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Curbs to restrict the number of divers in key sites 

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This week pressure groups in Italy called on the authorities to cap the number of tourists allowed to visit Venice. Norway is thinking of similar curbs for overrun fjords, as is the Zion National Park in Utah. But the underwater world has long been limiting the numbers of divers who are allowed access to some of the oceans' marine wonders…

 

SIPADAN, MALAYSIA

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Sipadan in Malaysia was one of the first diving destinations to restrict divers when in 2004 the authorities shut all the dive operators and small hotels on the island. The only way to dive the stunning walls was by staying on a nearby resort. Then, in 2006, a system was put in place where only divers with permits were allowed to dive in the island. Only 120 permits are issued each day. Since travel to Sipadan has been banned and diving has become limited, the marine environment has improved significantly. However, now that a lot of pressure has been put on the surrounding islands, their ecosystems are now suffering from excess waste disposal and pollution from boats.

HANIFARU, THE MALDIVES

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Divers and snorkellers were flocking to Hanifaru Bay in the Maldives to witness one of the planet's most awesome aggregations of manta rays. Hundreds would gather to feed. And the throng of divers and swimmers was becoming uncontrollable and the number of mantas was dwindling. In 2009 the bay was declared a Marine Protected Area, which gives it the highest level of protection in the Maldives. And in 2012, all diving was prohibited, but regulated snorkelling is still allowed. 

Rules were put in place to protect and sustain the manta rays:

  • Only five safari boats, resort vessels or local boats are allowed to drop off visitors near Hanifaru Bay at one time and each vessel can only have access every other day.
  • Vessels must stay at least 50m from the mega fauna.
  • Visitors must stay at least 3m away from the mantas and make no attempts to touch them.
  • If the creatures happen to swim in their path, snorkellers must remain motionless and wait for them to move away.

Today the mantas are returning but not yet in the vast numbers of 20 years ago.

KO LANTA, THAILAND

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In the low season most of the major dive sites to the south of Koh Lanta in Thailand are now shut to divers. The Mu Ko Lanta National Park brought in the restrictions to give the the world-class dive sites in the Andaman Sea a respite and the conditions are not always ideal for boats to moor near some of the more off-shore sites during the rainy season from May to November. 

SIMILAN ISLANDS, THAILAND

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The Thai authorities have also imposed similar bans around the Similan Islands during the monsoon season. However, access to four of Similan's most popular are now restricted all year round. The DMCR regional chief, Watcharin Na, explained: 'A tremendous amount of corals have been damaged and getting them to recover is very difficult.'

He said recent coral bleaching had made the postiion worse and they had decided a total ban was needded for some sites.

MARIETAS ISLANDS, MEXICO

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This year Mexican authorities have brought in strict regulation to the number and behaviour of visitors to the Marietas Islands, off the coast of Nayarit in the Pacific Ocean. These islands are famous for their stunning rock formations and the hidden beach which Jaques Cousteau raved about in the Sixties.

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