Does this cause harm?
Whilst diving, have you ever been in a position where your buddy or dive guide moved marine life to get that perfect shot? Or worse still, grabbed it to give you a close up? To touch and handle marine life, means we interfere with their daily lives and intrude on their daily habits. To pick up a sea cucumber, grab a stick and poke a puffer fish to see how large it becomes, remove an octopus from of its hide away, so we can film it as it flees for safety? Did you ever wonder if this is causes harm, as people say we should not touch marine life?
To move marine life for a better photo shoot:
This action can very easily cost the animal its life. Often capture alone will cause high levels of stress, which may end in death. The lack of water, exposure to heat and stress factors can become so over-whelming the animal will die after it is set free. Dolphins, sharks, seahorses and even starfish, to mention only a few all fall victim to this behaviour.
Energy loss leaves them vulnerable to predators!
One fo the most vulnerable of all here is the puffer fish. When captured, they can inflate themselves to triple their size as a defense mechanism. After they inflate, they are vulnerable to predators through loss of mobility, which causes huge stress on the animal. It will take the puffer hours to deflate back to normal size. Some puffer fish require a certain amount of time to recover from this ordeal and are not able to inflate anymore. The puffer will inflate itself with water to increase its size; it does not hold its breath. However, if brought to the surface it will inflate itself with air. The puffer will usually die after this encounter as its stomach is not built to cope with air inflation.
Marine life can become sick!
Many species of marine life have a mucus layer that covers their body, this acts as an anti-bacterial protection against parasites. When you handle marine life, you will damage this layer and leave the species vulnerable to infection and parasite infestation. Most typical of this problem are the beautiful Manta rays and sharks – one touch can make this giant creature become really ill.
Touching Coral is just as bad!
When you place a hand or glove onto a coral reef you will kill hundreds of tiny polyps. Corals are living animals, and they grow very slowly indeed. They too have a protective mucus which safe-guards them from infection and disease. To stabilize yourself, by holding onto coral while taking a photo will more than likely cause a lot of damage, even though you do not see instantly. Lumps of coral that divers break off cause wounds on the coral reef and will kill it. Poor buoyancy or bad judgement and focus on drift dives through table corals can cause immense damage too. Remember, an intact coral reef provides a nursery for thousands of marine species around the globe, a dead coral garden will offer no protection.
You can get an infection, bitten or even worse!
Not all marine animals are harmless if you touch them! Stone fish, lion fish, sea urchins and jelly fish can sting if you threaten or touch them. If you corner them or come to close to their home, they will show their defense mechanism. Snakes, moray eels and stingray may mistake you for food if you prod and poke with you fingers. They will first retreat, then attack if necessary and are lightening fast when doing so. Some marine animals are venomous to cause severe pain, others (Blue ringed octopus) so that they can paralyze a human body, especially the lungs which will kill a human in 30 minutes, a Box Jellyfish in minutes if the victim is weak.
So, should we never touch marine life?
There are exceptions to the rule. People doing research should always act in the interest of the animals, their surroundings and their habitat. Some people/divers also kill marine species like the crown of thorns and the lion fish to protect the environment. This is done to stop ecosystems being damaged when the invasive creature has no natural predators and destroys everything else that lives there too.
What can you do?
Make it clear to your dive guide and buddy that you don’t want to see anyone handle or move marine life.