Reef repercussions: the untended consequences of fish feeding

Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA)
09-JUN-2023 - Many divers have promoted feeding the lionfish to eels and sharks in the Dutch Caribbean as a way to entice these species to start hunting for these invasive fish independently.  Unfortunately, training these predatory fish to look at divers for an easy snack could have some serious unintended consequences.

The relationship between humans and the marine environment is complex and multifaceted. As our activities expand, we continue to have a significant impact on the behavior of aquatic organisms, including fish. By understanding these interactions, we can better appreciate the delicate balance of marine ecosystems and the importance of responsible recreational practices.

Predatory fish

Predatory fish play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological equilibrium of marine environments. They regulate prey populations and contribute to the overall health of coral reefs and other habitats. Human activities can disrupt their natural feeding patterns, leading to potential consequences for both the predators and their ecosystems. An example of this includes feeding fish. This not only alters the predatory fishes’ diet but also teaches them to approach humans hoping for a tasty snack.

Green moray eel

One prime example of this includes lionfish hunters feeding nurse sharks or eels directly.  Although they have the best intentions, hoping to stimulate these predators to eat the lionfish, the end result is that these fish associate divers with an easy meal. This could mean these fish are more likely to approach divers on the reef. When lionfish hunting, the best practice is to take the lionfish out of the water and dispose of them properly on land.

Altered diets

While the practice of feeding fish may seem harmless or even exciting for tourists, it can have detrimental effects on the natural behavior and ecological dynamics on the reef.  This unnaturally brings fish to small areas, making them more vulnerable to other threats (such as fishing) but also alters their diet and pollutes the reef. Fish that would normally graze algae off the reef may now be tempted to eat whatever food has been placed in the water.

Feeding fish

Sustainable use

Recognizing the potential consequences of human interactions with marine life is essential for promoting responsible behavior and minimizing human impact on the reef.  Promoting sustainable tourism practices that prioritize the preservation of natural environments and wildlife is essential. Encouraging visitors to observe marine life without actively interfering in their feeding behavior can help protect the delicate balance of the ecosystem.


The Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) supports science communication and outreach in the Dutch Caribbean region by making nature related scientific information more widely available through amongst others the Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database, DCNA’s news platform BioNews and through the press. This article is part of a series of articles on ‘Invasive Alien Species in the Dutch Caribbean”. This article contains the results from several scientific studies but the studies themselves are not DCNA studies. No rights can be derived from the content. DCNA is not liable for the content and the in(direct) impacts resulting from publishing this article.

Text: Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA)
Pictures: David Rochford; Rudy Van Geldere; Manfred Richter