I have just read all the posts in this thread since its inception. It has been a fascinating discussion indeed.
Some of the views on manipulation do not sit well with me, but I applaud the concern for ecological well being, which presumably underlies the fervour.
Like many of us on wetpixel, I trained as marine ecologist. If I witness behaviour which I believe to be harmful, I generally attempt to diplomatically question the person about whether they have considered the implications of their interaction. If the interaction involved moving a seastar, I probably wouldn't bother other than to suggest returning the critter to its original location. But if it involved intentional coral breakage, I'd certainly feel compelled to 'have a conversation' although I do take the point about live aboard confines. Other degrees of manipulation such as prodding, poking and flashing are really too ambiguous for me to generalise about. Perhaps it is like pornography - "One knows it when one sees it."
Personally, I was disturbed last year by the actions of a dive guide I witnessed at Mabul. The guide called me over and then proceeded to bend a gorgonian out of shape almost double, to expose a pygmy for me to photograph. It was my first dive with this particular guide. My waving and head shaking elicited profound confusion in the guide underwater, but we had a useful topside discussion afterwards and he graciously modified his behaviour on subsequent dives. Perhaps I should have had the conversation before the dive, but the general principles espoused by the resort included 'no touch' policies which were clearly applied in the loosest possible sense. I have no doubt that the reason he mauled the gorgonian was because he had been previously rewarded for it. As noted earlier, it certainly isn't the guide's fault when poor behaviours are reinforced by tips.
Personally, I find it a challenge to reconcile the view that a slight movement of a seastar or the accidental touch of coral is heresy, but that there is no problem in living the lifestyle common to those of us lucky enough call any developed country home. The former has a relatively small impact, whereas the latter has potentially far greater consequences.
I cannot claim to be immune to the trappings of the developed countries. After all, I'm typing this on a computer as Drew noted above. We also have an air-conditioner in our rented flat and I'll probably run it when I get home tonight (the outside temperature today is 42C/108F). Our power comes through the grid, but we choose to pay extra to the electricity company to invest the equivalent of our consumption in solar generation to feed into the grid. I waste fuel flying overseas (like Drew and many others) at least once a year for diving, but I always offset my flights and voluntarily donate time and photos from the trips to environmental NGOs with a view helping them with their causes. I have been vegetarian (almost - see below) for more than a decade, but if I was being really good, I could choose to only eat locally sourced produce to minimise the carbon footprint further. I choose not to eat meat because I know the consuming it is a primary cause behind many of the bigger issues affecting our oceans raised such as global warming, chemical runoff, coastal sedimentation and eutrophication. The FAO agrees
and are looking at strategies to mitigate the damage.
I work with a fisheries management agency in Australia and although I love seafood, I hardly ever eat fish. I only eat from fisheries I understand well and I'm very conscious of the fishing methods used. This year, the sum total of my seafood intake has been two snapper. Why did I eat them? Because I know the population in Port Phillip Bay is currently booming. The abundance is not governed by fishing or lack thereof but rather environmental and habitat factors are far more important. I know that there is almost zero bycatch with the hook and line methods used. I also know that because it is locally caught, the food miles are very low. Will I eat it next year? I don't know, I'm constantly reassessing. In other cases where I don't know the fisheries in sufficient detail or I know enough to know most things are a poor choice, I choose not to eat any seafood at all. For example, even in the best managed prawn/shrimp trawl fisheries in the world, a typical bycatch is 10 tonnes (sometimes double) of unwanted turtles/fish/invertebrates caught and killed for every 1 tonne of prawns. If that is the best case, I can't justify any prawns anywhere, even though I dearly love them.
As Drew suggests, it is about the degree of contribution/sacrifice we are all prepared to make. And it is also about awareness of the implications and context of our decisions.
I don't think it is reasonable to apply the same standards I choose to apply to myself, to those in developing countries. I am lucky that I have the money and the dietary flexibility to make the choice to not eat meat or seafood and can easily source a balanced diet without these components. On the flip side, I support subsistence fisherman in developing countries using their natural resources as food. I will go out of my way to assist them to use the most sustainable methods possible, but to deny them access without providing an alternative form of food/income is unreasonable and cannot be effectively enforced anyway.
What frustrates me, is the decision by some to not consider the broader implications of actions such as food/travel when they are in a position to choose, while at the same time condemning minor actions (such as moving a seastar) which in the broader scheme have little or no consequence. As others have noted, it is about the degree of hypocrisy.
That said, I think espousing responsible behaviours in the water such as minimising harmful marine life manipulation can only be a positive. We should all strive to have minimal impacts on the environments we cherish. I believe though, that any principles should be couched in the context of broader impacts on the environment and the consideration of all the actions we as individuals make, which affect the ecosystems we love and on which we depend.
So with this background I propose an idea. I see this debate on manipulation as a segue into discussions about the bigger issues that Drew, Paul and giftie have raised and what kinds of steps we can take to mitigate them.
Perhaps we can all diffuse into our respective communities and attempt to provide information to the diving and broader community (which is tough without being seen as didacts ramming dogma down people's throats) about making informed choices and thinking about the way we interact with the world in general.
I also heartily endorse the sentiment proposed earlier regarding avoiding magazines/books/photographers/movies which elevate shots of manipulated/damaged wildlife to brilliance. I don't personally have the experience to spot every instance, but would be delighted to learn. It is only through this forum that I learned of the IMAX indiscretions described above.