The use of interpretation to influence the behavior of snorkelers

Sander den Haring
Published: 08 May 2016
Last edited: 28 March 2019
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This solution addresses snorkeler impacts and dissatisfaction in the Mombasa Marine Park and Reserve (MMPR). James Cook University (JCU) and CORDIO delivered interpretive training to the snorkel industry to encourage pro-environmental snorkel behavior, enhance visitor experience and build sustainability. A major output was the creation of a code of conduct created by members of the snorkel industry. Results included more pro-environmental snorkel behaviors and enhanced visitor experience.


East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement


Mombasa Marine Park and Reserve (MMPR), Mombasa, Kenya


Snorkelers create impacts when snorkeling such as contacting the reef substrate, feeding fish and siltation. During snorkeling excursions there is no exchange of information, minimal guiding and use of poor snorkeling equipment. This has led to snorkeler dissatisfaction. Research has shown that snorkelers want to learn more about corals, fish and the marine park they are visiting.


Snorkeling operators in the MMPR were able to sell a new "product"; snorkeling customers and the snorkelers gained an enhanced snorkeling experience as a result; the reef was offered increased protection.

How do the building blocks interact?

The solution we applied in the Mombasa Marine Park and Reserve was created as a response to snorkeler impacts whilst snorkeling. Background research found that snorkelers were creating numerous intentional contacts on the living substrate whilst snorkeling. To determine why snorkelers were making these intentional contacts, salient beliefs of that specific behavior were identified. These salient beliefs are those beliefs that truly drive the behavior that needed influencing (in this case touching the coral reef). An interpretive workshop was then delivered to the snorkeling operators to introduce them to the concept of interpretation, how it can benefit their clientele and providing an opportunity for them to deliver interpretive efforts in an instructional setting. Various tools were created to assist in delivering these interpretive efforts that the operators could make use of during their future excursions. Finally, feedback sessions were organized to monitor the use of the materials, the efficacy of the interpretive efforts and these sessions also presented an opportunity for operators to discuss successes and work through challenges.


Snorkelers of similar experience, demographics, attitudes and intentions were observed before and after the implementation of the interpretive efforts during snorkeling excursions in the MMPR. Interpretation resulted in a) increased pro-environmental snorkel behaviors and b) enhanced visitor experience. On snorkeling trips with interpretive efforts snorkel behaviors consisted of increased intentional contacts with dead substrate, standing on dead substrate and standing on seagrass rather than living substrate. There were significantly less damaging contacts to the reef. Snorkelers on interpretive excursions stated that they had received a presentation and that they were more satisfied with the amount of interaction, the use of pictures and the wording of the information compared to their peers who did not receive any structured interpretive efforts. Their guides were instrumental in transferring information to these snorkelers and as a result, these snorkelers were more satisfied than the snorkelers of the no-interpretation group. Lastly, snorkelers in the interpretive group were found to think more critically of the messages that were presented, another sign of successful interpretation that contributes to influencing behavior.


I recently completed a PhD researching the use of interpretation to influence the behavior of recreational resource users. The solution described above made up one of the chapters of my thesis. The work involved with the training workshop was the most hands-on aspect of my PhD, mostly because it was an application of my research. I am more application-oriented than theoretical so for me this was a great bonus. The work I completed on this training workshop I have been able to replicate in other areas along the Kenyan coast, which again, strengthens the application-approach this training workshop offers. What I remember most about this training workshop is the amount of interest there was from the target audience (in this case the snorkel operators of the marine parks). The target audience was asked to sacrifice 3 days of their day-to-day work to attend this workshop. Sure, we provided lunch and transport, but did not offer any payment to any of the participants to attend (this is not usually the norm along this stretch of Kenyan coastline). For the first series of workshops, we had targeted 100 participants to be spread out over 2 training sessions. First we would train the first 50 for three days, then the remaining 50 in the following 3 days. For the first session we struggled to get 37 participants. This was not unusual as no one really knew what to expect, or if it would be worth sacrificing valuable time away from their usual day at work on the beach. However, by the time the first group had graduated from the workshop, word had obviously spread. The following morning when the second group was due to attend we had 97 eager participants waiting outside the venue (50 more than we had planned for). We managed to squeeze 65 participants into the conference room and vowed to complete a third training in the near future for the remaining hopefuls (which we did). The comraderie and enthusiasm that this second group exhibited (especially during the practical role-play scenarios on the last day) was truly inspiring. I couldn’t help but think that if such an interest existed with all snorkel operators, then we must have done something right in the training workshop. That was at the time. Having now seen the results of my research and how effective the training actually was, I am a firm believer in the practical applications of such interpretive efforts to protecting and conserving the marine resources.

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Sander den Haring James Cook University / CORDIO

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James Cook University / CORDIO