Have you ever seen the wonder of a healthy coral reef? If you’ve recently visited the ocean on holiday, you may well have been among the one million new scuba divers certified annually or the countless number of snorkellers visiting coral reefs around the world. Marine tourism is a thriving industry; which is why it’s so important to follow environmental best practice when visiting these precious ecosystems to protect coral reefs.

Coral reefs are vital to the health of our entire oceans – they act as the building blocks for the entire underwater ecosystem by providing food and shelter for fish and other marine animals. Yet, coral reefs are facing threats from overfishing, plastic debris and the effects of climate change (such as rising sea temperatures). The last thing they need is to be damaged or harmed by tourists too – particularly as corals can be very slow growing and even a small breakage can take months to recover from!

While irresponsible tourism can pose a threat to corals, well-managed tourism can provide many benefits, including economic opportunities for local communities that rely on coral reefs. By reducing the pressures tourism puts on corals and other sensitive marine ecosystems; we can help make reefs healthier and more resilient to other global stressors.

That’s why marine conservation charity The Reef-World Foundation is working to make sustainable diving the social norm through Green Fins; an initiative it runs in partnership with UN Environment Programme to help dive and snorkel operators become more sustainable; as well as educating tourists about best environmental practice.

The Green Fins Code of Conduct provides the only internationally recognised environmental standards for scuba diving and snorkelling. By following these simple guidelines when scuba diving or snorkelling, you can be sure you’re protecting the beautiful coral reefs you’re visiting.

Don’t step on coral

While some coral colonies might look like rock, coral is actually an animal – and is incredibly fragile. Divers and snorkellers can easily break coral with their feet or fins, which can cause injury and even kill reefs.

Coral Reef in Gubal Island, Egypt.

Coral Reef in Gubal Island, Egypt. Photo: Alex Mustard/ Coral Reef Image Bank

Don’t touch or chase marine life

This can lead to stressed and scared animals that will swim away, ruining your encounter and leaving nothing for you to see

A red lip blenny living in a brain coral, Cuba.

A red lip blenny living in a brain coral, Cuba. Photo: Cristina Mittermeir/ Coral Reef Image Bank

Don’t stir the sediment

Careless divers and swimmers who stir up the sand can cause damage and can spread disease on reefs

Don’t take marine life – dead or alive

Removing species that would normally break down and be recycled into the sea leaves other animals without nutrients and elements they need for growth. It might even be illegal in some locations! Even empty shells on the beach play an important role in the wider ecosystem. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bubbles.

American Samoa

American Samoa. Photo: Shaun Wolfe via Coral Reed Image Bank

Don’t buy souvenirs made of shell, coral or other marine life

Similarly, the sale of corals and other marine life has a seriously negative impact on the ocean by removing vital marine life from the ecosystem. So, please don’t drive this industry by buying coral and shell souvenirs or jewellery.

No gloves

Wearing gloves underwater can give you a false sense of security and encourage you to touch things underwater, which can hurt you and damage marine life.

Don’t feed the fish

This can make fish sick or aggressive, causing them to attack and injure humans. Fed fish are also more likely to leave their nests empty and vulnerable to predators. This includes throwing food scraps overboard if you’ve been having lunch on the boat so be sure to bring any leftovers back to sure for proper disposal.

Hogfish in Cuba.

Hogfish in Cuba. Photo: Phillip Hamilton/ Coral Reef Image Bank

Don’t litter

Throwing trash in the ocean kills marine life, poisons seafood and can cause injury – minimise your use of single-use plastics and recycle or dispose of your litter properly. You can also pick up any litter you see in the ocean or on the beach.

Do not support shark finning

People will travel thousands of miles to see sharks in the wild, supporting entire tourism industries. Sharks are worth more alive than dead – do not support this brutal industry.

Reef Sharks, Cuba protect coral reefs

Reef Sharks, Cuba. Photo: Phillip Hamilton/ Coral Reef Image Bank

Wear reef-safe sunscreen

Some chemical components in sunscreen – including Oxybenzone and Octinoxate – may have a negative impact on coral reefs. Help protect coral from harmful chemicals by using alternatives which are reef-safe and covering up with clothing when in strong sunshine.

Cuadalie Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Cuadalie Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Report environmental violations

If you see any destructive practices or violations of environmental laws, tell your dive guide, dive operator or government officials. By informing key authorities, you are being part of the solution as your actions can lead to appropriate action to protect coral reefs.

Participate in conservation projects

By taking part in conservation projects, you can have a positive effect on the environment.

By working together – and each playing our part by acting as responsible tourists – we can protect coral reefs and related ecosystems for many years to come.

Also Read: 

This Pacific Island is the First in the World to Ban Reef-Toxic Sunscreens

Best Snorkeling Locations Around the World