ADEX Singapore 2016 Conservation and Scuba360 Business Forum Speaker, Maarten De Brauwer explains why keeping muck critters is good for business:

Scuba diving and particularly underwater photography has seen a huge increase in popularity in recent years. Few destinations offer better chances of shooting amazing critters than muck dive sites in Indonesia and Philippines, so the rising popularity of muck diving does not come as a surprise.

The question is, just how popular is muck diving? How many people visit destinations that would never see a diver if not for the presence of critters to photograph? Which critters are the ones that draw people to these dive sites? And what effects do all these divers have on those critters? The answers to these questions are not only of interest to dive centres who want to attract guests, but also to scientists and conservationists trying to study different species and how protect them from potential impacts. We tried to answer some of these questions in a collaborative study between Curtin University in Perth (Australia) and Hasanuddin University in Makassar (Indonesia).

Our first results indicate that the value of muck diving might be a lot higher than expected. Per year, close to 80,000 divers visit sites across Southeast Asia primarily to go muck diving. They generate an income for more than 2,500 people who are employed in the resorts and dive centres that specialise in critter diving. Combined, these divers could be spending as much as USD100 million per year in pursuit of elusive critters! Despite generating such a large income, very little is known about the species which are the main drawcard for this type of diving.

Should these species disappear, so will the divers and the incomes they create. Understanding species such as Mimic Octopus or Frogfish is crucial for the sustainability of muck dive tourism. The problem is that very little research is being done on them. At present we simply don’t know why species appear where they do, how old they get, if they are endangered or even what the major impacts are that could cause populations to decline. If we don’t know what could cause pygmy seahorses or blue-ringed octopuses to disappear, we can’t protect them either.

Protection for muck dive critters is still mostly non-existent besides a few local initiatives, often started by enthusiastic dive centres. The species divers treasure are the foundation of a sustainable way of enjoying the marine environment. More research into these species will help to ensure it stays this way.

Maarten De Brauwer

Maarten is a marine biologist at Curtin University, Perth, Australia. His main interests are rarity and extinction risk in marine fishes. His current research investigates the ecology and socio-economic value of critters important to the muck dive industry. He is also a dive instructor who has worked and trained divers all across Southeast Asia.

For more of Maarten’s work, click here

Catch Maarten at the Scuba360 Business Forum April 17, Sunday 14:25-14:55, and on the Main Stage April 15, Friday 18:30-18:50