I spent yesterday attempting to snorkel in Hanauma Bay, a coral reef nature sanctuary attached to the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. A beautiful part of the world which is protected by laws to help keep it beautiful for future generations as well as the current one.
Because this area is a nature preserve, there is a limit to how many people can be in the beach area and in the water. There was a mandatory 9 minute video presentation facilitated by a volunteer that instructed all the people who would be allowed into the beach area about how they should behave. No feeding the wild sea creatures. No touching or harassing the two types of endangered sea turtles who come to the bay. Absolutely no touching the coral reef.
All these rules make total sense. They are reasonable and should be followed. There are consequences for people wilfully disobeying the rules. My husband and I tried very, very hard to follow the rules.
I touched the reef. Not extensively, but enough that I feel guilty about it.
I didn't mean to. I tried not to. The problem is that I have never snorkelled in my life and it is a lot harder in practice than in theory. When you are drinking the ocean it is hard to remember where not to put your flipper.
The question is this: was my inexperience in snorkelling a foreseeable threat to my ability to follow the law of Hanauma Bay? Is my personal feeling of guilt (or the lingering taste of salt water) enough of a consequence for my actions? I have no idea how to measure the damage caused by kicking the coral with my flipper. Do I get to abdicate my personal responsibility because the tour company didn't require me to have experience before letting me loose in a fragile environment? Probably not.
Although I feel really bad for bonking the coral with my foot, I did see some cool fish in their natural habitat. The fish may have enjoyed seeing me choking on their environment, though they didn't seem really interested or upset at the time. I won't speak for the coral.