Impacts, risks and management of fish feeding at Neds Beach, Lord Howe Island Marine Park, Australia: a case study of how a seemingly innocuous activity can become a serious problem
Brookhouse, N, Bucher, DJ, Rose, K, Kerr, I & Gudge, S 2013, 'Impacts, risks and management of fish feeding at Neds Beach, Lord Howe Island Marine Park, Australia: a case study of how a seemingly innocuous activity can become a serious problem', Journal of Ecotourism, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 165-181.
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Poorly managed food provisioning to attract wild fish to interact with tourists has many impacts on the fish and surrounding environment. Such impacts can theoretically be managed at sustainable levels, but too often the activity becomes established at unsustainable levels long before management intervention, resulting in dependence, not only of the fish, but also the local economy, making management unpopular and difficult to enforce. For decades feeding fish has been a popular tourist activity at Lord Howe Island. This study documents the intensity of the activity and examines the behavioural and health impacts on the fish. Impacts included habituation, dependency, aggression and altered foraging behaviour, skin lesions, microbial infections, excessive fat deposits, stomach ulcers and excessive parasite burdens. Lord Howe Island supports a small economy dependent upon ecotourism around sustainable interactions with the natural environment and fish feeding is marketed as a major attraction for visitors. Management action, including education and control of food types and quantities, is imperative to ensure the sustainability of fish feeding. This study exemplifies how an initially small-scale interaction between tourists and fish can escalate to pose a threat to the fish, the surrounding ecosystem and the local economy in a marine park of international significance.