The marine environment consists of either salt water, fresh water or brackish water. The environment which is most associated with snorkeling is salt water and are host to a myriad of marine life. From the microscopic protozoa to one of the largest creatures on this planet; the Sperm Whale. The ocean is their home, their grocery store, their playground and their job. It is where they mate, bear their young and where they die. The ocean environment can actually be called a world within a world. As humans, we rarely see more than just the surface unless it is on television or in movies. As a snorkeler you are one of the privileged few who get to see this miraculous other world, live and in person so please respect the oceans.
The Ocean is home to the most diverse and colorful marine life and some locations also have some species which are indigenous only to that particular location. To try and even attempt to cover all of the marine life in the ocean in this article would have you reading for years. This article will, however, give you some generalizations on the marine life the and facts and behaviors of some species that you, as a snorkeler, may see in all three of the environments listed. One thing that should be noted with respect to all aquatic marine life is that they have survived through the eons by developing some form of defense. The defenses can include camouflage, barbs, teeth, stingers, bristles and toxins.
PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH ANY MARINE LIFE
I am one who does not believe in putting human characteristics to any animals whether they are domesticated or wild. I feel that those that do try are the ones most likely to end up being unpleasantly surprised if not injured. My general rule of thumb which I discuss with my buddy beforehand is that I will allow them to touch whatever they want and if they live through it, I will let them touch it once more just to be sure. (This last sentence was a joke.) In reality, touching any marine life in the water can actually have devastating consequences. Most fish have a slimy coating on them which acts as a protectant against parasites. If this coating is compromised there is a good chance that the fish will be exposed to bacteria and parasites which may eventually lead to death and the same is true with corals. Many official snorkeling areas are in protected marine reserves which strictly prohibit the touching the marine life. Most injuries are usually due to your error rather than the marine life actually seeking to cause injury.
The greater concentrations of marine environment can be found on coral reefs. Many think that the actual reef itself is non living entity but this belief is quite the opposite of the actual truth. Coral itself is a marine animal, it eats; digests and expels, it bears young, lives and dies. In its death where one could make the mistaken assumption that coral is not a living animal as dead coral makes the landscape look barren and rocky. Eventually the barren spots get covered by younger coral which continues the cycle. As the cycle repeats itself, the skeletal remains, provides a new home for more coral. Which in turn continue the same pattern of existence and each layer is built upon by another layer until eons later we have what we call a reef.
The reef provides a shelter and home to more mobile marine animals which share in a symbiotic relationship that has been repeated longer than written history. If reefs could talk what tales they could tell.