Yep. I really do tell people to get the fuck off the coral. (Great news is I’m underwater, so they can’t hear my foul language, but the hand signals I give them seem to suffice.)
Even after numerous briefings about the Roatan Marine Park from the shop assistant and dive lead, people seem to not be getting the message. I’m not sure where this mindset of “it’s okay to manhandle or feed creatures, take shells or anything else I find, or be shitty diver and smash the coral to bits…CAUSE I FEEL LIKE IT” came from, but I’m here to put a stop to it.
|sgt. rika, coral police|
For all ocean swimmers, divers and snorkelers, here are the reasons behind why you should stay off the coral:
1. Um, cause it dies.
I can’t seem to get this across to a lot of people. Coral is a LIVING thing. Living means alive. Living means it can die. It’s super, super delicate and sensitive. If you touch it, it’s probably going to die. Maybe not the whole thing, but that section will die or be more vulnerable to disease. Guess how long it takes to form coral reefs? Well, it grows anywhere from 1/10th of a millimeter to 1mm per year. So those reefs that are thousands of feet high? Hundreds of thousands of years of coral growth. A barrel sponge the size of a person could be close to a thousand years old. Touching or kicking it with your fin and killing it is pretty much like bulldozing a bunch of old historical shit in Rome that’s thousands of years old. Would you do that?
2. Cause when it dies, I lose my job.
There are lots of places in the world where people do not take good care of the reef. Thankfully Roatan and its dive shops are (for the most part) very adamant about divers respecting the reef and the Marine Park rules. But there’s lots of places where coral is dying at a rapid rate due to pollution, human destruction, mechanical destruction and when there’s no reef, there’s no fish, and no diving….and no job for me.
There’s a legendary local divemaster who routinely tells divers and snorkelers that when they are bumping into the reef with their fins or touching or grabbing it with their hands, that they are taking food out of his kids’ mouths. It takes a second for people to realize the link…. if you wreck the reef, he can’t work and he can’t feed his kids. Do you want to be responsible for that?
3. Cause it IS my job.
I don’t just teach people how to dive. I teach people about our marine ecosystem and its inhabitants, and how to interact responsibly with them. I teach people to respect reefs and sea life by ‘taking only pictures and leaving only bubbles’. As dive instructors/divemasters, we are entrusted as caretakers of the reef since it can’t take care of itself and we are the ones bringing all the visitors to see it. The reef can’t tell you, “hey, get your hands off of me you idiot, you’re hurting me!”…so I will tell you instead.
4. Cause it’s not fair for the next generation of people who want to see it.
If you know me in real life, you know I am a huge advocate of living mindfully and trying to leave the earth in at least as good of shape as you found it, if not better. It’s not our place to just do whatever we feel like with no regard of the people who might want to enjoy it in the future. I want to spark an interest of the ocean in people so that they introduce it to their kids, and by the time their kids are old enough to be divers I want the reef to be flourishing, not dead.
5. Cause it can hurt you.
…in all kinds of ways. Hard coral is razor-sharp – it can cut you and leave nasty organisms in the cut. Soft corals can have hydroids growing on them, why have the same lovely stinging cells as jellyfish do. And let’s not even talk about fire coral (okay, fire coral isn’t really coral, but you get the idea).
So please, if you want to enjoy the ocean and its living reefs, please do so responsibly. Remember, you are the visitor in that environment… that means it’s your job to be careful. If you’re a new scuba diver or rusty on your skills, take a refresher or a buoyancy class to make sure you can stay neutrally buoyant. If you absolutely must put a finger down to steady yourself for a photo or in a current, ask the dive lead how to identify rocks/dead coral before you touch any. If you’re snorkeling, use a snorkeling vest and a buddy if you’re not a strong swimmer. Don’t stand up on the coral if you feel uncomfortable or need a rest – turn over on your back and tread water or float, or head back to the boat.
In case you didn’t get what I just said, or want to teach your kids about this subject matter before a cruise or vacation where you’ll be near coral… here is a video song for kids (special thanks to reader Francisco for sending this to me!). I think I also might force some of my divers to watch this:
Don’t take anything (yes, anything, living or dead). Don’t touch anything. Don’t feed anything. Don’t tease or harass anything. And stay the fuck off the coral!!