Coral Reef Etiquette - 6 Ways to Help the Environment

by Catalin Andries on January 16, 2024

© Photo NPS Climate Change Response, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Our country has a breathtaking coastline and rich marine biodiversity, and offers an abundance of opportunities for snorkelling enthusiasts to explore the wonders of the underwater world. From the Great Barrier Reef to Ningaloo Reef, the country boasts some of the most stunning and diverse coral reefs and marine life on the planet.

Snorkelling is an experience that allows individuals to connect with nature, immerse themselves in vibrant ecosystems, and witness the beauty of marine life up close. However, with this privilege comes a great responsibility – a responsibility to protect and preserve the fragile underwater ecosystems for future generations.

In this article, we will delve into essential guidelines for snorkelling, focusing on the care we need to exercise while exploring the underwater world. By understanding and adhering to these principles, snorkelers can contribute to the conservation of our marine environments and ensure that they remain a thriving paradise for years to come.


1. Don’t Touch the Corals

One of the fundamental rules of snorkelling is to refrain from touching the corals. Coral reefs are delicate and sensitive ecosystems that are easily damaged by human touch. Corals consist of tiny organisms that build intricate structures over time, providing vital habitat and sustenance for countless marine species.

When snorkelers touch or stand on corals, they can inadvertently break them, leading to irreversible damage to the reef.

To preserve these extraordinary underwater landscapes, it is essential to maintain a respectable distance from the corals and refrain from any physical contact. By practising passive observation, snorkelers can enjoy the beauty of the reefs without causing harm to the marine life that depends on them.

2. Don’t Stand on the Reef

Snorkelers must avoid standing or walking on the reef at all costs. Although some areas may appear shallow, the reef's surface can be deceivingly fragile. Stepping on the reef can crush corals, damage marine organisms, and disrupt the entire ecosystem. Additionally, standing on the reef can pose physical risks to snorkelers, as sharp coral edges or hidden marine creatures may cause injury.

To ensure the preservation of these natural wonders, it is vital to swim carefully and responsibly, being mindful of the reef below. By floating or using fins to navigate, we can experience the underwater world without causing harm to the precious coral formations.

© Photo by Rushkult

3. Don’t Bother Marine Life

Encountering marine life during snorkelling excursions is undoubtedly a highlight of the experience. However, it is crucial to resist the temptation to chase or touch these creatures. Pursuing marine animals can induce stress and disrupt their natural behaviours, making it difficult for them to thrive in their habitats.

Instead, practise passive observation and maintain a respectful distance from the marine animals. By allowing them to move freely and naturally, we can appreciate their beauty and grace without causing harm or disturbance.

© Photo by © Ben J. Hicks /

4. Take Action Against Pollution

Ocean plastic pollution has emerged as a pressing global concern that demands our immediate attention. Alarming predictions suggest that by 2050, our oceans could contain more rubbish than fish if we fail to take decisive action. Today, it is increasingly rare to find a place untouched by garbage while snorkelling or diving, emphasising the urgency to address this crisis. As responsible snorkelers, it becomes our duty to actively contribute to ocean conservation and undertake cleaning efforts to protect these fragile ecosystems.

A fundamental principle of responsible snorkelling is cleaning our oceans and actively participating in garbage collection. When you embark on snorkelling adventures, consider carrying a mesh bag with you to collect floating rubbish and debris that mar the natural beauty of our waters. Besides removing visible trash, such as plastic bottles and wrappers, it is equally essential to address the more insidious threats posed by discarded fishing lines and nets that can entangle and harm marine life, particularly coral reefs.

By adopting this simple yet impactful practice, you can play a significant role in preserving marine ecosystems and mitigating the devastating effects of plastic pollution. The act of cleaning our oceans while snorkelling aligns with our collective responsibility to safeguard these delicate underwater environments and the myriad species that call them home.

© Photo by Ryan via thetravelingsomething

5. Wear a Rashguard Instead of Sunscreen

Sunscreen is a necessary part of protecting our skin from harmful UV rays while spending time outdoors. However, certain chemicals in conventional sunscreens can have harmful effects on marine life, particularly coral reefs. Studies have shown that oxybenzone and octinoxate, commonly found in sunscreens, can contribute to coral bleaching and disrupt coral reproduction.

To minimise the impact on marine ecosystems, opt for reef-safe sunscreen or wear a long-sleeved rash guard while snorkelling. Rashguards not only provide protection against the sun's rays but also reduce the need for sunscreen application, thus promoting a more sustainable and eco-friendly snorkelling experience.

6. Choose Eco-Friendly Tour Operators

When planning a snorkelling trip, it’s essential to select tour operators that prioritise eco-friendly practices and sustainable tourism. Responsible operators follow guidelines to minimise their impact on the environment, ensure adherence to snorkelling rules, and provide educational insights to participants about marine conservation.

Look for tour operators that actively support marine conservation efforts, engage in reef restoration projects, and promote responsible snorkelling practices among their guests. By choosing eco-friendly operators, you can contribute to the preservation of marine ecosystems and support sustainable tourism.

Final Thoughts

It would be easy to read this article and conclude that you’ve spent the last 10 minutes being told what not to do, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. However, sometimes we need to be told what not to do, so that everyone can enjoy themselves, or so that other beings might live.

Snorkelling offers a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the beauty and diversity of marine life. However, with this privilege comes a responsibility to protect and conserve the delicate underwater ecosystems we are fortunate to explore.

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