Why You Should Not Touch Marine Life
One of the first things new divers are taught (or should be taught) is to not touch the wildlife. Unfortunately, many divers do not take this rule to heart. Either through ignorance or accident, divers often have a major impact on the environment they’re visiting. Here’s a quick reminder on why divers should really not touch marine life.
Don’t Hurt Yourself
The dive instructor that told you to not touch anything was really trying to help you. Marine life can be dangerous when provoked and underwater creatures come with a full array of self-defense mechanisms. Stinging tentacles, venomous spines, and sharp teeth can all be used against you. Small animals such as the mantis shrimp are strong enough to cut off a thumb, while the camouflaged stonefish is poisonous enough to kill a man. Keep your hands to yourself so you don’t accidentally aggravate somebody. Definitely do not reach out to handle the marine life - wild animals don’t know what you’re up to and a friendly pat could easily be interpreted as an attack.
Don’t Hurt the Animals
On the flip side – it’s important to not touch the marine life to ensure you don’t hurt the creatures you’ve come to visit. Manhandling the marine life could lead to accidental tears, breakages, and stress. Coral reefs in particular are fairly delicate. Kicking up sand along the bottom can irritate polyps and over time suffocate the coral. Ensuring all equipment is securely tied to your BCD – and not dangling onto the reef below- is also important in ensuring you don’t bother the locals.
Respect the Wildlife
The Golden Rule says to treat others the way you would like to be treated. As scuba divers we’re guests in a foreign environment and it would perhaps be wise to treat the local denizens with respect. It would be traumatizing to have a stranger barge into your house to poke and prod you. In turn, it would be wrong to dive onto a reef just to rough up the locals. Divers generally have an appreciation for the world they’re visiting – respecting and protecting that world is the least we can do.
Follow the Law
The reasons listed above are hopefully convincing enough, but if not, then consider obeying the law. Many countries have laws that prohibit harassing wildlife. In the United States the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits people from touching or disturbing marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, and manatees. The Endangered Species Act also prohibits people from harming endangered species. Consider the local laws in your area before handling marine life.