Here in the United States, we are in the midst of summer vacation season. And the oceans are always a great place to visit! Travelers are welcomed at 15 national marine sanctuaries and monuments in the US, encompassing over 600,000 square miles of underwater parks. They can be found up and down the coasts, as well as in the Great Lakes and west to Hawaii and American Samoa. But the oceans and their inhabitants can be adversely affected by well-meaning tourists who may unwittingly create a negative impact during their sightseeing trips.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was enacted by Congress and signed by then-President Richard Nixon in 1972. Its primary objective is “to create and maintain a healthy and stable marine ecosystem to allow marine mammals to survive in their natural habitats.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are charged with managing the provisions of the MMPA. To that end, NOAA Fisheries and NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries have developed the Ocean Etiquette program, the purpose of which is to not only promote stewardship of the ocean, but to minimize the impacts of human activity on marine life and habitats.
The Ocean Etiquette program provides guidelines for having a great experience for both you and the wildlife. Before you visit the ocean or a marine sanctuary, do some research on the internet or buy a guidebook to find out about the kinds of wildlife and habitats you will encounter. While viewing marine wildlife, keep your distance. Using binoculars is a great way to see marine life. However, if approached by wildlife, allow them the right of way, stay calm, slowly back away without making any sudden moves or place boat motors in neutral. Never touch marine wildlife as this can result in injury to both you and the animal. Do not feed the animals; it disrupts their normal feeding patterns, can cause sickness or death, and leads to animals growing too accustomed to humans. If you come across a marine animal that appears sick or in trouble, contact local authorities; do not try to help the animal yourself. Also, keep your pets away from marine wildlife.
To preserve these beautiful ecosystems make sure to properly dispose of all trash while visiting the ocean. Or better yet, bring along a garbage bag and pick up any litter that you may encounter especially plastic bags, floating debris, and fishing line. And if you see others disturbing marine habitats, wildlife, or other visitors speak up in a friendly, discrete tone. Contact local authorities, if necessary. Following these simple suggestions can make for an enjoyable visit for both you and our friends who call the ocean home.
To see a complete list of NOAA’s guidelines, click HERE.