Humans are naturally curious -They like to seek out the wildest adventures even if it means intruding on the habitats and lives of other species. Nowhere is this fact more obvious than Stingray City in the Cayman Islands. The popular tourist destination attracts over a million visitors each year, all eager to swim and pet the stingrays that flock to the shallow sandbars in droves.
However, the results of a recent study conducted by a team of scientists led by Mahmood Shivji from the Guy Harvey Research Institute, is raising some concerns about the effects of such ecotourism on the animals. That's because a two-year observation of about 164 stingrays that frequent the area, found some drastic changes in the behavior and lifestyle of the animals.
For one, in the wild stingrays are loners that swim for miles in the darkness of the night, foraging for food. However, at Stingray City where the tourists often feed them, they have become so lazy that they have started to eat during the day and rest at night.
Also, they suddenly do not seem to mind hanging out in close quarters with other stingrays and even form schools, during feeding time. The good news is that when the tourists disappear, the stingrays still seem to know how to fend for themselves.
In addition, instead of having a specific mating season, they are now having babies all year and more alarmingly, displaying very aggressive behavior toward one another - biting more frequently than their counterparts do, in the wild.
Mr. Shivji believes that these changes could be detrimental to the health and well-being of these animals in the wild. Given that we do not know what the long-term impact of these radical lifestyle changes will be on the wild animals, he thinks that we need to do a lot more research, before such areas should be opened to the public.
While the team plans to continue monitoring the Grand Cayman stingrays, any kind of change to the way Stingray City is operated, will be difficult. That's because it generates substantial income for the local economy - If rumors are to be believed, the equivalent of as much as $500,000 USD annually, per stingray!
Resources: Sciencedaily.com, Dailymail.co.uk