Tips for Snorkeling in Hawaii, Part III – Reef Etiquette

August 1, 2022 0 Comments

Are you coming to my vacation island? There are three things I always recommend the first time visitor to do. First, he jumps into the air. Second, he sees a luau. Finally, I advise people of all ages to get in the water and go snorkeling. You will find that your mind returns to that experience over and over again over the years much more so than many of your other travel experiences. Part I of this series is about snorkel gear; Part II of this series will discuss Snorkeling Technique and Part III will cover Snorkeling Safety; Part V of the series will cover snorkeling spots on the Big Island.

Now, let’s talk for a moment about snorkeling etiquette and protecting the reef and the animals that live there.

Please do not feed the fish, this disrupts their natural feeding habits and you may injure yourself. Reef fish are territorial and will occasionally “bite,” but you should not chase, harass, or touch them (this includes octopuses). The oils on your fingers will damage their skin and can carry diseases that you can pass on to your hands. To photograph reef fish, whether snorkeling or diving, simply find a feeding spot (usually a rock or a dead coral head full of algae) and calmly and quietly wait nearby. enough, it will eventually surround you and lead to great photos and a memorable experience.

Snorkeling etiquette calls for protecting not only the reef animals, but also the fragile corals that grow on the reef. Corals, actually colonies of very small animals, take hundreds of years to form the structures visible today; they feed, shelter and provide habitats for other reef animals. Coral reefs also protect lagoons and shorelines from waves and sand erosion. Corals are at the very root of Hawaiian history and culture; The Hawaiian song of creation places the origin of life in the sea, from a coral polyp.

Simply touching corals to see how they feel can cause the death of an entire colony. Skin oils can disturb the delicate mucous membranes that protect animals from disease. Do not walk or stand on coral as this can kill live coral polyps which, as builders of the entire reef structure, are the very foundation of the reef ecosystem. Sunscreen that is removed from the body can kill coral; wear a t-shirt and swim cap to protect yourself from UV rays and put on sunscreen AFTER you get out of the water.

Called Honu by native Hawaiians, the Hawaiian green sea turtle is beautiful, serene, and seemingly wise. Although they have swum in the oceans for more than 200 million years, peacefully feeding on algae and invertebrates, this successful product of amphibian evolution is in grave danger. Habitat loss, hunting, and abuse by humans have all conspired to drive the Hawaiian green sea turtle to the brink of extinction.

Now protected by state and federal laws, the population of once millions has been decimated to just a few hundred thousand; although they are making a comeback, Hawaii’s honu are still in danger of extinction.

Do not approach basking tortoises closely, never touch or pick them up. Harassing turtles carries a hefty fine, and in any case, touching the turtle is a good way to get a salmonella infection. If there are honu swimming near where you are, do not approach or chase them; always swim alongside them, never above (as a predatory shark would) or below them (so they don’t feel their soft underbelly is in danger).

Anyone who observes their beauty and grace underwater will easily understand why the Hawaiians base their word for “peace,” “honua,” on the name they give the green sea turtle, “honu.”

Although more difficult for the diver to approach, but certainly no less in danger of abuse are the marine mammals: dolphins, seals and whales. In general, it is illegal, dangerous, and generally a bad idea to approach marine mammals within 100 yards; 300 yards for females with young. Dolphins and seals in particular may choose to approach you, just remember, this is not “Flipper”, these are wild animals and they bite. Hard. If he approaches you, remain calm (absolutely in a trance, of course, but calm down); do not approach any young animals and do not approach them as they may interpret this as aggression on your part and possibly bite you. Male seals can exhibit dominant behavior and are known to be *ahem* mounted swimmers. Avoid these disappointments by observing and enjoying these animals from a distance. About the whales… uh, wait a minute… if there’s anyone crazy enough to swim out in the open ocean and harass a 60,000 pound animal with a mouth twice the size of a king-size bed, nothing that say is going to stop them… just use some common sense, okay? Leave them alone, besides… it’s the law.

And now a word about sharks, two words, actually: “Don’t worry.” There is good and bad news about sharks in Hawaii. First, the bad news: If you’re in water deeper than your knees, you’re probably within 200 yards of a shark. The good news? You will never know. The truth is, you’re not likely to see or come across a shark… period. Tens of millions of people swim in Hawaii each year without ever seeing a single dorsal fin break through the water. Don’t worry, you’re not what they eat (so you won’t attract them) and they’re generally more afraid of you than you are of them. To allay visitor apprehensions about sharks, the Hawaii Tourist Office used to advertise that tourists were more likely to be hit in the head by a falling coconut than bitten by a shark…but they decided THAT wasn’t it. a really cheery stat to brag about. , either. There are actually only about three shark bites a year in Hawaii, which is amazing considering there are hundreds of thousands of people in the water, all day, every day of the year.

Having said that, keep in mind that all sharks demand respect and there are a number of things you can do to make yourself safer overall in any shark encounter. Safety tip number one is: avoid them. Sharks are stealthy hunters and in any condition where they are hidden in the water, they will hunt. So don’t get in the water until at least an hour after sunrise, get out of the water around 4 pm; do not enter the water if it is cloudy; avoid the mouths of streams. Obey beach closures; obey the warnings of the Lifeguards. Little sharks don’t get to be big sharks unless they pay close attention to avoiding anyone bigger than themselves; small sharks will usually silently slither away from you without you even realizing they were there. Big sharks are different. They can get close to you.

The most common conventional wisdom you hear is: if you are stalked or approached, swim purposefully, without panicking, away from the shark at an angle. Do not swim at high speed directly from it, as it will activate its predator-prey response and chase you. Do not splash excessively; this sounds like a dying fish (ie dinner) to sharks. Remember that the largest sharks eat sea turtles… a shark hunting below you, your outline paddling on a surfboard or boogie board, looks remarkably like a sea turtle. When you get close to the water, seeing three or four sea turtles sunbathing on the beach is normal; seeing twenty or thirty indicates that something very large and hungry is hunting the water nearby. The presence of dolphins nearby does not guarantee that there are no sharks nearby.

There are hundreds of tips for surviving shark attacks from hundreds of shark experts and attack survivors around the world. I will not share them with you for two reasons. First of all, I am not an expert on sharks; Second, I have never needed any of them because I have followed these sensible rules for years and have never once seen a shark while diving. I’m there 4 or 5 days a week, all year round. You won’t see one either. Relax and enjoy your snorkel… like I said… don’t worry.

Finally, many people ask “What’s the etiquette for, um, er, answering the call of the wild?” Easy: For wet stuff, just swim a bit away from people and let go, maybe keeping forward momentum so you don’t create a “cloud”. No, that’s not why the ocean is salty. For solid stuff, have your partner and both of you swim and go out, visit the bathroom. There are no exceptions for that.

Part I of this series is about snorkel gear; Part II of this series will discuss Snorkeling Technique; Part IV of the series covers Snorkeling Safety; Part V will cover the Big Island dive spots and Part VI looks at the Big Island Wilderness dive spots.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *