Fish Feeding: Evil at it’s most innocent?
Fish feeding is common throughout the tropical tourist spots of SE Asia (and I’m sure the world). I have seen families tottering to jetties with so many loaves of bread they could retire a baker. And what do they do, chuck it on the surface of the water. It then erupts with squabbling damselfish, usually the Indo-pacific Seargeantfish like in the photo above, fighting for the easy meal.
I myself have been snorkeling when a well-meaning boatman has thrown bread in my vicinity. The chaos that ensued around me was intimidating. I could feel the brush of slimy scales on my legs, and couldn’t see through my mask for black stripes zipping around gobbling up the bread. An unforgettable experience without a doubt.
But if you take a moment to think, you might remember any good nature reserve instructing you not to feed wild animals. It’s no different in a marine environment. There is no underwater baker these fish frequent when we aren’t so generous with the yeasty delectables. Bread is not their natural food.
Algae is. Apart from the distress on the fish’s digestive systems (oh no! Carbs!), feeding them changes their behaviour. Instead of grazing algae off the reefs hard surfaces, making room for new coral growth, and preventing algae from out competing the coral for space and resources (all of which are essential for a balanced Coral Reef ecosystem), they are hanging around anything that makes a splash on the surface: a person, a cab, a cigarette butt.
Feeding fish means they will no longer fulfill their ecological niche. It’s like removing a link in the food chain. Throwing the food web into chaos. The act seems innocent enough, and most people won’t think past the excitement of being overwhelmed by nature, but as is so often the case, we have unforeseen consequences on the environment. Something, perhaps, we shouldn’t take as lightly as we do.