Ethical Snorkeling Practices

Snorkeling is a cheap and wonderful way to discover the underwater world. There's nothing quite like snorkeling in warm blue and emerald colored waters while on vacation. Especially for Canadians, we spend so many months freezing through inhospitable winters.

Snorkeling has to be one of the most memorable and low cost activities to do while on vacation. You can easily find guided tours and rental equipment in every beach town. My adventures starts in Mexico and I have to say the Caribbean side has the always impressive Mesoamerican Reef just offshore in the Riviera Maya. Coral and sea life is in abundance because the reef in most areas is fairly healthy still.

The health of this delicate ecosystem is on a downward trend due to commercialism, overfishing, overuse and destructive behavior from tourists. So please play nice!

There are several organizations trying to initiate changes to this delicate ecosystem by creating marine protection areas. Thanks to Google and its vast base of information along with recent beach closures like the one that recently happened in Akumal, Riviera Maya in 2016. The word is slowly getting out that we need to protect these magical areas or they will die off. So always remember to use ethical snorkeling practices, don’t worry details are below.>/p>

I have been an outdoor adventurer for many years and have a tread lightly mindset. Simply put, with every place you visit please; pack out more than you pack in, leave no damage, no track, no trace that you’ve been there. I have compiled some essential tips for snorkelers and reef users to help keep this amazing underwater world safe for future generations to be able to enjoy.


I can spend hours in the water snorkeling. With the suns rays being magnified by the water it is very easy to get sunburns. Environmentally friendly sunscreen or skins are essential. With the high number of vacationers congesting the waters of the Riviera Maya that adds up to tons of sunscreen being washed into the ocean and ultimately damaging the reefs. Reef friendly sunscreens are a must if you're venturing into these fragile ecosystems.

Most tour operators and stores along the coastline will gladly sell you approved products. You should always apply sunscreen 20 minutes before entering the water to give it time to soak into your skin. This not only increases its effectiveness but massively reduces how much washes off you. Using skins, (light protective clothing) is a better way to avoid sunburn without any chemicals. They are available in all price ranges at many dive shops as well as many big box stores along the coast.

Negative Interaction with Fish


Negative human interaction can also affect fish populations. Many tour operators and vacationers alike will feed the fish or chum the water so that they are swarmed by fish allowing for photo ops. This short term thrill can have a long lasting impact on fish populations. It can change reef dynamics and the variety of fish found in these areas. Feeding the fish encourages aggressive fish and feeding habits that will ultimately push out many species of fish lower down the food chain. To be a good steward of the oceans don’t feed the fish!


Always practice good snorkeling habits to protect the beautiful reefs you're swimming in. It's rather easy to forget your additional length when your flippers are on. While treading water in an upright position you may accidentally be slapping your fins on coral heads and sea grass. Stirring up sediment suffocates the coral and organisms in the reef. Veteran snorkelers tend to tread water with their knees tucked up to their chests.

When I get tired or when chatting with buddies I just lay on my back and float. Salt water is way more buoyant and this is a very easy thing to do when needing a break or adjusting your equipment. Practicing neutral buoyancy is an important part of snorkeling. Don’t be afraid to speak out to others you see in the water disrespecting the reef. If you approach the situation in an encouraging educational way rather than reprimanding them your point will more easily accepted.

Coral Snorkeling


Never touch the coral! Every time a person touches coral, it weakens and can die. This sets off a chain reaction in the reef that negatively affects all living organisms dependent on the coral. Whether you reach out for it or carelessly kick a flipper near it, it has the same effect. You may think one little touch won’t hurt, however, multiply that by thousands of snorkelers a year and it adds up quickly.

Never ever stand on a coral head!

This should go without saying yet thousands of newbie snorkelers do it every year. If you must stop to adjust your gear, please practice neutral buoyancy or find a large reef free sandy section to stop and stand on. Newbie snorkelers that are lacking confidence in the water should use a life jacket to assist them if they can’t follow these simple rules. Never feel too shy to share this friendly reminder with people in the water.

Don’t touch or irritate the sea creatures

You will no doubt see a variety of sea animals in a healthy reef. You are a guest in their home, so act accordingly, don’t chase them about and never touch them. Turtles, fish, rays, eels, sharks, dolphins, snails, shells, lobsters, and crabs are just a small start to the wildlife you will see while snorkeling.

When you touch them you disturb their protective layer of slime that keeps them healthy. This can have major effects on their health. Many creatures you see are on the endangered species list. Molesting and chasing them to get that unforgettable picture is definitely bad stewardship and creates a lot of anxiety for the animal.

If the animals don’t feel safe they may leave their nesting grounds and never come back. You are now contributing to the downfall and extinction of that species. Globally laws protect these endangered species. In many places around the world, there are guidelines of how close you can legally be to certain species. You can be charged and sometimes even have jail time just from a picture or video evidence showing you disturbing these peaceful animals. Just don’t do it!

Don't touch the Sea Creatures

Another important reason to just look and not touch would be the toxicity of some underwater creatures and organisms. Many species of coral, snails, and octopus can burn, sting, bite and even kill you. Most underwater creatures can effortlessly get away from you, they can also effortlessly attack you if bothered. I once managed to accidentally annoy a large group of stingrays and was rewarded with a large chunk of its barb in the bottom of my foot.

As the poison started to affect my body I grew very weak while trying to get out of the water and was washed out to sea by an ocean current. Honestly, I thought I was going to drown. Getting to shore was rough, cutting the barb out of my foot with a Swiss army knife was rougher. Having my brother urinate on my foot to neutralize the poison in public was absolutely embarrassing. Ask yourself, Do I know the underwater world well enough to bother or handle any creatures?

It's a well known fact that the worlds coral reefs are struggling to survive. Climate change, agricultural runoff, increased ocean acidity, over fishing, and pollution are all taking their toll. Careless human interaction and ignorance are also at fault.

Please learn and practice good snorkeling habits. Take only pictures, leave only bubbles. Encourage others to do the same. Always tread lightly in nature while on the surf, or the turf. We only get one planet, let's start taking care of it. Knowledge is the key, don’t be afraid to share your knowledge with others around you so our wonderful ecosystems can recover.

For more great tips check out my blog

More Ethical Conservation Infomation

Centro Ecologico Akumal - A local conservation group in Akumal.

Mexiconservacion - Mexican Conservation Organization



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