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Over the course of three weeks in the spring of 2014, Civinomics interviewed 163 self-identified scuba divers at various diving locations, dive shops, and boat diving harbors in the Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Areas, as well as through targeted emails. The purpose of the survey was to assess the general scuba diver’s knowledge and behavior regarding Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Specifically, the survey focused on participant’s prior knowledge of MPAs, including their known boundaries, accepted uses and legal restrictions, as well as ascertaining how the divers did, and would prefer to receive such information. Of those surveyed, 60 percent (97 respondents) stated that they did not live in either Santa Cruz or Monterey Counties, as was expected given the region’s reputation as a world renowned diving location.

Civinomics found that most divers had a general sense of the restrictions in place and were fairly well educated as to what MPAs are. However, divers from Santa Cruz or Monterey were significantly more aware and knowledgeable than divers coming from other regions. When asked “How familiar are you with California laws regarding marine protection and conservation?” 84 percent on non-local divers answered that they were “somewhat” to “very” familiar, with 16 percent answering that they were “not familiar”. This is in contrast to local divers, who unanimously answered that they were “somewhat” to “very” familiar.

Regarding more nuanced information about MPAs, such as different designations, specific boundaries and penalties for violating restrictions, respondents tended to be less aware than they were about general concepts. For instance, when asked about the specific designations and boundaries for Central Coast MPAs, only 26 percent answered “yes” that they knew those boundaries, versus 69 percent that either answered that they knew “some” or did not know. For this question in particular (question 16), there were no significant differences in the level of awareness between local and non-local divers, based upon the responses collected.

In regards to specific behavior and the perceived benefit of MPAs, most divers are supportive of MPAs in principle, and believe that MPAs will improve the overall quality of their dives. Of those surveyed, most of the divers also dive within the boundaries of MPAs, and are more likely to visit an area if it is designated as such. When asked to gauge their level of support for the “classifications and restrictions regarding MPAs in California” a clear majority of divers, 77 percent, answered that they were “very supportive”. When filtering local divers versus non-locals, the proportion that answered that they were “very supportive” stayed virtually the same.

The survey was conducted in partnership with the Santa Cruz based oceans advocacy group Save Our Shores, who used the data to better understand behavior and attitudes among divers with regards to Marine Protected Areas.