A Fish Diet
Liz Foote, Hawaii field manager
IT BEGAN WITH an unnatural frenzy of chub.
For Liz Foote, Hawaii field manager for the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), it was the squealing of children, startled by the aggression of the normally placid reef fish, that inspired the organization’s “Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding” campaign.
For years, dive companies and the leaders of snorkel tours on Maui routinely used packets of fish food to make the fish swarm for their clients.
It seemed an innocuous practice, but it had unforeseen consequences.
First, the reef suffered. Foote and some of her colleagues noticed that, in areas where people fed the fish, excessive algae began to grow on the coral. Herbivorous fish that normally grazed on the algae and cleaned the reef were distracted by the fish food. “It’s like giving candy out to a bunch of 5-year-olds,” Foote says. “Then they don’t eat their broccoli.” Worse, the frenzied fish — especially those hard-mouthed chub — began to harass visitors, sometimes scaring youngsters right out of the water.
Anne Fielding, who’s been running eco-tours in Maui waters for more than 15 years, remembers how it was back then, when feeding the fish was still common. “I could see that it changed the fish populations,” she says. “Once I was pointing at something, and a fish bit my finger. It drew blood.” To Foote, clearly something was out of balance, and she resolved to put a stop to the feeding.
The sign of a company
“People see the fish food in the stores and they think it must be okay,” Foote says. So she decided to begin by persuading Maui tour operators and dive shop owners to quit selling the fish food. “There are a multitude of threats to the reefs,” she says. “This one seemed like a real easy one.”
And it worked. Visit the CORAL website and find a list of dozens of companies across Hawaii that have signed on with the “Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding” campaign. You can do your part too: don’t feed the animals.
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