There's something truly captivating about interacting with wildlife that's so outside of our comfort zones, so to speak. We see birds in our backyards, watch squirrels run up trees, and pet our own cats and dogs within the confines of our own homes. But when it comes to large creatures, especially those who live underwater, it can be a life-changing and dramatic experience. It's one that makes us realize how truly small we are in this world and reminds us that the world isn't ours alone - and there is a right, and a wrong, way to handle a situation like that. When it comes to interacting with wildlife, whether it's during snorkeling, scuba, or another excursion, here's what to keep in mind.
Touching Isn't Necessarily Part Of The Experience
It's exciting to feel as though one is part of an underwater world. However, we must never forget that underwater biomes are entirely different from the places where we dwell on the surface, which means that something as simple as a touch can alter the balance of the ecosystem. It might seem like fun to touch a clownfish while snorkeling in the Bahamas, but just because someone saw it on the Discovery Channel doesn't mean it's a move that should be replicated.
Additionally, snorkelers, scuba divers, and swimmers could be harming the environment without even realizing it. Hawaii has taken the initiative to ban sunscreen that isn't reef-safe, and it's simple things like this that can be kept in mind everywhere, not just in the Hawaiian islands. Here are some other things to be aware of while underwater in a tropical destination:
- Perfumes, sunscreen, lotions, and makeup have an impact. It's best to leave these in your suitcase before taking the dive.
- Protective gloves or no gloves, look but don't touch. Just as we could have harmful impacts on the environment, there are certain marine species that may act out of defense when touched or brushed up against.
- Don't take souvenirs. Breaking off even the smallest piece of a coral reef, or picking up a piece from the ocean floor, could lead to a disastrous chain of events. Although the life surrounding coral reefs is diverse, thrilling, and lively, it doesn't mean the environments aren't fragile and can't be damaged.
Know The Difference Between Experiences In The Wild Vs. Captive Encounters
It might seem like a great idea to commit to a show that features trained animals such as dolphins or orcas or to invest in a trip to a habitat that shelters animals in captivity. However, the lines become very blurred between what constitutes a helpful, life-saving measure, and who opens their doors purely for-profit based on entertainment value.
The difference between the two is often noticeable in the manner in which the animals are presented to the public: animals held in captivity by sanctuaries that don't have their best interests in mind are usually up-close and personal, without a real educational gain to come from it. Alternatively, a sanctuary that's working for the benefit of the animal to engage in life-saving measures may lead tours and allow visitors to see animals, but won't indulge in shows, entertainment, intimate swim times, or demonstrations. According to Condé Nast Traveler, the best way to engage in eco-tourism rather than captive animal shows is to do your research beforehand.
Be Aware Of Your Surroundings And Don't Give Into Those Urges
Snorkeling, especially, can be overwhelming when done for the first time. There's the feeling of how one feels in the water vs. on the surface to reconcile with, using flippers for the first time, and swimming alongside schools of fish. With that being said, it can be a challenge, initially, to get one's bearings. The one thing to keep in mind is that while we're getting a feel for how to move underwater, we might be unintentionally interacting with fish swimming by, marine life settling on the seabed, or nearby corals or marine plants.
The urge to right oneself by pushing off on a piece of coral or to gain traction by kicking one's feet against the sandy ocean floor is always strong but should be avoided. If nothing else, it's best to stay close to the surface until one is ready, and comfortable enough, to swim down to any depth, lest marine life is disturbed even further by our presence. The same rule always applies: while we might be in their environment, it's best to look but not touch.