One of the most intrinsic goals underlying Sea for Yourself programs is the hope that through first hand experience, you will gain a richer awareness of both the strengths and vulnerabilities of shallow aquatic environments.
On Sea for Yourself programs, our actual snorkeling activities are complemented by informative staff presentations on marine life, educational handouts and other printed materials, field trips to marine research facilities, and a host of guest speakers. We often ask speakers to share their concerns regarding local conservation efforts with our groups. These discussions frequently focus on the sustainable management of marine resources with respect to traditional fishing practices, industrial fishing licenses, land based development that impacts marine ecosystems, the aquarium and shell trade, and the growth of tourism.
Rather than shy away from these most important and often challenging questions, we believe that our groups provide an ideal platform to discuss these issues.
Besides helping you to become better informed, Sea for Yourself programs strive to improve in-water skills to minimize personal impact on the areas (and animals) we visit. When done responsibly, snorkeling offers us one of the most benign interactions available with any wilderness environment
Guidelines for responsible snorkeling
1. Simply relax and move slowly.
Marine life is less threatened by a relaxed snorkeler. Swimming slowly is not only more comfortable for you, but also is less likely to intimidate the wildlife we have all come to observe. Many creatures are extremely sensitive to vibrations in the water, and in fact depend on this sense for their survival. Quick motions of snorkelers are easily perceived as potential threats by many fish and invertebrates.
No matter how strong you are, humans simply cannot out-swim animals such as whales, rays, turtles, fish and squid. Although the impulse may be to pursue these animals for a closer look, this will only scare them away. The relaxed snorkeler will find that aquatic mammals (including your snorkeling buddy), fish, and invertebrates will continue their natural behavior, while allowing you to approach them much more intimately.
2. Minimize contact with the reef.
Learning to control our movements and position in the water benefits our own comfort and safety as well as the health of the reef. Both are important! Reefs are constructed primarily by colonies of coral animals called polyps. By secreting a limestone skeleton, covered with a thin veneer of living tissue, over many years these slow growing creatures essentially create their own geology. Although the limestone is durable, the soft-bodied polyps can easily be damaged by contact with hands, fins etc.
While the loss of one polyp doesn’t appear to be such a big problem, this spot will be more susceptible to infections and can cause further mortality on the colony. Besides the impact on the coral, accidentally bumping into the reef can also harm you. Coral will easily cut through your soft skin, especially after you have spent some time in the water. Cuts in general, and coral cuts in particular, will heal slowly in the tropics, and are more susceptible to infection. For the mutual benefit of the reef and ourselves, we believe it’s both prudent and responsible to master the skills needed to minimize accidental close encounters with coral.
3. Live and let live.
In contrast to its initial appearance of grandeur, living space on the reef is very scarce. Every little niche is or will be occupied soon by an organism of some type. Empty shells are a valuable part of the ecosystem, and they get recycled many times. Besides the obvious environmental concerns, some “live shells” can be quite dangerous. Some of the most beautiful (cone shells for example) contain animals that are highly toxic and when “captured” can cause serious problems. We discourage any shell collecting, other than items found above the high tide line.
4. Leave nothing but bubbles.
Although you don’t see as many signs as along a typical highway, littering under water is just as inappropriate as it is on land. We always carry trash bags during our outings, both from shore and from boats. Please use these containers rather than disposing of refuse in the water. Pay special attention to plastic bags. They blow away easily and once in the water they closely resemble jellyfish, the main diet of many turtles.
While spearfishing is still utilized by many local communities as a way to procure food, we don’t have to worry about collecting our own meals on Sea for Yourself programs.
6. Fish feeding.
While dispersing “food” in the water seems an easy way to attract large numbers of fish, it will often attract just certain species that usually chase other species away. Clearly, this alters the natural behavior (and diet) of fish we have come to observe. We discourage feeding the fish.
Using the guidelines above should enhance the snorkeling experience for you and the reef, and help preserve both for generations to come.