"Coral reefs are the rainbows of the sea, the corals themselves softly glowing with shades of tan and gold, replete with bold strokes of blue and purple and pink where anemones and gorgonians have anchored themselves to coral ledges. Sunlight streams down through the water column in pale flowing veils of silver as it bathes the reef with light and intensifies the deep blue of clear ocean water pouring in from the Atlantic. The colors of coral are surpassed only by those of the creatures living in and around the reef. Drenched in hues from a wizard's neon fantasy, the names of these creatures are equally fantastic - rock beauty, queen angel, rainbow and midnight parrotfishes, yellow-headed wrasse, fairy bassley, hamlets and damselfish, blue tang, neon goby, scrawled cowfish, flamingo tongue, barber pole shrimp. Emerald-colored nurse sharks and moray eels rest under ledges and peer from crevices in the reef. At the edges of this rainbow reef, hanging motionless or finning slowly by in the blue murk of deeper water, are the sleek gray shadows giant tarpon and barracuda."
Proper Reef Etiquette
When visiting a coral reef, you will undoubtedly receive a brochure, view a slide show, or see signs informing you of how to properly experience the reef without damaging it. These guidelines summarize some of the most important points to keep in mind:
by Jeff Ripple, author, The Florida Keys - The Natural Wonders of an Island Paradise.
- Before booking a reef trip, check weather conditions. Rough seas, strong winds and poor visibility are not conducive to a safe and enjoyable outing.
- Use reef mooring buoys or anchor in sandy areas away from coral to avoid damaging coral or seagrass beds with an anchor and chain.
- Wear float-vests when snorkeling so that you can adjust your gear without standing on coral. When diving, practice proper buoyancy control and avoid using too much weight so that you will stay off the ocean floor. Seemingly lifeless areas may support new growth if left undisturbed.
- Avoid wearing gloves or touching marine life. You may scrape off the thin living layer of coral from its base before you realize it.
- Never stand on or break off coral. Try to avoid kicking up sand around coral or sponges. The clouds of sand blanket these animals and inhibit their ability to feed.
- Don't feed the fish. It disrupts their natural feeding patterns and may leave them more susceptible to spear fishing or collecting.
- It is illegal to collect coral in Florida, and buying it in local shops only depletes reefs elsewhere.
- Dumping trash at sea is illegal. Plastic bags, plastic six-pack rings, monofilament, and other debris kill marine animals and birds. Try to retrieve old nets, fishing line, or other fishing debris when you encounter them."