Effects of fish feeding by snorkellers on the density and size distribution of fishes in a Mediterranean marine protected area
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- Milazzo, M., Badalamenti, F., Vega Fernández, T. et al. Marine Biology (2005) 146: 1213. doi:10.1007/s00227-004-1527-z
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Although there is a great deal of evidence to show that supplementary feeding by humans in terrestrial environments causes pronounced changes in the distribution and behaviour of wild animals, at present very little is known about the potential for such effects on marine fish. This study evaluated the consequences of feeding by snorkellers on fish assemblages in the no-take area of the Ustica Island marine protected area (MPA; western Mediterranean) by (1) determining if reef fish assemblage structure is affected in space and time by tourists feeding the fish; (2) assessing the effects of feeding on the abundance of the most common fish species; and (3) assessing the effects of feeding on the size structure of the two most numerically dominant ones. In particular, we hypothesised that both the abundance and the size structure of some fish species would increase at the study site following supplementary feeding, since the additional food provided by humans would make the site more appealing to them. Fish feeding influenced the fish assemblages within the Ustica MPA, and significant spatio-temporal changes occurred. While fish feeding appeared to have no effect on the ornate wrasse Thalassoma pavo, there was a noticeable increase in the number of Oblada melanura and Epinephelus marginatus in the impacted location after feeding. It is very likely that aggregations of fishes that evolve as a result of fish feeding by the public may have negative effects on local populations of fishes and invertebrates that make up their prey. Recreational use of coastal areas and MPAs is increasing elsewhere, making fish feeding a generalised human activity. Accurate information about its effect on the fish assemblage is essential to make responsible management decisions.