Reef and Ocean Etiquette
Coral Reef Protection and Ocean Etiquette
When engaging in the marine environment we should remember that the ocean and near shore reefs are home to a multitude of species. The biology of the coral reef is an amazing interaction of elemental forces and the balance between all the species that visit and inhabit the reef. Humans have a role in preserving the health of the reef, and humans have the ability to reduce their impact and have a positive effect on the well being of this natural resource.
To be an ocean lover, is to be a nature lover. The ocean is a living community that envelops the globe and covers 70% of our planet. What we do in one part of the ocean affects the entire ocean. Also our conduct on land also affects the ocean too. Greenhouse gasses, carbon dioxide, litter, and toxic waste, can affect the ocean. So every thing that we can reuse and recycle on land will in turn protect the sea, and its inhabitants.
Storm Drains: Storm drains connect directly to the ocean. Never use storm drains to dump chemicals. Anything on the streets or storm water canals will quickly find its way into the sea. Even washing your car on the lawn prevents phosphates from running directly into the storm water system. Street trash too gets into the ocean this way.
Near Shore Areas: At the beaches, try to use the designated parking areas, and protect the dunes and unpaved areas from erosion and degradation from parking and vehicular traffic. Even if you have to walk a little further to reach the water, it will ultimately benefit the ocean. Disturbed soil is susceptible to erosion from wind and water, and soil and dirt will contaminate the sea water and chokes out the reef organisms like coral, by increasing siltation, and turbidity. Coral needs clean pure ocean water. And marine organisms “breathe” the sea water.
Sand Dunes: Do your best to protect the dunes at the ocean front, dunes keep the margin between land and sea separate. The dune vegetation is rooted in loose sandy soil and is easily disturbed buy human activity. In Hawaii there are several native grass species that help to hold the dunes together, but are quite fragile and susceptible to damage from foot traffic. Always use the designated walkways when crossing dunes to access the ocean. Never drag your equipment over the dune’s vegetation, And do not set up your picnic on the dune itself. But better on the sand in front of the dune. The exception is the grassy lawn areas that are well suited to human traffic. The green lawn areas (the ones that are mowed) located at beach parks, and shorefront properties are meant for human use. The sparsely vegetated dunes, with delicate plants and spiky native grasses are not meant for human activity. Loss of dunes means loss of beach sand and excessive erosion, also destabilized dunes, and the dune’s sand and surrounding soil can find its way into the reef area and smother out the sea life there. So to be aware of the role of sand dunes, and protect dunes through your actions, you are in turn protecting the ocean.
Trash: Always take your trash (opala) away from the beach with you. Make an effort to ensure that trash does not blow away from you, or blow out of a trashcan, and get into the ocean. Much trash is accidentally introduced into the ocean each year. And much of it stays in the ocean for years and maybe even decades. The ocean cannot dispose of trash itself, so it needs human assistance to remove these contaminants. If you see some trash in the ocean, pick it up and take it out. If you see large trash items, alert the lifeguards or parks rangers, so that they can arrange for it to be removed properly.
Beach combing: In Hawaii our Sand is made up of rock, shell, and coral. The wave’s action and the action of coral munching critters will break down the dead shells and coral fragments into smaller and smaller particles that will eventually make up our beach sand. Pure volcanic sand is black, pure coral sand is white. Shell sand is creamy to yellow in color. And there are an infinite variety of combinations. In Hawaii beaches are often named after their distinctive sand color. Black sand, Red-Sand beach etc. When you are beach combing you will come across chunks of coral debris, broken shells, and even living rocks. It is better to leave these in the ocean or on the beach where you found them, They are in the process of becoming sand, and the more coral debris you leave on the beach the whiter the beach sand will eventually become. Play with the shells and explore the coral fragments, but return them when you are done. So that they can continue to contribute to the sand cycle, and re-mineralize the ocean. (That is not to say that if you find an exceptional perfect shell you should not hang onto it). Always check any shell to see if it is alive first. Living shells will die quickly of left out of the water for too long. Never take a live shell out of the water of off the beach.
Marine reserves and protected Areas: However there are many protected areas where you may not take any shell or rock specimen whatsoever. Please read the signs, and maps to be sure that you are not violation an y of these areas. Living Rocks; Some rocks at the seashore have algae and small creatures attached, these rocks need to stay in-situ, close to the shore or in the ocean, where the living portion can stay in the water. The algae and resident creatures on the rocks are also part of the living reef ecosystem too. Even the very tiny and microscopic ones live there too.
Tide pools: When exploring rock pools and rocky shorelines, please respect the creatures that live there too. Every pool is a microcosm, a mini world full of creatures. Many of these creatures may appear dead or inanimate. Especially in the inter-tidal zone, the creatures that you encounter may be waiting for the next high tide to come before they resume their activity. Limpets (Opihi) and Urchins (Wana/Uni), and shell fish, crabs and shrimp, and anemones etc, should not be disturbed.
Do not disturb marine Life: When onshore you may encounter a nesting turtle, or a sleeping monk seal. Please respect these creatures and keep your distance, and appreciate them from afar. Do not allow children or pets to harass or disturb these creatures. When you are snorkeling you should not get in the way of turtles or attempt to touch them or ride them. Larger creatures like monk seals and sharks should not be approached or touched. Whales are protected by the marine mammal protection law which prohibits people from approaching the whales and dolphins within 200 feet.
Fishing and Overfishing: Fishing can deplete the marine community of beneficial reef species. Many fish serve as a positive part of the reef eco-system, especially many herbivorous algae eaters that help to control algae levels, and are vital for reef health. Some fishermen will accidentally capture and kill non-target species, and many moral eels are killed by fishermen. Morays are a carrion eating species and do their part help to keep the reef clean. The over fishing of native species, leaves ecological niches open for exploitation by non-native invasive fish species. This shift upsets the natural ecological balance of the reef). If fishing for food or recreation, never take more than you can eat. And never kill anything you are not going to eat. Do not over-fish one area, or over-exploit the recourse. Do not take juvenile fish, or pregnant or gravid (with eggs) females.
Fish Collectors: There is also a problem of fish collectors who trap colorful reef species for the Aquarium trade. Irresponsible Fish Collectors are associated with the recent loss of a tremendous number of reef dwelling specimens, of fish, and marine invertebrates. Do not buy wild caught aquarium fish or inverts, from unlicensed or disreputable sources (even on the mainland). If fishing for food or recreation, never take more than you can eat.
Overharvesting: Limu collectors have been collecting edible seaweed for generations. Intensive harvesting for private consumption and commercially have lead to over harvesting and extinction of certain species in many areas. Conservation techniques are being employed to restore barren areas and some management is creeping back in. Whenever there is an economic incentive to over exploit a species it will intimately be threatened. Opihi are small limpet shellfish that are a local delicacy. These little guys cling to rocks at the tide zone. They take a long time to re-grow, reproduce and re-populate, so they are often over harvested. Opihi are almost extinct on Oahu due to over harvesting. Only Opihi over a minimum size may be collected. Shells must be at least 1 1/4 inches wide, or the meat a half inch wide, to legally harvest them in Hawaii.
Chumming and Fish Feeding: Fishermen and snorkelers sometimes put food in the water to attract fish. The food whether it be fish guts, meat, or frozen peas, actually contaminates the water. In addition it also alters the natural behaviors of marine life, including attracting unwanted species too. Never chum the water of bait the fish because it ultimately harms the reef.
Introduced Invasive Species: A worldwide problem is the accidental introduction of non-native, species into an ecosystem. Most invasive marine species have come to Hawaii on or in ships hulls. There is also a smaller problem of exotic aquarium fish and pets being released into the wild. Never release an aquarium fish or plants into a pond, stream or the ocean. Do not even flush them down the toilet. Many pets in stores and aquarium fish are not native to Hawaii, and will cause tremendous harm to native species and upset the natural balance if they are released and reproduce. Non-native species have no natural predators, and can quickly overrun ecosystems, and out compete the native species. Return any unwanted pet or fish to an Aquarium or pet store, where they can properly re-home the pet or take care of it responsibly.
Coral Care: Do not step on or touch living coral reef. Take care when snorkeling or surfing do not to put your feet down. Try to stay floating and only put your feet down on sandy sea floor or rocks if you have to. The sea floor is home to many creatures, like urchin, snails, starfish, sea worms, and corals that have delicate bodies or fragile structures they built for protection. Stepping on these creatures or their homes can be very destructive to them and to your feet too. Take care when launching a Kayak, or other board or boat so that you do not crunch the reef. Boaters & kayakers specially when dropping an anchor near a coral reef. It is better to use a fixed mooring when one is available. Know the areas where you are swimming, surfing or sailing so that you know where the reef is and where the best ingress and egress points are. Keep in mind that many coral areas may become exposed at low tide, especially shallow during low Spring tides.
Souvenirs and Products: Coral and marine Species find it way into products you can but like souvenirs, shells for sale, and jewelry. Rare and endangered black Coral is made into beautiful and desirable jewelry. The high price it commands, has lead to its over harvesting, and has lead to its near extinction. To deter the overharvesting and exploitation of endangered species, do not buy souvenirs or coral products that have taken the resource away from local reefs. Also the majority of shells you see in gift stores are imported from the Philippines where the reefs are being exploited there. Take care when buying any by-product from any coral reef, because you could be driving an industry that may harvest materials irresponsibly, and negatively impact the reef. Never buy any products made with turtle shell or other turtle products.
Because coral reef organisms are very delicate, please:
Do not disturb or harass marine life.
Do not remove marine life from its natural habitat or shells.
Do not step on or touch coral.
Do not stir up sediment near coral.
Think and act ecologically in and around the ocean.
Try to choose resorts and local businesses that support coral reef protection.
Avoid buying souvenirs made from coral or other marine organisms.
Support local initiatives by paying conservation fees, even if they are voluntary.
This section courtesy of Ocean Education
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Click here for our Coral Reef Protection page.
Click here for Marine Mammal & Sea Turtle Viewing “Code of Conduct”