Grrr… We’ve all seen it. A practice that makes me cringe.
Perhaps it’s the well meaning vacationer and amateur snorkeler, eager for a first taste of aquatic adventure. Or maybe it’s the cruise ship “tour guide” who wants to ensure that his patrons have a blast on their one day trip to the island (and thus ensuring a larger tip). Or maybe it’s the parents of young kids, uninformed about proper marine behavior, that want to give their kids the vacation of a lifetime by showing them schools of brightly colored tropical fish.
Sadly, many people still engage in fish feeding practices. And even more disturbing is the fact that it’s often encouraged by local businesses!
I want to believe that most people feeding fish while snorkeling (or even diving) haven’t been educated as to why this practice is harmful to the marine ecosystem. For most people, environmental conservation trumps their desire for an unnatural sideshow (or a fatter tip), right?
I really want to believe that education is the key to conservation. So here are a few reasons to avoid the harmful practice of feeding reef fish (I believe most of this applies to feeding wild animals in general).
- It can throw the entire ecosystem out of balance and disrupt the food chain.
- It causes fish to associate humans with food. Then what happens? They start to bite – human body parts.
- Human food is not healthy for fish. It could potentially kill the fish or cause other major problems or sicknesses. I know of a beach in the Caribbean where locals promote fish feeding and even give the tourists dog biscuits to feed the fish. It’s not OK to feed dog food to a fish! And while we are on this topic, it’s not OK to feed Cheez Whiz to a fish (or a human) either. Many people are under the mistaken impression that it is OK to feed fish “fish food” while snorkeling, but this, too, is misguided.
- Over time, fish that are constantly being fed by humans forget how to forage for themselves. What happens when the tourists all flock to another beach? Where will the fish get their food when no happy hands are outstretched? Their ecosystem has been disrupted for human entertainment, and they have forgotten how to fend for themselves. Sadly, they have grown accustomed to an unnatural environment and may not be able to readjust to life in the wild ocean.
- It is illegal in many marine reserves.
Here are some links for further reading on this topic.