The role of divers' experience for their valuation of diving site conservation: The case of Sipadan, Borneo

Coral reefs ecosystems fulfil important ecological functions, but risk degradation not only from climate change but also from increasing demands for the socioeconomic functions they also offer to local communities and international tourism. Coral reef diving tourism is a source of environmental pressure but at the same time represents a source of conservation funding, balancing these pressures. Tailoring the divers' experience to extract increased payments requires insights into the role of diving experiences for willingness to pay (WTP) for the access to dive in the waters surrounding Sipadan. We developed a choice experiment and applied it to a sample of 507 recreational scuba divers at the diving site Sipadan, Borneo in Malaysia. We investigated the role of divers' most recent and overall diving experiences for their willingness to pay additional diving fees for features related to the conservation status and the diving operations. Results show that a majority of divers prefer lower litter pollution levels in the water and lower density of divers in each dive. When comparing the less experienced divers with the more experienced divers, the latter group express significant preferences over more of the marine biodiversity and recreational attributes of the diving experience. The less experienced group only tended to express significant preferences for fewer of these attributes. We also note that less experienced divers are more likely to have felt crowded and less likely to have seen pelagic species, suggesting, which may, in turn, explain their lower observed WTP.