My Snorkel Experience

I went snorkelling two days ago. The monsoon is approaching and almost every evening there is a storm and the current has become stronger. Despite of that, the visibility in the sea was perfect. It felt like I was swimming in a swimming pool. There were less tourists and most snorkel sites were not crowded. I had seen more fishes around the reefs, however, they looked hungry. I wanted to see coral fishes in the reef but I did not want them to circle me as if I had food for them or thinking I was THE food! This is the reason why we should not feed the fish! This is not an aquarium and these fishes are not pets! By feeding them bread, we change their behaviour. In areas where snorkellers do not visit often, fishes are more sensitive to the presence of humans and they usually swim away. However, at snorkel sites where snorkellers are always present to feed the fishes, they start to associate human with food! I’ve seen certain fishes that would usually go the other direction as I swim nearer but the same type of fishes elsewhere where snorkeller activities are frequent, display a different behaviour. Not only do they not swim away, they just continue feeding on corals, even when I swim really close by. What happens is the fishes that always feed on bread provided by snorkellers probably still find their own food but depend highly on humans for food supply. So the question is what happens during the monsoon season when tourism slows down? No snorkellers equals no food supply. As much as I would like to think that the bread given is extra food supply for these fishes, assuming they usually are capable of finding food on their own, but I seriously doubt so.

It is a wonder how the marine ecosystem works and how every single marine life holds a place in the complex food web. Nature has its way to function and it is humans who always disrupt the functionality of the nature. I find it interesting to watch the marine life’s interactions – an adult back tip reef shark chasing after a coral fish, a damsel fish guarding its territory, a clownfish hiding among the sea anemone, a pair of rabbitfish swimming together, a parrotfish feeding on corals, a green turtle feeding on sea grass, etc. It is a beautiful sight and I believe in practising respect for others and this includes non-human organisms! Humans have developed and progressed so much that we have technologies that enable to go to places like the ocean and space but having the privilege to go underwater doesn’t mean we own the ocean and have the right to do as we wish. Sadly, not many act so. I have seen humans stepping on corals, harassing and chasing turtles, grabbing clownfish out of its home, throwing sea cucumbers around, picking starfish out of the ocean, etc. In short, touching everything just out of curiosity! Where’s the respect for marine life and its environment?

This year I have also seen snorkel guides luring reef sharks so that their customers see sharks and moral eels. Hello??!! This is an ocean, not an aquarium! There is no guarantee that we’ll definitely see a shark! Shark Point is a common feeding ground for the black tip reef sharks but they roam around in the ocean and they swim fast! It is common to miss them even when someone else snorkelling beside sees it! If the harmless coral fishes associate humans with food, imagine when these marine carnivores associate us as potential food?? The last time I saw an adult reef shark swimming around and when it swam towards me, I was asking myself in my head, did it think I had food or I was food! There have been cases of humans being bitten by reef sharks and moral eels even though under normal circumstance, they do not attack humans.

Talking about attacks reminds me of triggerfish that always attack divers to fend their nests. Lately the sighting of triggerfish is high. For the first time, I actually saw a pair of triggerfish at Turtle Bay. The common instinct when I see a triggerfish is to avoid it and swim off the other direction. Two days ago while conducting a coral survey, I dived down to compare the colour of the corals using a chart. For some reasons, I actually turned before swimming upward and that was the moment where I think my heart beat actually stopped for a second when a triggerfish was like 1m in front of me. Lucky me, it swam off while I frantically swam away from it too! What an experience!

Every snorkel tour has been awesome and never once the same! The marine ecosystem is dynamic and ever changing. However, human behaviours stay the same. Almost 2 years at Perhentian, not once have I not encountered humans touching turtles, stepping on corals, kicking the corals with fins and the list goes on. Many accused the authorities for their weak and lack of enforcement but I always believe that everyone plays an important part to make a difference. With awareness and knowledge come responsibility to do what is right! This world is not about summoning and giving out fines whenever someone breaks the laws. Do we litter just because we know there is no enforcement? No!! We throw our trash into the bins because it is the right thing to do! Humans are the most advanced organism but sometimes our actions prove otherwise. There were times when I told the snorkellers not to feed the fish and not to step on corals or simply pulled them away from the turtle, I received negative remarks, such as ‘What’s your problem?’, ‘Apasal menyibuk?’, etc. Well, I’m sorry if it didn’t feel good being pulled but that could be how the turtle felt too! I don’t like being the bad guy but to ignore and let this continue is like seeing and allowing the marine environment to deteriorate. I really hope with more environmental education and awareness, humans can think and act right. Treat the Earth and all that dwell thereon with respect.

The Earth does not belong to us. We belong to the Earth. 
– Chief Seattle –

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