When most people think of artificial reefs, they think of structures that will add habitat to attract corals, fish, and other reef animals. But what about creating artificial reefs to attract people? SCUBA diving has quickly become one of the most important marine based tourism industries in the world, with an estimated 30 million divers having been certified by 2012, and about 1 million people currently learning to dive each year (Lew 2013). The attraction of diving in beautiful and diverse coral reefs is a major economic contributor to the 23 countries around the world that receive more than 15% of their GDP from reef-tourism (Wongthong and Harvey 2014).
Koh Tao is a great example of this effect, as it is now listed as 2nd in the world for the number of SCUBA certifications each year. In 2002 (the most recent published data), the island contributed about 500 million baht to the Thai economy through tourism, with a majority of the tourists coming for diving. This boom has been great for the economy here and in other locations around the globe, but what are the costs?