But as awareness of the potential environment impacts of tourism increases, there has been a focus on the impacts of fish feeding on fish communities and the ecosystems they live in.
Feeding can cause behavioural change in fish that has knock-on effects to the wider ecosystem, including coral reefs and lagoons. By supplementing or replacing their diet we are tipping a natural balance. Grazing fish such as parrotfish, rabbitfish, and surgeonfish play an important role in keeping coral reefs and lagoons healthy.
Firstly, grazing of the reef surface limits algae growth, which increases the settlement space available for juvenile corals and reduces the ability of algae to trap sediment, which can cause mortality in new corals.
In addition, by reducing growth of algae, grazing may reduce the competition between algae and corals. As algae grow faster than corals, it can eventually result in a loss of coral cover for an area, and recovery of the reef may be prevented.
Often, the foods provided are not types that fish naturally encounter or are equipped to process. Rice, bread and potato chips can cause health problems. Even presumably “natural” foods sometimes prove harmful or lethal to marine animals. There are numerous locations around the world where fish feeding is banned or heavily regulated including Hawaii and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia.
A more sustainable and long term alternative to fish feeding is having a healthy reef and lagoon area for fish populations to thrive in. This can be achieved through reducing nutrient and sediment pollution and litter affecting the area, changing snorkelers’ and harvesters’ behaviour, and voluntary changes by tourism operators.
Healthier habitats ultimately lead to healthier fish and invertebrate populations, which creates flow-on benefits for tourism, fisheries, local communities, and the environment in general.
· adapted from an 2012 article by marine biologist Katherine Ross. - TE IPUKAREA SOCIETY