Ecological impacts and management implications of reef walking on a tropical reef flat community
Continued growth of tourism has led to concerns about direct and indirect impacts on the ecology of coral reefs and ultimate sustainability of these environments under such pressure. This research assessed impacts of reef walking by tourists on a relatively pristine reef flat community associated with an 'ecoresort' on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Heavily walked areas had lower abundances of live hard coral but greater amounts of dead coral and sediment. Abundances of macroalgae were not affected between sites. Coral-associated butterflyfish were less abundant and less diverse in more trampled sites. A manipulative experiment showed handling holothurians on reef walks had lasting negative impacts. This is the first study to show potential impacts of such handling on holothurians. Ecological impacts of reef walking are weighed against sociocultural benefits of a first hand experience in nature.
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