Essential Ingredients of Responsible Snorkeling
Editorial by Joel Simon
During my first solo trip to Mexico in the early 70s,
I clearly remember seeing numerous snorkelers, fins in hand and
children in tow, walking among and over the coral reef at El Garrafon
on Isla Mujeres. It wasnt just the corals that were being
harmed. Many folks had bloody knees, shins, and injured feet from
unwanted and unwarranted impact with corals. Im sure they
didnt want to harm either themselves or the coral, they simply
didnt know any better. Today we do.
now one of a growing number of protected marine reserves. But with
respect to snorkelers, what does "protected" really mean?
While legislation is a good start to preserving valued marine resources,
ultimately, its our behavior in the water that will help insure
healthy reefs and healthy snorkelers. This requires both education
Perhaps no one
understands this better than Kalli de Meyer, manager of Bonaires
Marine Park. More than 25,000 scuba divers and snorkelers visit
this park each year. On Bonaire, the legislation is in place. All
elements of the marine environment, living or dead, are protected
by law from the high tide line to a depth of 200 feet. But are laws
alone any guarantee for the health of the reef? I recently asked
for laws to have effect, they must have teeth, and ours have teeth.
But folks dont come down here to deliberately destroy a reef!
They come here to enjoy the reef. Our job is to help them do that
without inadvertently harming themselves or our marine resources.
To this end, our most important contribution is through education.
In fact, education is our best enforcement."
As Kalli explains,
the educational process is twofold. There is a wealth of information
available on the nature of coral reef communities, both their strengths
and their vulnerabilities. Coral animals have hard but delicate
skeletons and are easily damaged by contact. They grow slowly, and
need to remain free of silt and other surface accumulations to thrive.
A misplaced hand or careless fin kick can easily imperil the lives
of hundreds of coral polyps.
of the nature of corals now encourages snorkelers to develop skills
with an underlying attitude of appreciation and respect. Snorkelers
learn to relax in the water, being careful not to impact corals
needlessly with their hands, feet, or other errant body parts. This
requires training since shallow water is especially subject to surge,
and snorkelers frequently enter and exit from the shore.
most tropical marine environments can face more traumatic perils
than snorkelers. Storms can and do easily ravage the shallow reef.
Even slight aberrant variations in water temperature can upset ecological
balances. Disease can decimate specific marine populations. But
these events dont make our careless or untrained behavior
any less irresponsible. There are enough factors we cant control,
making it all the more important to work diligently on those we
that legislation and education are active partners in preservation.
Laws alone arent an answer to maintaining a healthy reef.
But they can encourage us to learn more about the reef, develop
skills safe for corals and for snorkelers, and adopt a respectful
attitude for the marine environment. The most important partners
for preservation of the coral reefs are those who visit. Attitude,
aptitude, and education, these are the essential ingredients for