Recreational diving is a form of ecotourism that is traditionally viewed as an ecologically sustainable activity prompting increased awareness for the marine environment. Recent studies, however, indicate that recreational diving may cause unintended behavioral changes in marine macrofauna. Few studies, however, have specifically investigated the effects of recreational diving on sea turtles. I conducted in-water observations and turtle sightings surveys from June 9 to August 21, 2014, in Roatán, Honduras, to determine if differences in dive site use and diver behavior alter the behavior of critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in a marine protected area (MPA). I found that hawksbill sightings distributions within the RMP did not vary with recreational diving pressure during an 82-day study period suggesting that turtle abundance within the RMP is independent of diving pressure. We found that turtles decreased the amount of time they spent eating, investigating, and breathing when approached by divers (1-4). Additionally, sightings studies indicated that divers in the RMP require additional training to accurately identify sea turtles species and record sightings data. Based on my findings, I made several recommendations to the Roatán Marine Park including the implementation of long-term sea turtle sightings and photo-identification surveys in the RMP, and suggested additional studies for other MPAs and researchers. Specifically I recommended that additional studies be conducted to compare recreational diver impacts on hawksbill sea turtle behavior within and outside MPAs, and measure seasonal variation in turtle sightings, dive site use, and foraging habitat in MPAs. As recreational diving continues to increase worldwide, it is imperative that management officials and researchers understand the impacts of recreational diving on sea turtle behavior, physiology, and population dynamics, in order to protect these important marine macrofauna. The current study provides the first data on the impacts of recreational diving on sea turtles. The results of this study will enable local management officials to implement effective regulations for diver and sea turtle interactions. Additional research building from the current study, should be conducted both in Honduras and globally, to further elucidate the impacts of recreational diving on different sea turtle species.

LLU Discipline



Basic Sciences


School of Medicine

First Advisor

Dunbar, Stephen G.

Second Advisor

Hayes, William K.

Third Advisor

Schwab, Ernest

Fourth Advisor

Wright, Kenneth R.

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Level


Year Degree Awarded


Date (Title Page)




Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings

Hawskbill Turtle; Sea Turtles; Marine Ecotourism; Marine Ecology; Marine Habitat Conservation

Subject - Local

Recreational Diving; Marine Macrofauna; Dive Site Use; Diver Behavior; Roatan Marine Park



Page Count


Digital Format


Digital Publisher

Loma Linda University Libraries

Usage Rights

This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.


Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Collection Website



Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives