Impacts of recreational diving on hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) behaviour in a marine protected area
The hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is a critically endangered species encountered by recreational divers in marine protected areas (MPAs) circumtropically. Few studies, however, have examined the impacts of recreational diving on hawksbill behaviours. In 2014, we collected turtle sightings surveys and dive logs from 14 dive operations, and conducted in-water observations of 61 juvenile hawksbill turtles in Roatán, Honduras, to determine if differences in dive site use and diver behaviours affected sea turtle behaviours in the Roatán Marine Park. Sightings distributions did not vary with diving pressure during an 82-day study period. We found the amount of time turtles spent eating, investigating and breathing decreased when approached by divers. Our results suggest diver interactions may negatively impact sea turtle behaviours, however it is unknown if recreational diving has a cumulative effect on turtles over time. We recommend that MPA managers should implement monitoring programmes that assess the impacts of tourism on natural resources. We have established monitoring of hawksbills as representatives of the marine habitat in an MPA, which has the potential to be heavily impacted by dive tourism, and provide recommendations for continued monitoring of the resource.