Belize’s world-class reefs are being impacted by overfishing, coastal development, sewage and sedimentation, coral bleaching, and inappropriate and uninformed marine tourism practices. That’s where you come in! Divers and snorkelers can be strong and effective advocates for coral reef conservation.
When I asked top Belizean naturalist Dave Vernon about the number one way people can be responsible tourists, his response was, “Leave the fins at home!” Beginning snorkelers, he explained, panic when they come up to clear their masks, automatically standing on the coral or kicking it with their fins. When boat propellers and careless snorkelers stir up bottom sediment, corals may become smothered and die.
Linda Searle, Belize Coral Watch Program Coordinator and founder of ECOMAR, says that when you touch coral, you are destroying the thin layer of living tissue that keeps the coral healthy. It is like when people get a cut on their skin, she explains; the area becomes more susceptible to invasion by bacteria and disease. When a “cut” on a coral does not heal, this space can become invaded by a disease that can spread to the rest of the coral head, killing the entire colony.
Your guide is not exempt from these rules! Some guides (mostly hot-shot younger guys bucking for a tip) snorkel like they’re in a race and stir up plenty of sediment with their fins, especially when they lift their heads out of the water to talk. Such guides end up doing more damage to the coral than the tourists themselves, both by their actions and example. Experienced divers know the best way to enjoy a reef is to slow down, relax, and watch as the creatures go about their daily lives undisturbed. Learn all you can about coral reefs and follow these simple guidelines to be a “coral-friendly” diver.
Preparing for Your Dive Trip
Support coral reef conservation by choosing your resort with care and being a “green consumer” with your vacation dollars. Look for coral parks and other marine reserves, and pay user fees that support marine conservation. Keep your diving skills finely tuned, and be sure to practice them away from the reef. When it’s time to get in the water, choose coral-friendly dive operations that practice reef conservation by:
- • Giving diver orientations and briefings.
- • Holding buoyancy control workshops.
- • Actively supporting local marine protected areas.
- • Using available moorings — anchors and chains destroy fragile corals and sea grass beds.
- • Using available wastewater pump-out facilities.
- • Making sure garbage is well stowed, especially light plastic items.
- • Taking away everything brought on board, such as packaging and used batteries.
In the Water
- • Never touch corals; even a slight contact can harm them, and some corals can sting or cut you (coral cuts take a long time to heal and become infected easily).
- • Carefully select points of entry and exit to avoid walking on corals (remember, corals also live within sea grass beds).
- • Make sure all of your equipment is well secured.
Make sure you are neutrally buoyant at all times.
- • Maintain a comfortable distance from the reef, so that you’re certain you can avoid contact.
- • Learn to swim without using your arms.
- • Move slowly and deliberately in the water — relax and take your time.
- • Practice good finning and body control to avoid accidental contact with the reef or stirring up the sediment.
- • Know where your fins are at all times and don’t kick up sand.
- • Stay off the bottom and never stand or rest on corals.
- • Avoid using gloves and kneepads in coral environments.
- • Take nothing living or dead out of the water, except recent garbage.
- • Do not chase, harass, or try to ride marine life.
- • Do not touch or handle marine life except under expert guidance and following established guidelines. Never feed marine life.
- • Use photographic and video equipment only if you are an advanced diver or snorkeler; cameras are cumbersome and affect a diver’s buoyancy and mobility; it is all too easy to touch and damage marine life when concentrating on “the shot.”
- • Remember, look but don’t touch.
These guidelines were developed by the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL, www.coral.org), © CORAL.
Become a Belize Coral Watch Volunteer
As a Belize Coral Watch Volunteer, you’ll learn how to identify coral species, coral reef ecology, coral disease, and coral bleaching. After attending a training session you will be equipped with the knowledge needed to help identify resilient reefs in Belize. Divers and snorkelers are asked to monitor sites and submit reports on line. Look for a dive or snorkel center or resort that participates in “Adopt a Reef” with ECOMAR and help them complete surveys! For more information on becoming a Coral Watch Volunteer contact ECOMAR (www.ecomarbelize.org).
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition