Sinking deeper: The most significant risks impacting the dive tourism industry in the East African Marine Ecoregion
Scuba diving continues to be one of the most popular recreational activities in marine tourism, but its sustainability is currently threatened due to environmental, social, political, and economic risks. The East African Marine Ecoregion is renowned for its richness in marine fauna and flora, including some of the Indian Ocean's most diverse and abundant coral reef ecosystems, making it a popular destination for scuba divers. However, empirical evidence suggests that external risks (international and domestic) are impacting on dive operators in the region, creating the need to better understand these impacts. This research was therefore aimed at identifying the most significant of these external risks from the perspective of dive operators, via an explorative and descriptive study. The qualitative and quantitative primary data collected revealed that domestic and international economic and political risks have the greatest impact on dive operators in the East African Marine Ecoregion, and this trend is expected to continue. Environmental degradation of coral reefs, while not seen as a threat to dive operators at present, constitutes a key threat within the near future. In terms of the variation in perceived risk across the region, Kenya suffers most from social and political risks, Tanzania from environmental risks, Mozambique from political risks, and South Africa from economic risks. The research contributes to Africa's Blue Economy, which aims to guide African countries in sustainable use of the marine environment while harnessing its social and economic benefits. The findings create awareness of the impact of external risks on regional dive operators and their significance. Furthermore, they create an opportunity for decision makers and stakeholders in the region to craft solutions to improve the sustainability of the scuba diving industry.