Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science

Degree Name

Marine Science

First Advisor

Derek Burkholder

Second Advisor

Rosanna Boyle

Third Advisor

Catherine MacDonald


wildlife, tourism, Belize, biology, behavior, feeding, ecotourism, sharks, conservation, recreation


Wildlife tourism is increasing in popularity around the world, creating the need to understand alterations in animal behavior and spatial distributions that may occur due to associated anthropogenic disturbances. Nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum, Bonnaterre 1788) are commonly used for wildlife tourism within the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve in Belize. Shark and Ray Village (SRV) is a site within the reserve where nurse sharks are consistently fed by tour/snorkel boats to create an interactive experience with tourists, termed provisioning tourism. Prior to this experiment, no studies had been conducted in SRV to evaluate the impact of provisioning tourism (tourism that provides a food reward to participating animals) on this nurse shark population. The purpose of this study was to assess and quantify the impacts provisioning tourism activities have on the behavior, habituation, and abundance of resident nurse sharks in SRV. In-water video surveys were conducted to examine the effects of provisioning and boat activities on the frequency of five shark behavior types: milling, active swimming, conspecific aggression, interspecific aggression, and shark-initiated human interaction. Underwater cameras were placed within SRV to monitor and determine the extent of habituation displayed by the nurse shark population. The maximum number of individual nurse sharks seen within one frame (MaxN), was compared between SRV and control sites outside of SRV. Results from this study suggest that the nurse sharks are very responsive to the presence of boats, displaying signs of habituation to tour boats and ultimately the tourism operations. The abundance of nurse sharks in SRV was notably and significantly greater than abundance in control sites, suggesting a significant change in habitat use at the site. The conclusions made from this study will be presented to the Caye Caulker Fisheries Department to advise future regulations and management techniques.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.