or several years the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission of the state of Florida has considered prohibition of all feeding of marine animals by divers.  Until recently strong opposition to the proposed ban resulted in its deferment but not its abandonment.  Media attention generated by shark attacks over the past summer combined with ill informed speculation linking the attacks with shark feeding by divers provided another opportunity for a ban.  On 1 November it was passed. 

When it was pointed out that the number and circumstance of the attacks was not unusual, the shark species involved not the same as those being fed, the locations of the attacks hundreds of miles from where the feeding takes place and thousands of people participating in the feeding plus thousands more diving in the same area have not been attacked the shark attack excuse was abandoned but the ban passed anyway. 

Information posted on the Conservation Commission website stated: "There is no known connection between their marine-life-feeding dives and the high-profile cases of shark attacks and bites on humans this year. Commissioners concluded any practice that modifies natural feeding habits of marine species is unacceptable, and practices that teach marine life to associate people with food is unhealthy for marine life as well as humans."  Why modifying natural feeding habits is unacceptable or how associating people with food is unhealthy is not explained.  In the absence of any apparent detriment simply labeling something unacceptable or unhealthy is a poor basis for making it illegal.

As many of the feeding sites in Florida are on the outer reefs over three miles from land and thus in Federal waters outside state jurisdiction they also made it illegal to transport people through state waters for the purpose of observing feeding.  In other words it's not only illegal but it's illegal to go where it is isn't if that is your purpose in going there. Obviously there is an agenda involved that goes beyond the purported reasons.

Among some environmentalists and personnel of government agencies charged with environmental regulation and enforcement one often encounters an unstated belief that nature, apart from humans, exists in a state of perfect balance and harmony.  We are not seen as a part of nature but rather something unnatural.  Any effect we have is therefore, by definition, un-natural and a degradation of what would otherwise be perfection.

Reality is quite different.  Nature is in a constant state of flux.  Booms and busts are the norm in the economy of life.  Every species impacts its environment.  Whether that effect is beneficial or detrimental in any given instance can only be decided with regard to whether its net influence increases or decreases the quantity, quality and diversity of life.  Viewed in this light, on the basis of everything we know at this time, feeding marine life tends to increase the quantity, quality and diversity of life.  On the whole it does not appear to do any harm and the ecosysten appears to be the richer for it.  Do we then opt to go with observable benefit or do we ban something purely on the possibility of harm that has not been observed to occur nor is even reasonably expected to exist? The choice seems a no-brainer.

Commonly accompanying the ill-conceived ideas about the perfection of nature is an attitude that those in the private sector who make their living from the natural environment are "exploiting" it and are motivated solely by monetary gain.  Again, let's have a reality check.  People such as small dive operators haven't gone into their business to make heaps of money nor because it's an easy secure job with good pension benefits.  They're doing what they do because they love it.  Being there on a daily basis they are also among the first to notice and voice concern if  things do start to deteriorate.  They are very much aware of their dependence upon a healthy natural environment.  This is unlike their accusers who in fact have a vested interest in problems, if not real ones then imaginary ones will do nicely. 

This commitment to problems is not just hyperbole.  If you doubt it just try presenting sound facts and careful reasoning that some purported problem may not be a real one.  Instead of hopeful interest in a possibility that something they profess to love may not be threatened they don't want to hear about it.  On the contrary they become irate, most especially if they cannot refute what is presented. Behind the rhetoric the real issue is not the environment it is ideology.  The real motivation is not to find solutions but to claim moral superiority and indulge in righteousness.

One of the best ways of protecting the natural environment is to make it economically valuable.  Trying to lock it up with unnecessary restrictions turns an asset into a liability.  Beyond purely economic value there are important cultural and spiritual values as well. These all depend upon personal access and experience.  We care most about that which plays an important role in our lives.  That which is inaccessible and outside our experience is of far less concern.

Feeding marine life has enabled hundreds of thousands of people to personally and intimately interact with creatures that would otherwise only be seen at a distance in passing.  To arbitrarily prohibit such experience on the basis of the unsupported opinions of a relative handful of people with demonstrable bias is worse than simply a mistake and even beyond counterproductive.  It is simply not very intelligent.

The video, A Little Kindness, in this issue is another example of the kind of activity  the zealots wanted to include in the ban.   After failing earlier they have succeeded by reducing opposition through limiting the ban to divers.  Now, having achieved a degree of success you can be sure they will be pushing to expand it. 

A basic function of true democracy is to protect individual rights.  Governmental pandering to pressure groups or even widespread popular opinion is not democracy but a step toward mob rule or dictatorship of the proletariat.  Whenever we restrict the rights of others we also threaten our own.  In some sense we are all members of minorities and all threatened whenever freedom is restricted without clear benefit or necessity.      

 Walter Starck