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The Hawaiian Islands have an abundance of marine life and many go expecting to see it by snorkeling or diving in the waters around the islands. In the past, it was acceptable to feed the fish in order to draw them closer for better observation. Although not illegal (except in marine park areas normally), this activity is no longer considered an acceptable practice (see Snorkel Tips). Also, see the history of Hanauma Bay in Oahu for some documentation of the effect fish feeding has on the fish and the coral. The Hawaiian Islands still have great snorkeling and not feeding the fish helps maintain these beautiful reefs.
Feeding fish or any other form of wildlife is known to result in many health & safety problems. Fish are not meant to eat "people food" and in many instances will eat food that they can't digest. If they are bloated from eating food they can't digest, they will not eat what they should have. It may seem trivial, after all only a few people might be feeding them you think, but that is not necessarily true. In popular snorkeling areas it is possible that a lot of people could all feed them, and after many weeks or months not only will it have an effect to their health, but it will teach them to expect food from all the people there. The fish will not only lose their fear of people, but will swarm them, and even bite them, expecting food. This by-product of feeding them is real, and can be very scary to many people that don't normally get to snorkel, or even just swim in the ocean.
Note that Sea Turtles and Monk Seals are endangered species, and are protected by law. It is against the law to try to pet them, to try to crowd them, or even do anything that might scare them. You will often find a Monk Seal relaxing on the beach within an area cordoned off with yellow tape (How do they find these special taped off spots?). Do not approach the seals.In the case of the Sea Turtles, there is a very good chance that while swimming or snorkeling they might approach you and get very close, which is nice, but keep your hands still and simply observe them. In most cases if you reduce your motion (float, tread water etc) they might hang around for a while, and you haven't broken the law, nor upset others in the area that have noticed the presence of the Sea Turtle.
The same rules about not feeding the fish apply to the many other forms of wildlife you will encounter. Feeding the wild chickens or any of the other birds leads to similar problems; they lose their fear of humans, and endanger their lives rushing to be fed, and at the same time scare those that are not comfortable having wild birds or animals approach them
One of the other things to be aware of is the formations of coral that draws the fish. Many fish and even the turtles feed on coral, and it is a living thing, that is very slow growing. It takes many years for a piece of coral that gets kicked by a swimmers fin and then breaks off the main formation to be replaced. There are constant reports on the forum section of people walking across the coral to get to the deeper water that they want to snorkel in, and this is extremely harmful to the coral. Without the coral, the marine stocks will disappear, as it both supplies a food source plus places to hide. Coral also has great beauty due to the many different shapes & colors that it grows in, so please be careful in areas where it is growing, and try to educate others that are mistreating the area due to not understanding the value of the coral to the ecosystem, or that it is a living thing, not just colorful rocks. Coral is very fragile, not just to physical damage but also to water pollution. It is the nutrients in the water that the coral feeds on, and as such if it starts to die there is a strong chance that the water has had a chemistry change, usually caused by a pollutant
The photos above were taken in the reef system that runs along the west side of the Mexican island of Cozumel, which is now a National Marine Park, which was created in order to protect this fragile coral reef system. Between the photos there are many different varieties of coral, and almost every single thing in the photos is alive.
This message is valid worldwide. The message says, "If you feed the fish they will stop looking for food naturally, which may lead to their death. You will also harm the reef because the fish stop eating the algae that take away space from corals. If you feed the fish it upsets the ecosystem." Hopefully, those reading that message will follow the advice and try to preserve something for future generations.
Kauai has the highest per capita drowning rate in the state and 70% of victims are tourists. That beautiful beach you read about in the guide book may have dangerous conditions depending on the time of year or the weather patterns. High surfs and undertows have claimed many visitors and strong currents and channel openings can take unsuspecting snorkelers farther out than they had anticipated. Even the popular hiking trails can be very slippery and may require some scrambling and / or trail finding experience.
It is also important to know the local conditions before you venture out; plan your hikes to get back before dark (it gets dark promptly at 7 pm -there is no lingering evening light like in the northern skies) and seek out current surf and weather conditions (online is a good place) before any beach activities. So, enjoy the island, but don’t forget to pack your common sense and please be aware that your physical fitness and outdoor skill levels are the same that you brought with you from the mainland.
Kauai is a magical place because of its natural beauty. However, don't eat fruit from trees you do not know the origin of, roll up your windows if you smell an odd smell, and keep an eye out for warning signs next to R&D agricultural fields, particularly if you are traveling with young children, especially in the west and south sides of the island.