10 Tips for Ocean-Friendly Snorkeling

There’s almost nothing I love to do more than strap on a snorkel, mask, and fins and jump into an amazing, underwater world. Snorkeling is a magic window onto one of the planet’s most spectacular—and endangered—ecosystems. Coral reef scenery is mind-boggling: the life forms are otherworldly, the colors surreal.

The colorful world of coral. Photo courtesy: Coral Reef Alliance

But there’s a tragic side. Over the years, I’ve seen more and more bleached, broken coral and reefs devoid of fish. Pollution, climate change, unsustainable fishing practices, and careless snorkelers are taking a toll on fragile tropical reefs, which are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Clown anemonefish. Photo courtesy Coral Reef Alliance

According to the World Wildlife Federation, we’ve already lost 27 percent of the world’s coral reefs. If present rates of destruction are allowed to continue, 60 percent of coral reefs will be destroyed over the next 30 years.

As an underwater enthusiast, I strive to be a good ocean steward; as a writer, I hope to raise the alarm for coral reefs. My husband and I follow ocean-friendly snorkeling practices, and I’m sharing a few tips (from Reef Relief, the Coral Reef Alliance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) that might help us preserve fragile saltwater habitats.

1. Don’t wear sunscreen in the ocean: An estimated 4,000 to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers’ bodies and endangers coral health. A sunscreen chemical called benzophenone-2 (BP-2) is highly toxic to coral, especially juvenile coral. (By the way, coral is a living organism, not rock or shell.) To protect your skin from UV rays and sunburn, wear a wetsuit or long-sleeved shirt into the water.

2. Never touch coral. Even slight contact can harm the sensitive coral polyps. Besides, some corals can sting or cut you. Also, avoid using gloves. They may protect your hands, but some people interpret that as an invitation to handle marine life.

3. Don’t tread on coral. Select points of entry and exit from the water that don’t cross corals. While you’re snorkeling, maintain a comfortable distance from the reef (two feet or more, depending on how good a swimmer you are and how rough the water is) to ensure that you can avoid contact even in turbulent water or if you’re surprised. Know where your fins are at all times so you don’t kick coral.

Sailfin Blenny fish. Photo courtesy: REEF

4. Learn to move about gracefully in the water. You should be comfortable enough in open water that you don’t depend on big kicks or flailing arm movements. Snorkelers should wear float-coats to allow gear adjustments without standing on the coral. Practice a dolphin-like swim so that you can negotiate tight spaces without disrupting your environment.

5. Take nothing, living or dead, out of the water. The exception: you may pick up “new” garbage. If the garbage is “old” (ie: covered with sand or algae), it might now be used as a home or hiding place for crabs, small fish, or eels.

6. Don’t feed the fish. Doing so destroys their natural feeding habits, and you might be injured.

7. Avoid harassing the wildlife. Chasing, touching or picking up fish, invertebrates, and marine mammals and reptiles could hurt or kill them; at the least it makes them wary of humans and could ruin future snorkeling experiences. In Hawaiian waters, it’s illegal to touch turtles.

8. Pack out your trash. It’s illegal to dump trash at sea. Plastic bags and other debris can injure or kill marine animals.

9. Don’t buy shell or coral products from gift shops. In many places in the United States, it’s illegal to harvest coral, and purchasing it at local shops only depletes reefs elsewhere.

10. Choose an eco-friendly hotel or resort. Graywater and fertilizer/pesticide runoff pollute water around many hotels. Check with nonprofits or ecotourism sites about the hotel’s environmental policies before you book.

For instance, the Napili Kai (where I stayed) is one of a number of hotels on Maui that participates in the Coral Reef Alliance’s Hawaii Hotel Reef Stewardship Project. Participating hotels use:

  • Reef etiquette signage
  • In-room educational materials
  • Educational tools for staff to share with guests
  • Staff training in reef ecology and outreach strategies
  • Supporting hotels’ watersports companies in the implementation of the Voluntary Standards for Marine Tourism

Wave of Support

Photo courtesy: Reef Relief

Want to make a difference or just learn more about reefs and the ocean? Get in touch with one or several of the following groups and find out what you can do.

Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL): Keeps coral reefs alive through conservation, education and building partnerships with responsible snorkelers and divers.

National Marine Sanctuary Foundation: Serves as a trustee for the nation’s system of marine-protected areas to enhance their biodiversity.

Ocean Conservancy: Protects ocean ecosystems and informs and inspires people to speak and act for the oceans.

Oceana: Campaigns to protect and restore the world’s oceans.

Project AWARE: Conserves underwater environments through education, advocacy and action.

Reef Check: A global volunteer effort by divers and marine scientists to raise public awareness about coral reefs.

Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF): Mobilizes volunteer recreational divers to conduct scientific ocean surveys.

Reef Relief: Dedicated to preserving and protecting coral reef ecosystems.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Photo courtesy Coral Reef Alliance

Drive Oregon’s Tasty “Fruit Loop” in the Hood River Valley

Oregon’s fruit basket, the Hood River Valley, overflows with bounty: fruit orchards, vineyards, mountain vistas. Just an hour’s drive east of Portland, the area is ideal for an agritourism getaway. (The town of Hood River is also a mecca for windsurfing and kiteboarding.)

Hood River County's Fruit Loop is a drive through orchards and farms at the foot of Mt. Hood. ©Laurel Kallenbach

My first taste of Oregon fruit was delivered years ago in a box of apples sent as a gift by my boyfriend’s parents—now my in-laws—who live in the town of Hood River. Each apple, nestled in its cardboard bed, was an emissary from this Land of Plenty. Biting into a crisp McIntosh, Pippin or Gravenstein, I could taste the verdant valley from a thousand miles away.

A pesticide-free pear along The Fruit Loop ©Laurel Kallenbach

Planted with 15,000 acres of fruit trees, the Hood River Valley extends from the base of Mt. Hood, an 11,235-foot volcanic peak, to the Columbia River. This 20-mile swath of fertile land claims the titles “Apple Center of Oregon” and “Winter Pear Capital of the World.”

During summer and fall, roadside stands along sections of Highways 35 and 281, known as The Fruit Loop, offer fresh-picked fruit—peaches, pears, apricots, apples, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, melons and blueberries—along with canned and preserved fruit, nuts, pies and baked goods.

Fruits of the Valley

Whenever we visit in summer, my husband and I love to ramble the farm-lined roads, stopping at fruit stands when a colorful sign beckons us to sample the fruit du jour. Over the years, we’ve wandered many portions of The Fruit Loop, a self-guided 45-mile path of scenic highway that leads through the valley’s orchards, vineyards, forests and farmlands. Along the way, we usually stop at one of the many emerging vineyards for a wine tasting. (Pheasant Valley Winery is one of our favorites, and its vintages are made from organic grapes.)

Picking strawberries right from the field is an economic way to get the freshest, ripest fruit. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A charming alpaca farm is fun for kids—and for knitters like my mother-in-law who craves alpaca yarn. During mid-summer and fall, the fruit stands are packed with just-picked fruit and veggies, as well as eggs and homemade jams and pies. At McCurdy Farms, pears grow inside bottles attached to the tree branches to create Eau de Vie de Poire (pear brandy in a bottle).

For a hands-on fruit experience, we often spend a morning at one of the many “U-Pick” fields, where ripe cherries, apples, pears and berries are just waiting to be plucked from branches and bushes.

Fresh Oregon strawberries ©Laurel Kallenbach

This summer, our whole family went out and picked buckets of blueberries—then we went home and cooked blueberry pancakes for lunch, which we topped with more blueberries.

Somehow fruit always tastes better and fresher when you’ve picked it yourself.

You can find a map of the self-guided farm-stand tour at the Portland airport or in restaurants and stores around the town of Hood River. More information is also available at the Fruit Loop website.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Views of Mt. Hood make the The Fruit Loop a dramatic drive. ©Laurel Kallenbach

3 Reasons I Love Yoga on a Tropical Island

On any given day, yoga makes me feel alive in body, mind and spirit. I’ve found, however, that doing yoga in a tropical setting adds color to my practice. I’ve had the pleasure of taking a yoga class in several exotic places, and there’s nothing like hearing the instructor say, “Turn your head toward the waves,” instead of “Turn toward the mirror.”

Here are some of my other discoveries about doing yoga outdoors:

1. Turks & Caicos: Contemplate Infinity by the Ocean

While practicing Warrior pose and gazing over the ocean, I can’t help but gain some perspective. How tiny I feel compared to the endless sea and sky!

Regina Radisic teaches a sunrise yoga class overlooking Grace Bay at the Regent Palms Turks and Caicos. Photo copyright Laurel Kallenbach

The spa at the Regent Palms Turks & Caicos holds sunrise yoga classes at the beach. The morning I was there, a shower passed through right at the 6:00 a.m. starting time. We waited under an umbrella by the pool, then did yoga on the boardwalk overlooking the beach rather than putting our mats in the wet sand. We were rewarded partway through the class by a rainbow on the horizon.

2. Jamaica: Revel in Your Senses

Everything seems more alive when you do yoga outdoors: the color of the water and tropical flowers, the scent of flowers and salt in the air, the twitter of exotic birds, the feel of the breeze on my face.

Jacqueline Sheehan leads a class in the garden pavilion at Bromley Estate in Jamaica. Photo copyright Laurel Kallenbach

On Jamaica, at a guest house and retreat center called Bromley, yoga classes were held in a garden pavilion, surrounded by bougainvillea and other flowering trees and shrubs. During Savasana, I couldn’t help but open my eyes when a doctor bird—a hummingbird with long tail feathers—buzzed nearby. The same thing happened when the Bromley dogs, who were fascinated by our Fish Poses, stopped by to lick our faces.

 

3. Antigua: Move in Different Ways

Sunset yoga is held on the dock at Carlisle Bay resort in Antigua. Photo copyright Laurel Kallenbach

When the yoga environment changes, you adapt—which takes you out of your usual box. At Carlisle Bay resort on the Caribbean island of Antigua, I joined the sunset yoga class on the dock right over the water. Boat Pose took on a whole new meaning as I imagined myself buoyed by ocean water. (I think I even held this asana longer because I felt that water was holding me “afloat.”)

Because of the movement of the gently lapping waves around me, balancing poses such as Tree Pose or Dancer’s Pose were more challenging than usual. Even when I closed my eyes, the sound of waves created the sensation of motion.

As the sun dipped closer and closer to the horizon, our small class did gentle Sun Salutes to end the day. The sky turned a hundred shades of pink.

Now that’s the way to do yoga!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and traveling yogi 

Contemporary Vegetarian Dining in Historic Bath

 

The decor is as light and clean as the food. Photo: Demuth’s restaurant

I have to admit that during three weeks in Scotland and England, I ate more pork than I usually do in a year—possibly two. It’s hard to resist when the traditional English or Scottish breakfast includes locally raised bacon or sausage.

So, it was a delight to discover in downtown Bath an elegant yet down-to-earth vegetarian restaurant: Demuth’s. This contemporary-casual eatery, located just a few doors down from the iconic Sally Lunn’s, serves innovative, sophisticated vegetarian and vegan food. No meat required for flavor and character.

A beet salad with fresh, local goat cheese. Photo: Demuth’s

It was clear from the first bite, that head chef Richard Buckley assesses each vegetable and fruit for its flavor and then pairs it with unique sauces, grains, and cheeses to create a complete, tasty, and memorable dish.

And the food at Demuth’s is primarily locally sourced, fair trade, and organic. Even the wine selection offered a number of vintages made from organic grapes (though a number of them were imported from Chile and Argentina).

The wait staff was quite informed about the menu and knew the provenance of every item on it. Yet talking with our waiter was anything but stuffy; ours was kind and helpful and gracious.

Photo: Demuth’s restaurant

Whether you’re a strict vegan or just happy to take a break from meat-laden menus, Demuth’s is truly a treat.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor