Next blog post on responsible travelling with regards to marine life, by IYOR intern, Talia Wong:
By now, you’ve probably seen our social media post regarding the general guidelines and code of conduct for being a responsible traveller as developed by the World Committee on Tourism Ethics.
If you haven’t, click here and it’ll redirect you to it!
Many of us probably love getting away from this urban pressure cooker life and “de-stress” by travelling to nearby and distant tropical paradises with white sand beaches and pristine waters i.e. Bintan, Bali, Phuket, Krabi, Boracay, Hawaii … the list goes on. And when we’re there, we’ll probably be doing some island hopping i.e. around Thailand’s famous James Bond islands and Phi Phi islands and of course, snorkelling – I mean, the water is so blue, there’s so many fishes and an alive reef beneath, what are you waiting for?! Climb down the ladder or jump straight off the boat into the water!
In all that excitement, here’s some things we should remember before taking that jump:
- Use reef-safe sunscreen
Bet you didn’t know that there are some chemicals i.e. oxybenzone in sunscreen that accelerates coral bleaching and slows net coral growth! I didn’t too, until this research paper came out. According to this 2015 study, up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter coral reefs areas annually. And in an ever more polluted ocean, if we can reduce or remove any stressor that affects reef survival, we should. Good news is, Hawaii might become the first state in the world to ban sunscreens with oxybenzone in it! Switching up your sunscreen is as easy and fuss-free as snapping your fingers. Here are a few reef-friendly sunscreens you can look out for the next time you make an online/offline purchase, don’t say I never say:
Badger (we use this for The Dorsal Effect’s boat trips! 🙂 )
P/S: You don’t have to go ham on your SPF. SPF30 (blocks out 97% UVB rays; no sunscreen can block out 100%) is the minimum recommended from the American Academy of Dermatology.
- Do not step on the coral reefs
Most of the established coral reef system we see today take thousands and hundreds of thousands of years to grow and establish its size we see today. Massive corals typically have growth rates of 0.3 to 2 cm per year and branching corals grow up to 10 cm per year. Carelessly stepping or resting on them because you’re tired means destroying a living organism that’s been around way longer than humanity and the home and feeding ground of the fishes you see around you!
- Do not touch or disturb any marine animals
Maybe it’s the first time you or your child see a lone starfish on the beach. Yes, I know they’re cute– go closer, take a photo with it. But please refrain from picking them up! Mishandling can hurt or even kill them i.e. taking them out of the water for too long or accidentally dropping them. Remember that they are living things too so please respect their personal space. Also, who knows you might chance upon poisonous species while snorkelling?
- Feed the fish
(Guilty as charged… I wish someone told me this earlier!)
What’s wrong with giving them some bread or fish food? A-ha, you’re mistaken! While well-intentioned, you’re feeding them the wrong food. Feeding them un-natural food disrupts their natural feeding cycle. Reef fishes live and survive on the algae that grows on the reef. Fishes graze and keep reefs healthy by eating up the excess algae and prevents it from suffocating the coral.
- Do not pick up shells
I used to do this all the time (ack!) because who can resist such pretty and delicate looking shells?? Guess what, these empty shells you pick up are potential homes or hiding place for crabs and other animals. So, think twice before picking up a shell just cause it’s aesthetically pleasing to you.
- Do not litter i.e. plastic cutlery, bags, cigarette butts
Plastic and cigarette butts are very harmful to the marine environment. They can be viewed as food which the marine animals consume and eventually cause their starvation if they keep consuming litter. Plastic can also strangle and cause their death. Remember not to carelessly toss your cigarette butts into the ocean and not to bring single-use plastics the next time you’re out island hopping!
Travellers, keep in mind these are the places you paid specifically to visit! Paying a little more for a reef friendly sunscreen and giving a little more attention to your surroundings and your behaviour goes a long way in preserving the pristine natural environment. ☺
“Corals – How Do Coral Reefs Form?.” Corals, 2017, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral04_reefs.html.
“How Coral Reefs Grow | Coral Reef Alliance.” Coral.Org, 2017, https://coral.org/coral-reefs-101/coral-reef-ecology/how-coral-reefs-grow/.
Orenstein, Peggy. “Opinion | Is Your Sunscreen Poisoning The Ocean?.” Nytimes.Com, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/19/opinion/sunday/sunscreen-poisoning-ocean-reef.html.
Yuhas, Alan. “Slathering On Sunscreen At The Beach? It May Be Destroying Coral Reefs.” The Guardian, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/28/sunscreen-damage-coral-research-oxybenzone.