Don’t forget the fish!

Actualizado: 9 de feb de 2021

While a lot of the focus of Akumal is on the sea turtles, there are still many species that are also being observed with the goal of knowing the impact that tourists have on their behaviors.


Bobbie and Madison met a few years ago in Akumal during their study-abroad field research program with the University of Texas. They enjoyed it and felt the desire to come back. Bobbie began to inquire about research opportunities within the Coastal Ecosystem Program as she felt that CEA was one of the few research institutes where volunteers gain an in-depth knowledge and practical experience with fish and coral identification while providing support for her independent research towards her Master’s degree.

What they did

When Bobbie and Madison first came to Akumal they studied and surveyed soft and hard corals, anemones, fish and several organisms that inhabit the bottom of the ocean. That data is being used as their baseline for their current research that focuses on fish.

“There are more herbivorous fish in the bay so I wanted to follow up with that for this project by looking at how they behave when tourists are around, for example, if they eat in front of them, or prefer not being disturbed,” shared Bobbie.

Based on that, they observe differences in the numbers and behaviors of herbivorous fish in the areas that have concentrated tourism and compare those findings to areas further south in the bay where there are fewer people.

They are in the water by 6:00 a.m. They spend 5 minutes at a sample site allowing the fish to acclimatize to their presence by floating still. Once the fish are accustomed to them they spend 10 minutes collecting data like: counting the fish, classifying by species, or if they are feeding, socializing, sleeping, or fleeing from something. They do that every other hour until six in the afternoon.

Their hypothesis is that if snorkelers approach fish too much and disturb them, their foraging behavior is altered, which causes algae to overgrow and impact the health of the reef.

The overall goal of the research is to develop educational information for tourists and guides to have specific guidelines for swimming and/or snorkeling in the bay—for example, how far away they should be from fishes and what activities or behaviors disturb them, among others.

Thoughts on the experience

“It has been good. We have definitely faced some challenges in our fieldwork. Interestingly, coming back has allowed us to observe changes in the environment from the last two years,” shared Madison.

“We love it here. We work a lot but it is amazing. Every time we are tired we remind ourselves that we have a job that allows us to be in paradise. It is pretty awesome,” said Bobbie.

At the time of publication, Bobbie and Madison have returned back to the United States. Bobbie was crunching the data and writing her thesis while Madison has relocated to Hawaii.

#volunteer #CoastalEcosystemsProgram

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