorse whatever amount of management is needed to protect them.
“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 OSU.
“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,” he added.
According to Needham, that attitude was also of interest because in Hawaii, coral reef ecosystems are a major draw for the tourism industry.
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.
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, 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, according to scientists.
The studies showed that acceptance of potential future management strategies would be driven largely by perceived health of coral reefs and changes to these ecosystems.