Marine megafauna are essentially the larger animals in our oceans, and in many places, they are a key attraction for tourists. They include everything from whales and dolphins, to seals and dugongs, to sharks and rays, and of course sea turtles too! These ocean giants are generally considered to have greater cognitive abilities and they often display curiosity towards humans, as well as show their unique characters during our interactions with them. However, the majority of our lucky encounters allow us to see them simply going about their lives, moving from one place to another, searching for food or a place to rest, or even feeding or resting! During these moments, we can become a stressor to the animal if we try to affect the interaction for our benefit – and this is what we actively work to avoid!
In Diani, we are lucky to see sea turtles, dolphins, stingrays and guitarfish all year round, with the occasional mobula or eagle ray! From June to November we have Humpback whales migrating along our coastline, then December to April the ocean’s biggest fish, the whale shark!
We have developed a number of interaction guidelines with our friends and sponsors at the Diving the Crab. But ultimately, the same applies for all marine life – so we can list the top 5 points here:
- Let the animal control the interaction
- Keep calm
- Keep a distance (2 to 3 metres is always best)
- Don’t swim directly in front, behind, or above the animal (they can’t see you!)
- And, we have to say it: Do Not Attempt To Touch!!
Of course, there is much more we can do, both for the benefit of the animal, but also the environment in which they live and depend upon. It is easy to forget where your fins or hands end up in the excitement of seeing marine life! Yet, grabbing hold of, or kicking something which may seem inconsequential at the time, will definitely have a detrimental impact on the animal or plant, which will also affect the health of other species which rely on it – and it may be something that stings you!
For those of us with underwater cameras, we must always be considerate of the animal and the environment in how we place ourselves and the camera, but also remember to be mindful of the flash! You can even aid our monitoring and conservation efforts by photographing the species you encounter, especially sea turtles and whale sharks, as their unique patterning allows us to identify them as individuals! We are also creating a biodiversity database of species present in the Diani-Chale Marine National Reserve, so ultimately, any photograph in which an animal is clear enough to identify can contribute to this!
So, overall, the main message is this: be respectful of marine life! Let them feed, let them rest, and let them swim where they wish – if you change this, you will increase stress and decrease health. How we interact with an animal today, will affect how it interacts with us or other humans tomorrow – so don’t ruin it for everyone else! And lastly, this is not specific to Diani, or even Kenya; these principals should be followed anywhere in the world, and you can help spread the word whenever you visit somewhere new, as well as making positive impacts within the marine tourism industry by choosing operators who adhere to guidelines which benefit marine life.
If you have any photographs of sea turtles or whale sharks anywhere in Kenya, please share them with our team and we will assist you in submitting them to the projects working to better understand the local megafauna populations. And the same goes for photographs of marine species seen between Mwachema River and Chale Island. Please send them all to email@example.com and a member of our team will get in touch!
If you have the means to support our work in creating new awareness materials, helping us educate people to better protect marine life, and continue our local monitoring efforts, please consider donating to our team during this pandemic: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/supporting-women-in-science-during-covid-19/ You can also follow our work and awareness campaigns on our social media page: www.facebook.com/MarineEducationCentre