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

Originally published March 13, 2014

Photo courtesy Coral Reef Alliance

Eclipse at Cannon Beach: Don’t Miss These Other Oregon Views

Cannon Beach, Oregon, is right in the Path of Totality, so people will be flocking to this beauty spot. When you’re not watching the solar eclipse (wearing proper safety glasses, of course), turn your gaze on some of the other lovely scenery. Here are a few glimpses of the beauty of Oregon’s most iconic beach.

First, look up! The sun is not the only thing of note: clouds can create a stunning visual on the coast.

Elegant beachfront houses pale by comparison to the grandeur of the sky. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Elegant beachfront houses pale by comparison to the grandeur of the sky. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Next, take your shoes off. Wade, play in the sand. Get your toes wet.

You can walk for miles along the coast; giant Haystack Rock is always there as a milestone. ©Laurel Kallenbach

You can walk for miles along the coast; giant Haystack Rock is always there as a milestone. ©Laurel Kallenbach

When the tide is low, the rocks jut out more than at high tide. These are covered in barnacles and other tiny sea creatures.

Craggy rocks at Cannon Beach ©Laurel Kallenbach

Craggy rocks at Cannon Beach ©Laurel Kallenbach

Even after the sun goes down, Cannon Beach is lively, and people build fires in the sand to light the night. The best way to end the eclipse of the century!

There's nothing like making s'mores around a fire on a cool summer evening. ©Laurel Kallenbach

There’s nothing like making s’mores around a fire on a cool summer evening. ©Laurel Kallenbach

 —Laurel Kallenbach, freelancer writer and editor

Fresh Farm-to-Library Fare Served at Seeds Café in Boulder

I stopped into the Boulder Public Library yesterday to have coffee with a friend at Seeds Library Café and wound up having an iced latte and this gorgeous, mouthwatering Fruit Salad with Chèvre.

The Summer Fruit Salad with Chèvre at Seeds Library Café ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Summer Fruit Salad with Chèvre at Seeds Library Café ©Laurel Kallenbach

All the organic veggies are fresh from the Boulder County Farmer’s Market, which runs the café. This eye-popping salad contains Colorado peaches and cantaloupe, various radishes, summer greens, cucumbers, and Haystack goat chèvre. It was artistically arranged by one of the courteous staff, who topped off the colorful combo with edible flowers.

Seasonal soups, sandwiches, and baked goodies are all available to purchase at Seeds Library Café. And the seating—where you can read books while you sip or eat!—overlooks Boulder Creek, which flows beneath the bridgeway that connects the north and south sides of the library.

In July 2017, there’s construction around the library, so the view isn’t as tranquil or lovely as usual, but I couldn’t take my eyes off this salad, so I barely noticed!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

River & Woods Chef Gets Creative with Sustainably Caught Fish

I didn’t even know I liked mackerel, much less sardines. But Chef Daniel Asher, of Boulder, Colorado’s River and Woods restaurant made me a convert—and proved his prowess in the kitchen.

Chef Daniel Asher, of River and Woods restaurant in Boulder, started a summer luncheon with sustainable Bela sardines and a smorgasbord of other complementary flavors. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Chef Daniel Asher, of River and Woods restaurant in Boulder, started a summer luncheon with sustainable Bela sardines and a smorgasbord of other complementary flavors. ©Laurel Kallenbach

At a special event, Asher showed off the Bela Seafood line, a family-owned business that has fished off the Algarve coast of Portugal for generations. Bela’s tuna, mackerel, and sardines are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

“I’m always on the lookout for sustainably produced foods that are truly delicious,” says Asher. “We cook sustainably here at River and Woods, but flavor comes first, so we’re very picky.”

Chef Daniel Asher ©Laurel Kallenbach

Chef Daniel Asher ©Laurel Kallenbach

Apparently, Bela’s fish—which comes packed in organic extra-virgin olive oil in cans or jars—passed the Asher test. And, as it turns out, mine. Chef Asher started us out with sardines, presented on a gorgeous smorgasbord table with smashed avocado, baby kale, fresh lemon, crisp-fried onions, and nori, with which we could make little sardine burritos.

Hesitantly, I chose a small sardine in olive oil with organic piri-piri (an African chili pepper used in Portugal) and drenched it with lemon and added avocado. To my surprise, the sardine was mild, and I went back for seconds!

Grilled sardines, flavorful chowders, mackerel, tuna are the local dishes in the Algarve, Portugal’s hottest tourist destination. (Someday, when I visit the Algarve, I’m told I must try the cataplana—a combination of sausage, clams, and ham stirred together with paprika, onions and coriander.) Of course, sardines are the staple of almost every dish in coastal Portugal.

And here’s the scoop on Bela’s sardines: they’re wild-caught by purse-seine netting, washed by hand, and then cooked prior to canning. They’re hand-packed within hours of the catch and never frozen. And these little fish are good for you: A serving of sardines delivers 11 grams of protein, omega-3s, vitamin D and calcium all in one, low-calorie meal!

A Tuna Waldorf Salad featuring Bela skipjack tuna: yet another of Chef Asher's sustainable creations. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A Tuna Waldorf Salad featuring Bela skipjack tuna: yet another of Chef Asher’s sustainable creations. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Bring on the Seafood

Next Chef Asher served bamboo cones filled with a Bela Skipjack Tuna Waldorf Salad with cinnamon-coated almonds, mizuna, Just Mayo vegan “mayonnaise,” rosemary-olive oil “caviar” and local carrot shavings. All of us “samplers” raved over this whimsical salad. And the tuna is pole-and-line caught.

Finally the pièce de résistance: Mackerel Paella that blended Mediterranean influences such as charred Valencia oranges with Colorado-grown quinoa and gourmet mushrooms from Mile-High Fungi. The mackerel was wonderful, and this oily fish is also earning kudos for its high omega-3 content.

Paella with Bela-brand mackerel at River and Woods ©Laurel Kallenbach

Paella with Bela-brand mackerel at River and Woods ©Laurel Kallenbach

Come on Over to River and Woods

Aside from enjoying the wonderful, sustainable fish dishes, I loved spending some time at River and Woods. The creators behind the restaurant strive for sustainable and local ingredients, and this friendly eatery aspires to creating what they call “community-sourced cuisine,” featuring Colorado comfort foods with innovative twists. For instance, meatloaf gets a makeover, and voilà, you’ve got Lamb and Oat Meatloaf with pumpkin-seed salsa verde and crispy sweet-potato bites. And don’t miss the Seasonal Deviled Eggs with rosemary oil pearls, English peas, breakfast radish, pea shoots, and microgreens.

In summer, you can catch live music in River and Woods’ “backyard’ dining area on Wednesday nights. And chances are I’ll be there too!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

More about restaurants that serve sustainable seafood:

Portugal's Algarve Region: where Bela Seafood is caught and packaged. This is Marinha Beach, a popular tourist spot. Photo Turismo de Portugal

Portugal’s Algarve Region: where Bela Seafood is caught and packaged. This is Marinha Beach, a popular tourist spot. Photo Turismo de Portugal