Stingrays living in one of the world's most famous and heavily visited ecotourism sites — Stingray City/Sandbar in the Cayman Islands — have profoundly changed their ways, raising questions about the impact of so-called "interactive ecotourism" on marine wildlife, reports a new study published March 18 in the journal PLOS ONE.
Tourists interact with Southern stingrays at Stingray City/Sandbar at the study site in the Cayman Islands.
Credit: Guy Harvey
Researchers from Nova Southeastern University's Guy Harvey Research Institute in Hollywood, Fla., and the University of Rhode Island studied the southern stingray population of Stingray City — a sandbar in the Cayman Islands that draws nearly a million visitors each year to feed, pet and swim with its stingrays — to assess how the intensive ecotourism has affected the animals' behavior.
"Measuring that impact is important because there's a lot of interest in creating more of these interactive ecotourism operations, but we know little about the life histories of the animals involved or how they might change," said study co-author Guy Harvey, who initiated the project.
The researchers found that Stingray City's stingrays show distinctly different patterns of activity than their wild counterparts, who don't enjoy daily feedings or close human contact.
"We saw some very clear and very prominent behavioral changes, and were surprised by how these large animals had essentially become homebodies in a tiny area," said study co-author Mahmood Shivji, director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute and NSU Oceanographic Center professor, who led the study.
Wild stingrays are active at night and solitary — they forage through the night over large distances to find food, and rarely cross paths with other stingrays. To see if Stingray City's fed stingrays stray from this behavior, Mark Corcoran, lead author of the study who did the research as part of his graduate work at NSU, and the research team tagged and monitored both wild and fed stingrays over the course of two years and compared their patterns of movement.
They found that fed stingrays swapped their normal nighttime foraging for daytime feeding, and in contrast to their wild counterparts, began to rest at night. They also didn't mind rubbing shoulders with their neighbors: At least 164 stingrays abandoned the species' normal solitary behavior, crowding together in less than a quarter square mile of space at Stingray City. They even formed schools and fed together. The fed stingrays mated and became pregnant year-round, instead of during a specific mating season, and also showed signs of unusual aggression, biting each other more frequently than their wild counterparts.
These results suggest that human-provided food can dramatically change how even large, highly mobile ocean animals behave — with potentially serious consequences, the researchers conclude.
"There are likely to be some health costs that come with these behavior changes, and they could be detrimental to the animals' well-being in the long term," Shivji said.
Stingray City means big business in the Cayman Islands, where each stingray generates as much as $500,000 annually in tourism income, Harvey said. The team plans to continue to monitor Stingray City's population to track its health — and the industry's impact — over time.
"Right now, these animals have no protection at all," Harvey said. "Without more studies like these, we won't know what that means for the wildlife or if we need to take action. It's unclear how much of the stingray's daily diet comes from tourism provided food, but the good news is we have seen the animals forage when tourists are absent suggesting that these animal are not completely dependent on these handouts."
Multimedia elements available: Photographs, video
About Guy Harvey: Guy Harvey is a marine wildlife artist and conservationist who earned a Ph.D. in Fisheries Biology. His depictions of marine life, especially of sportfish such as marlin, are very popular with sport fishermen and have been reproduced in prints, posters, t-shirts, jewelry, clothing, and other consumer items. Harvey is also a very vocal and active advocate for marine conservation, having established the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University of Fort Lauderdale, Florida as well as the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, an organization that funds marine conservation research and educational initiatives. http://www.guyharvey.com
About Nova Southeastern University's Guy Harvey Research Institute: Established in 1999, the Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) at NSU is a collaboration between the renowned marine artist, scientist and explorer, Dr. Guy Harvey, and Nova Southeastern University's Oceanographic Center. The mission of the GHRI is to provide the scientific information necessary to understand, conserve, and effectively manage the world's marine fishes and their ecosystems. The GHRI is one of only a handful of private organizations dedicated exclusively to the science-based conservation of marine fish populations and biodiversity. The research, education and outreach activities of the GHRI are supported by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, AFTCO Inc., extramural research grants, philanthropic donations by private businesses and individuals, and NSU. http://www.nova.edu/ocean/ghri/index.html
Ken Ma | EurekAlert!
Dry landscapes can increase disease transmission
20.06.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
100 % Organic Farming in Bhutan – a Realistic Target?
15.06.2018 | Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
In a recent publication in the renowned journal Optica, scientists of Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena showed that they can accurately control the optical properties of liquid-core fiber lasers and therefore their spectral band width by temperature and pressure tuning.
Already last year, the researchers provided experimental proof of a new dynamic of hybrid solitons– temporally and spectrally stationary light waves resulting...
Scientists from the University of Freiburg and the University of Basel identified a master regulator for bone regeneration. Prasad Shastri, Professor of...
Moving into its fourth decade, AchemAsia is setting out for new horizons: The International Expo and Innovation Forum for Sustainable Chemical Production will take place from 21-23 May 2019 in Shanghai, China. With an updated event profile, the eleventh edition focusses on topics that are especially relevant for the Chinese process industry, putting a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation.
Founded in 1989 as a spin-off of ACHEMA to cater to the needs of China’s then developing industry, AchemAsia has since grown into a platform where the latest...
The BMBF-funded OWICELLS project was successfully completed with a final presentation at the BMW plant in Munich. The presentation demonstrated a Li-Fi communication with a mobile robot, while the robot carried out usual production processes (welding, moving and testing parts) in a 5x5m² production cell. The robust, optical wireless transmission is based on spatial diversity; in other words, data is sent and received simultaneously by several LEDs and several photodiodes. The system can transmit data at more than 100 Mbit/s and five milliseconds latency.
Modern production technologies in the automobile industry must become more flexible in order to fulfil individual customer requirements.
An international team of scientists has discovered a new way to transfer image information through multimodal fibers with almost no distortion - even if the fiber is bent. The results of the study, to which scientist from the Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology Jena (Leibniz IPHT) contributed, were published on 6thJune in the highly-cited journal Physical Review Letters.
Endoscopes allow doctors to see into a patient’s body like through a keyhole. Typically, the images are transmitted via a bundle of several hundreds of optical...
13.06.2018 | Event News
08.06.2018 | Event News
05.06.2018 | Event News
21.06.2018 | Earth Sciences
21.06.2018 | Life Sciences
21.06.2018 | Earth Sciences