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Island activities: Why we love snorkeling

It's one thing to ease into the warm Caribbean Sea, or the intoxicating waters off a Thai island, and float and swim as the sun envelops you in its warmth. And it's another thing entirely to slip on a mask and snorkel and begin to discover the incredible undersea world that awaits, just feet or even inches below the surface. This kind of beauty is one reason we usually pack our masks and snorkels -- or at least goggles -- into our luggage before heading off on a tropical island getaway. Zickie and I simply don't want to miss out!

(Snorkeling in the Florida Keys. Photo by Island Runaways/Z.A.)

Another reason why we're big fans of snorkeling? It's relatively easy, and it's inexpensive (compared to scuba diving). If you can breathe through a snorkel, which is just a hard plastic tube, you can snorkel.

Sometimes we take snorkel charters, that is, we pay to take a boat trip out to a coral reef. The company provides snorkel, masks, and fins, AND a safety vest. (That's so they don't lose track of snorkelers in the water. You can also inflate it, so you float. Personally, I find that inflating the vest makes snorkeling less work, especially in water that's well over my head.) Also, the companies we've used in Key Largo and Islamorada, Sun Diver Tours and the Happy Cat from Robbie's Marina, have done a great job of emphasizing safety in the water and helping out any first-timers. (They also are very good with kids, and have child-sized equipment.)

(The captain on a Sun Diver trip, off Key Largo. Photo by Island Runaways/Z.A.)

On the other hand, some of our best island snorkel experiences happened just off-shore, at pristine beaches like Martinique's Grande Anse and Guadeloupe's Plage Leroux. Maybe you've snorkeled dozens of times, but in case you're new to the experience, here are a few basic tips from the Island Runaways:

1. Make sure your mask fits well and does not leak. This simple action can ensure that your experience is positive, rather than frustrating. If you're on a snorkel boat charter and your mask repeatedly leaks, ask for another one and see if the crew can help you adjust the straps. You can't enjoy the fish if water's streaming in your eyes!

(Tropical fish off Hatoma Island, Japan. Photo by Ippei & Janine Naoi, Flickr.)

2. If the thought of breathing through the snorkel makes you nervous, practice first in a pool or in shallow ocean water where you can touch the bottom. This is especially important with children who may find it challenging to get the hang of -- at first.

3. If your mask clouds up, spit in it, swirl around some sea water, and then rinse it out. (There are also de-fogger sprays that work well, but good ol' spit will work pretty well.)

(Snorkeling off Fiji. Photo by Travel Stock Photos, Flickr.)

4. Don't try to touch the sealife. Yes, I know from experience how tempting it is. But in many areas, like marina sanctuaries, it's illegal. And it can also lead to accidents. Almost every year at least one diver or snorkeler gets bitten by a nurse shark in the Florida Keys. Why does this happen, when these sharks are known to be non-aggressive? Because someone gets the bright idea to grab onto a nurse shark's dorsal fin. Obviously, the sharks don't appreciate the intrusion. That's why our tip is simply: don't touch. (That goes for corals, too. Knocking or bumping corals can lead to infection of the reef and eventually that section of coral will die.)

5. If you're snorkeling anywhere in the ocean where boats may zip past, use a "Diver Down" flag in the water to indicate your presence. These flags can be purchased at any dive shop -- and they do actually save lives.

(Snorkeling can reveal so much underwater beauty. Photo by, Flickr.)

6. If you'll be in the water long, consider wearing a rash guard, long-sleeve swim t-shirt with sun protection, or even a regular long-sleeved t-shirt. Lots of snorkelers wind up with sunburns on their backs. It's easy to forget about the sun when we're mesmerized by tropical fish flitting on the reef. But this precaution can ensure the rest of your vacation isn't spent in pain.

7. If you're curious about the creatures you'll see, purchase a waterproof card identifying reef fish. They're lightweight, easily packed, and best of all, can be taken on boats or even underwater!

We hope our tips have helped prepare you for a snorkeling adventure. The more we snorkel, the more we appreciate the gorgeous life that thrives underneath the waves, and the more it makes us want to return...for more island runaways!

Do you have a favorite snorkeling spot? Hope you'll share it on our Guest Island Experts page.

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