Divers affect fish behaviour

September 08, 2006, volume 37, no. 1
By Marianne Meadahl

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"Do not disturb" may be the ecotourist's motto, but the mere presence of recreational scuba divers is affecting at least one small marine reef fish:the blackeye goby.

Simon Fraser University biology graduate student Brandi Chuchman studied the effects of scuba diving on the behaviour of blackeye gobies
(Coryphopterus nicholsi) on the west coast of Vancouver Island. She found that when divers are present, gobies spend significantly less time on more risky, fitness-enhancing behaviours. However, on a longer time scale, ongoing diving activity did not change their behaviour, or their reproductive success.

"We lack a comprehensive understanding of the ecological costs associated with many ecotourism activities, including scuba diving," says Chuchman, who carried out laboratory experiments. She also learned to dive to conduct her field research while based at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.

Chuchman's study points to a need for more research on the effects of other types of diving activities and on species with behaviours that differ from gobies.

"It's important to understand the costs resulting from behavioural decisions of fish exposed to divers, because of the potential effects on reproduction, survival, and interactions with other species," says Chuchman. She hopes her findings will help establish more sustainable diving management practices to minimize negative effects on fish, without sacrificing the ability to enjoy marine animals in their natural habitat.

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