Snorkelling is one of the outdoor sports that has grown in popularity, particularly during the epidemic. People may have been lured to try this water activity because of travel restrictions. According to information by Medium, there could be as many as 27 million active snorkelers worldwide in 2020. In the United States alone, 7.7 million people snorkelled, while 2.6 million went scuba diving. Indonesia as the country with the largest archipelago in the world, could easily contribute a significant percentage from the total number.
Who doesn’t love going to the ocean? Okay, probably, there is a group of people who doesn’t. Unlike divers that must go through some training and knowledge about the sea, snorkelers usually don’t. I remember my first few snorkelling experiences; I would just grab the gears with a little briefing and enter the water immediately. Although I had never deliberately ruined anything while doing the activity, I think it would have been better for snorkelers to have at least a basic knowledge about the do(s) and don’t(s) while enjoying the activity.
I often share about this topic on my old Instagram account, which Instagram has disabled for no apparent reason. Then, until a few weeks ago, I got into a conversation related to this that made me realise that it’s been a while since I shared about this topic. So, here I would like to share some of the most common mistakes or don’t (s) I have seen over the years – mostly done by snorkelers, which I would like to highlight. Yes, I think many people are unaware of this, including myself, when I first get into all these water activities.
1. Do not step on corals
I wrote several articles about coral planting and shared them on my Instagram. But that isn’t why I include this as one of the top mistakes. The fact is we don’t know anything about coral reefs. It is not something we learn at school or a part of any extra after-school programs. That’s the thing; we only really know it after seeing it with our own eyes. But what we know after that is also only as far as what our eyes see.
Coral reefs are not a dead thing. They are not rocks we can step on as if they are…dead. They are tiny living animals called polyps that live together as colonies. Yes, corals are animals. Not plants, not grasses, or whatever.
“How about dead corals? It should be okay, right?“
Whether the corals are alive or dead, we shouldn’t be stepping on them. Because there might still be a little life in that dead-looking coral that still can get a second chance to live; also, remember that people will follow what other people do. Even though the one we step on might be already wholly dead, how many people will know that? Other people who see us might think, “Oh, I saw him stepping on the coral. It is okay to do so.” Unnoticeable in the beginning, but the damages have already begun.
Coral reefs are home to a large variety of marine life, including sponges, oysters, clams, crabs, sea stars, sea urchins, and many fish species. When we destroy the corals, the damage is not only stopped there; it also affects the lives of many other marine animals. And also, the fact is that the damage can happen in a split second while the recovery takes years.
Following is the recommended documentary show, Chasing Coral, which helps to understand these tiny animals that significantly impact the marine ecosystem.
2. Do not fish feeding
Don’t be so happy when we jump into the water and groups of fish approach us right away as if we suddenly become their good friends or Aquaman or Little Mermaid. That is an obvious symptom that the fish has been used to feeding. Thus, whenever there is a human going into the water, the fish will automatically think, “FOOD!” and immediately go near to the swimmer or snorkeler. Sad but that’s the real fact.
I know some places in Indonesia where the local people or guides still do fish feeding using pieces of bread. Their intention is good – to lure fish to come over near to them so that their guests will have a good look at the fish and get nice photos with them. It also intrigued me to do so when I had my first few snorkelling session, too. However, little did we realize that our little “kind” act would do more harm than help.
It will be a different story if the fish are our pets. They rely on us to survive. But no, the fish and the marine animals in the sea don’t need our feeding. They have plenty of food available for them in the ocean to survive. They have their own system – their own ecosystem. They were meant to eat food that are meant for them. Not our human food. Why would we change them just for our moment of enjoyment?
Just remember that when we change one’s habit, it will affect to the entire ecosystem.
I hope that the next time when we are in a such situation – go out swimming or snorkeling, and someone gives us food to feed the fish, we all should already know what we must do.
3. Do not touch the marine life
We do not touch the marine life as it can be harmful not only to us but also to them. It is that simple. And also, again, they are not our pets!
Just take a moment and try to think about this. Would we like to be touched purposely by strangers without our consent? I think most of us would get frightened, feel unsafe, and we might even end up attacked in return if we feel pissed or threatened.
I think all living creatures have a similar instinct in such a situation – to stay safe.
There was one time during one of my very first few diving sessions. I and my DM were having a slow dive in Padang Bai. We checked out one big coral that stands alone on a sandy bottom. I just got there not long when my DM gave me a signal to swim away from there to the direction he was pointing. I followed his instruction without wondering why the rush was.
I only became suspicious when I noticed that he kept looking back over his shoulder as if something was behind him. And that is the moment when I turned my head and saw a fish with big teeth was just right behind me catching up my fins. I didn’t know what’s going on, I was only sure that I didn’t want to do any close catch up with that fish. After back to the boat, my DM then told me that that was a Titan Triggerfish. We both likely have gotten too close to its nest and possibly their eggs, hence, the aggressiveness for chasing us away.
I am not sharing this to scare you but to remind us that sea creatures behave in a certain way for a reason. In this case, the Triggerfish behaved that way because it was trying to protect and keep its nest safe. Anyway, regardless of its nasty behavior, it still does its part in contributing to marine society. 🙂
Another reasons not to touch the marine life is because many of them are delicate and fragile. Our even gentle touch, be it intentionally or not, could possibly hurt them or cause stress. Not only that, most of the sea creatures including corals have special layer of antibacterial protection that helps to keeps the parasites away, fight the infection and keeps them healthy.
So, our that strokes on the dugong or maybe sea turtles that we think is an act of love is in fact harmful to them. Indirectly, we are wiping away their protection layer.
At this point, you probably still think, “It is only one stroke, one touch, one pat. It can’t be harmful, right?”
If everyone has the same way of thinking, we are not talking about one stroke, one touch, one pat only anymore.
Furthermore, that layer of protection can be harmful to humans.
There was once when I and friends went on a snorkeling trip, one friend was accidentally stuck in a shallow area full of hard corals while snorkeling. She was in panic and trying hard to swim away but she couldn’t. I tried to help her by pushing her out hard which was succeed but I ended up getting the back of my left thigh lightly brushed against the corals. The corals and my friend were okay. I checked on myself; all looked good, too. So, we rejoined with the rest and continued snorkelling.
Later that day, I felt warm, and I could feel patches of rashes on the skin that “kissed” the corals earlier. Though it wasn’t severe, I had to be careful not to let it become infected for several days. Though not all corals can cause such harm, I don’t think I will want it to happen again. Neither you want to experience it as well, do you?
That is only one example based on my own experiences.
While the other day, I saw a video shared via Whatsapp showing a guy holding a pufferfish out of the water and how his friends seemed excited seeing the fish puffing up. It may look interesting to watch but we can not deny the fact that doing so actually caused stress to the fish. Pufferfish puff up when they feel stressed or threatened. The purpose of puffing up is to enlarge themselves to intimidate any potential predators around them.
We may not know that when pufferfish puff up, they force themselves to take in a big amount of water that squeezes the inner part of their body. They will stay puffed and float that way until they manage to deflate themselves completely. It is a process that can be exhausting for them if it happens repetitively and hence, become vulnerable to their predators. Besides that, Pufferfish are covered in spikes that drip with a deadly toxin that can cause sickness and may even cause a fatal injury.
Until here, how many of us are aware of that? I bet many of us are not.
And that’s only another example or reason why we should not touch marine life.
• • •
The underwater world is amazing. As a person who loves going snorkelling and diving, I can assure you that without doing these three things mentioned above, we can also enjoy the activity very much! It won’t be less fun. I promise.
I used to do these mistakes as well. But after I understood all these, I stopped doing it altogether. Not everyone around us is well-informed, so when you happen to see your friends or people around you, or even the guides, are still practising this, please do your part to share this information with them if there is a chance.
Healthy corals, and the abundance of marine life, will attract people to come. We take care of the ocean means we take care of the people whose livelihood relies on the healthy marine life and the ocean, too! The more we know, the better we can help take care of the ocean and of course, also enjoy the underwater world!
Let’s be responsible snorkellers, shall we?