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.
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 patte
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Nova Southeastern University