STATE OF ART
There is an increasing recognition of the importance of cultural ecosystem services (CES) of marine habitats for supporting the management of the marine environment, despite relevant contributions, the question of how they can be assessed continues to be a big challenge in the ES literature (MEA, 2015; TEEB, 2010) as urban coastal populations and tourism increase, the popularity of recreational and scientific scuba diving (SD) has increased dramatically, representing a commercial activity of billions of dollars (Dimmock, K., & Cummins, T., 2013; Dimmock, K., & Musa, G.,2015) evidenced by the number of locations promoting their marine resources in efforts to become scuba diving destinations and hotspots. These increased recreation and tourism activities have been accompanied by concern for the impacts that human activities have on marine and coastal ecosystems (Roche, R.C., et al., 2016; Nahuelhual L., et al., 2013). Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have faced a multitude of threats to the ecosystems, and respective services that have been established to be preserved (F. Badalamenti, 2000). Effective conservation requires mitigation of the negative impacts and implementation of effective management plans, namely through the growing awareness of the divers (Davis, D., et al., 1995).
There is a growing research in this area comprising a broad enquiry from marine environment impacts through human physiology, health and safety, diver motivation and satisfaction. Many of these studies support an effort to understand the issues in scuba diving and related tourism, but very few integrate multiple stakeholders and perspectives in a holistic way (Dimmock, K., & Musa, G.,2015). Research done has also highlighted the fragility of ecosystems used for tourism and noted the importance of ongoing assessment of ecological, social and economic factors for the sustainability of these areas (Nahuelhual L., et al., 2013) Divers’ awareness of marine ecosystems preservation needs, seem to be related to education and training and may provide viable alternatives to limiting diver access at sensitive locations (Hammerton, Z., 2017). This led to a new demand of SD practices and the need to improve diving training and certifications (Cater, C., & Cater, E., 2007).
In recreational diving there are several international dive agencies that certify divers, setting specific training standards for achieving various levels of diver certification, including several career diving specialties (Dimmock, K., & Cummins, T., 2013). The Underwater World Federation (CMAS) defines training standards for the practice of scientific diving and guidelines for the science and sustainability of the oceans. Due to this work and the continuous influence on protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, CMAS was granted with the UNESCO’s accreditation.
By working closely with this organization and other stakeholders involved in the management and conservation of MPAS and Underwater heritage areas, an assessment of CES related to underwater recreational sites (Diving Spots) will be performed through a framework for collaborative management. To successfully achieve ES protection and income generation, the management of these areas needs to understand visitor preferences for CES quality. An ecosystem services approach that can support the management of marine and coastal areas should be based on these preferences as well as the physical characteristics of the sites.
The ecology of MCE, the benefits, the beneficiaries, and the threats need to be better understood for efficient planning and management. The understanding of divers’ perceptions of the impacts of diving and their involvement in conservation activities in the future is fundamental. Is crucial to improve divers’ technical and scientific knowledge. Provided with a broader, deeper knowledge of the different aspects of the ES, we will be better equipped to safeguard the future of our oceans.