Two years ago I finally got my certification to be a scuba diver. It was something I had been wanting to do for as long as I could remember after listening to my mom’s diving stories and the time she swam beside a hammerhead shark in Mexico. I loved that story; the thrill of being beside this almost alien being in the vast open water. It made her seem like superwoman, and I wanted to be just like her.
I’ve always loved the water and everything in it, but it wasn’t until I was 26 years old that I finally got the opportunity to really explore it. At the time I planned only on doing my open water, but as soon as I completed that level I signed on or my advance. I wanted more.
Over the past two years I have gone diving at every opportunity. So far that’s been limited to Southeast Asia which has incredible dive spots in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Egypt and more. I hope to explore the waters of Central America and the Caribbean in the near future as well. Diving makes me insanely happy, but more than just the thrill of feeling like a real life mermaid, diving has also taught me a lot about the ocean and the species that dwell within it. And, in doing so, it’s made me a bit of an unofficial ambassador for the underwater world.
So from this self-proclaimed mermaid to everyone out there who loves the sea, here’s what you should know about some of the ocean’s most amazing creatures and ocean tourism.
Sharks aren’t as Scary as you Think
Thanks to Hollywood sharks have become one of the most feared creatures in the world. They are portrayed as man-eating monsters who haunt the waves in search of their next human meal. But, in reality, you are more likely to be struck by lightning, drown, be in a car accident, or even die from fireworks that you are to be attacked by a shark. Seriously. Not to mention, the majority of shark species have zero record of ever attacking, much less killing, a human.
Yet despite these statistics sharks are still hunted around the world out fear which has led dozens of shark species to become vulnerable, at risk, and even endangered species. Another reason that sharks are being hunted is for food. In Asian countries, specifically China, shark fin soup is considered a delicacy and can bring in a lot of money which has led to illegal hunting. Even in the western world, in places like Iceland, shark can be found on restaurant menus.
How can you help? Share the word that sharks really aren’t as threatening as we think, and if offered the opportunity to try shark meat, please decline.
Coral is an Animal, Not a Plant
It may seem strange but yes, coral is in fact an animal not a plant. Actually, if we are being technical, coral is made up of millions of animals called polyps which work together as a colony. This is why some of the world’s coral reefs are millions of years old, but also why they are so fragile. Some corals only grow at a rate of 2mm per year, so if a boat or diver accidentally breaks a piece off, it could take years for that tiny piece to regrow.
How can you help? Be careful when swimming, snorkeling, or diving. If you need to stand, make sure you stand on sand not on the reef and help educate others to do the same.
Touching or Chasing Marine Life Can Harm or Even Kill Them
Every diver or ocean enthusiast knows the number one rule is not to touch marine life, and there’s good reason for it. Not only does it protect you from any injury, bite, or pain, but it also protects the animals as well because a human’s touch can harm and even kill some species.
Many fish have a protective layer over their skin, almost a weird mucus. It exists to help protect the fish from harmful bacteria and parasites, but a swipe from a human hand can quickly take that away, putting these species at risk.
One of the most common animals you see being touched or poked are pufferfish, mainly to get them to puff up into little air-filled balls. Do they look cute in this state? Yes, they do. However, what most people don’t realize is that being in this state puts them under a lot of stress, stress that can make their tiny hearts give out. Also, when the panic is over and they return to their normal state they are exhausted and weakened, making them easy prey for any nearby predators.
Another common creature that people can’t seem to keep their hands off of are sea turtles; which provides a whole other risk. In an effort to get close to the turtles, people end up chasing them, and in an effort to escape they dive down to get away from the human threat. However, those humans are often crowded at the top, waiting for them to resurface. By doing this you can actually cause the turtle to drown; they need oxygen to breathe, just like we do.
How can you help? Look, don’t touch or chase, and if you see someone else doing it, stop them and explain why.
Baited Activities Are Never a Good Idea
Ever wanted to swim with a whale shark or cage dive with a great white? Once upon a time these were bucket list items for me, but now not so much.
Cage diving seems like an amazing adventure with little risk and the promise of a close encounter, but while the sharks are not technically hurt during the process, it’s considered to be a poor practice for multiple reasons. Firstly; baiting the sharks makes them more attracted to humans. Secondly, baiting them with bloody chum brings out the violent monster image that shark ambassadors are trying so hard to discourage. And finally, it’s actually been concluded that these types of interactions with sharks can be linked to shark attacks. Sharks are shy and nervous by nature, but by baiting them with food so close to humans, it does make sense that they would make a connection between the two.
When it comes to whale sharks, they aren’t dangerous at all. In fact, they are basically the giant teddy bears of the ocean, so it makes sense that so many people want to see them. Sadly, some areas have started baiting them to keep them around for tourism. These is especially true in Oslob, Philippines. While it has no ill effects in terms of turning them against humans, it does affect their migratory patterns and makes them reliant on humans for food. This is then linked to poor nutrition and breeding problems in a species that is already considered to be at risk.
How Can You help? Do your research before any activity that promises shark encounters. Skip baited tours and wait to see them in their natural habitat on their own. Without the big crowds, it will be a more incredible experience anyway.
The ocean is an amazing place filled with incredible sights and life. Hopefully by helping educate others on little facts like these, we can work together to keep the oceans healthy and the marine life safe.
This is a sponsored post with Better Places Travel; 100% tailor made experiences with local experts. Be sure to check out their diving opportunities in Indonesia, and other experiences around the world.