“In a landmark decision, Florida today became the first state in the U.S. to prohibit divers from feeding marine wildlife. The ruling will go into effect on January 1, 2002.
Environmentalists immediately hailed the unanimous decision by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) as a major victory for wildlife protection and marine conservation.
Bob Dimond, President of the Marine Safety Group (MSG) a Florida non-profit that has fought for two years in support of today’s decision, stated “”Finally, Florida’s marine life will get the same kinds of protection given wildlife on land””. “”And””, Dimond continued, “”Divers all over the state will once again be able to enjoy the natural beauty of the undersea world without being continually ‘mugged’ by aggressive fish seeking handouts””.
Paul Johnson, spokesman for Reef Relief (a Key West-based environmental group that has worked hard to promote today’s ruling), echoed the same sentiments, stating, “”Reef Relief is pleased that Florida’s marine wildlife will remain wild””.
Scientists and wildlife managers testified during recent FFWCC proceedings that feeding wildlife invariably changes animal behavior, creating numerous problems for both “”fed”” animals and nearby people. They pointed out that the U.S. National Park Service instituted a blanket prohibition on people feeding wildlife many years ago for these very reasons.
After considering information presented over the last two years, FFWCC Chairman David Meehan concluded that, “”Feeding marine life disrupts the natural behavior and feeding habits of fish and other animals. That is not in the best interest of marine life, and it could pose a threat to public safety.””
George Burgess, a shark expert who maintains the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File, presented facts that support Meehan’s position. “”More than two dozen injuries have occurred (at shark feeding sites) in the last several years, at least two quite serious””, he reported.
Commercial dive interests, led by the Dive Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) and the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) waged an intense but unsuccessful two-year campaign to block today’s rule, and vowed to continue the fight in Florida’s courts.
Nonetheless, conservationists are confident that today’s ruling will stand. Dimond pointed out that a similar prohibition on people feeding marine mammals was enacted by Federal authorities (NOAA) several years ago under the auspices of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and successfully withstood a challenge mounted in Federal court by Gulf Coast feeding tour operators.
Dimond is also optimistic that Florida’s decisive action will encourage other states to soon follow suit. Right now, California and Hawaii are the only others (beside Florida) in which commercial shark or fish feeding tours for divers are actively promoted, usually under the guise of so-called “”interactive dives””.
Hawaii has closed off increasing sections of its coast to marine wildlife feeding in recent years, while in California the practice remains entirely unregulated. Internationally, the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, South Africa, Australia and a few South Pacific island nations (Fiji, French Polynesia) are world leaders in promoting wildlife-feeding dive tours.
Copyright 2001. Marine Safety Group, Inc.
Contact: Bob Dimond, President (954) 427 4672; http://www.marinesafetygroup.net“