The main aims of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are the conservation of natural habitats and their biological resources, together with the promotion of an eco-compatible economic fruition. In Mediterranean MPAs, the main threats for hard bottom benthic communities come from fishing and mass tourism, in terms of boating and SCUBA diving. The Portofino MPA (Ligurian Sea, North-western Mediterranean Sea) is one of the top diving destinations in Europe and currently hosts an average of 40,000 dives per year, which are mainly carried out along coralligenous cliffs, a habitat of European Community interest, particularly vulnerable to mechanical damages due to the fragility of its numerous calcified species. The aim of this paper is to evaluate the effects of recreational SCUBA diving on benthic ecosystems characterised by the presence of red coral and other associated fragile species. The impact was assessed through the analysis of the biomasses of target organisms (Corallium rubrum, Leptopsammia pruvoti, Madracis pharensis, and six species of bryozoans) whose fragments were found in the sediments at the base of the cliff. The amounts of these fragments inside the detritus in highly frequented sites were significantly higher than those measured in undisturbed sites, of up to 10 times. Our data suggested a recurrent mechanical action, with also very recent breakages, as demonstrated by the occurrence of living, freshly detached organisms. Red coral and other calcified species may be sensitive also to natural (heavy storms) and human (fishing) mechanical pressures other than diving: the characterization of these impacts in the study sites, however, indicates divers frequentation as the major contributor to the damages inflicted and suggests the need for specific management measures.
On the effects of recreational SCUBA diving on fragile benthic species: The Portofino MPA (NW Mediterranean Sea) case study / Betti, F.; Bavestrello, G.; Fravega, L.; Bo, M.; Coppari, M.; Enrichetti, F.; Cappanera, V.; Venturini, S.; Cattaneo-Vietti, R.. - In: OCEAN & COASTAL MANAGEMENT. - ISSN 0964-5691. - ELETTRONICO. - 182:(2019), p. 104926. [10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2019.104926]