What NOT To Do While Snorkeling on the Reef
Standing upright. Touching animals. Taking souvenirs.
What do all of these actions have in common? They're all things we can usually do on land, but when when we're snorkeling above live coral reef they can become harmful.
Coral reefs are essential to the health of our oceans, their inhabitants and the world. They provide a habitat for marine life. They help prevent coastal erosion and create waves that we can surf on. They're even sometimes used as medicine.
For these reasons and more, it's important that we protect coral reefs in our everyday actions, including while snorkeling.
We teach all Reef Guardians to respect these 5 rules while snorkeling:
#1: Do Not Touch Coral
Although corals look like rocks, they're actually alive. Technically, corals are considered animals because they don't make their own food like plants do. But corals are actually a symbiotic relationship between animals, plants and minerals. They're also very sensitive creatures.
Touching a coral could kill it.
Many corals protect themselves from disease or damage with a thin biofilm layer that we can't see. Touching a coral could damage this fragile layer and leave them susceptible to disease. It could also stress out the coral, which can cause it to expel the plant-like creatures that live within it, leading to 'coral bleaching'.
Always remember: "Look, don't touch".
#2: Do Not Touch Sea Creatures
Similar to corals, sea creatures are vulnerable in ways that we might not be able to see from looking at them.
Take a moment to consider all of the types of things that might make their way into the ocean. Some of the stuff is bacteria, chemicals, pollutants and more. How does marine life protect itself from this soup?
Many marine creatures use a film of mucus to protect themselves from these dangers. When we touch them, we might be damaging this layer and leaving them at risk, even if they seem fine in the moment.
Aside from that, it's illegal to tough many sea creatures in Hawaii and around the world. Sea turtles, for instance, are federally protected. But they will often come quite close to you, if you respect them.
#3: Do Not Stand On Corals
It's incredibly important not to stand on a living coral. As we mentioned above, they are very fragile ecosystems.
Float horizontal, not vertical.
If you absolutely need to stand, look for the nearest patch of sand to stand on. Or flop onto your back to make adjustments to your mask or snorkel.
If you're new to snorkeling, this might take some getting used to. We recommend snorkeling a few times in a sandy place until you feel comfortable enough with avoiding standing, then moving onto snorkeling in environments with live coral.
#4: Do Not Feed the Animals
Feeding fish might seem like a good thing to do. The fish sure seem to like it.
But in reality, if many humans do this over the course of time, it can cause serious problems in the ocean.
When people feed a fish outside sources of food, then they won't eat what they normally eat. And usually, the things they normally eat have populations that need to be kept in check. If they don't eat them, it could throw a whole ecosystem out of whack.
It's best to let nature do what it does best, take care of itself.
#5: Do Not Leave Anything Behind
From bottle caps to lost goggles to the haze of sunscreen floating in the water, humans often make many unfortunate contributions to the ocean environment. But there are ways to avoid that.
If you bring anything with you into the water (a waterproof camera, snorkel, etc.), make sure that it is fully secured to your body. And if you drop it, pick it up!
One thing people don't think about as often is what their skin might be bringing into the water. Make sure to buy a natural, zinc-based sunscreen or wear protective gear like a rash guard so that your sunscreen doesn't introduce harmful chemicals into the ocean.
And Remember that Protecting the Reef Starts on Land
Lots of the damage done to corals happens before anyone gets in the water. Live an eco-friendly lifestyle by reducing plastic use and water use. Buy food from farmers who don't use pesticides. And ask your representatives what they're doing to prevent runoff and pollutants in waterways.
Thanks for being a Reef Guardian!