If any of you snorkel or dive, remember that you can always share your data with a reef monitoring project and help advance science.
I want to talk to you today about how to take pictures for reef monitoring, how to label and make notes on those pictures, and where to send them to. Hopefully some of you will find this interesting, and you’ll want to spend some time helping our oceans!
If you plan to do so, there are a few things that you want to remember:
Overall shots of the reef are more important than close-up pictures of fish or coral. The main thing that NOAA is doing is monitoring overall coral health and counting various animals/corals. For this, wide shots are best.
Make notes on the depth the photos were taken at, and of anything else that may be relevant. Remember to think like a marine biologist and note things like: The number of animals sighted and if it is higher/lower than normal, the amount of litter, any invasive species such as the Crown of Thorns, and an estimate of the water temperature. All details matter because they put the data in context (data out of context is less useful.)
You’ll want to submit the data on a flash drive with your name and contact details, and make sure to say whether or not you want credit by name if they use a photo you took for something.
Find the local NOAA office in your area and go in person, or mail the flash drive in. If you cannot find a local office, you can always do a Google search for reef monitoring in your area.
Example: I live on Guam, which is part of the Marianas Islands. So if you type in Marianas Island Reef Monitoring, you get Eyes of The Reef (which is our local outreach program by NOAA.)
If you are in the Hawaiian Islands, The Marianas Islands, or anywhere that there is coral, you should think about sending your pictures to a reef monitoring project. Even if you only go on vacation to one of these places, remember that science is about the aggregation of data and looking for patterns, and more data is always better than less.
I have been helping to share data with the Eyes of the Reef project that NOAA has in Guam for years. It’s just a drop in the bucket when you look at how big the reefs are and how many reefs there are, but every little bit helps.
Tangussion: Snorkeling in Shallow water; no diving. Access: Everyone.
Out past Two Lover’s Point down a thoroughly sketchy road, you will find Tanguisson Beach. It is the site of an old power plant. Now that the plant is shut down, you can go swimming in the area where the hot water used to come out. You can even see some fish there. However, people mostly go to Tanguisson to sit on the beach. The sand is white, the water is blue, and everything is beautiful.
If you look to the right side, you will see a path hidden at the edge of a cove. Following this path takes you to the second part of Tanguisson. This has some iconic rocks that people usually take really stunning pictures with.
The water is shallow at Tanguisson, but you can swim there. Once upon a time in 2016, it used to be a place where you could see hundreds of sea urchins. However, an explosion in the puffer fish population happened in the spring of 2017, and the puffer fish ate all the sea urchins.
Much of the coral bleached in the big bleaching events in the summer of 2015 and 2017. However, there are still some fish and corals living there. The key thing to remember is to not go past the reef. This is an area that is known for dangerous tides, sharp rocks, and no lifeguards. If you go on a weekday, you will likely be the only one there. If you are swept out to sea, no one will know.
Given that, I recommend that you go swim in the shallows. Look at the fish, take pictures with the rocks, and lounge on the empty beach. Collect sea glass, which is often found there. Have a picnic. But don’t go beyond the reef.
Gab Gab: Snorkeling or Diving in Deep Water.
If you are looking for some deeper water, Gab Gab Beach is one of the best places to go. It has easy water access because of the stairs, and it even has showers. This is a very popular place for both snorkeling and scuba diving.
However, Gab Gab is on the Navy Base. That means that if you don’t have a military ID, you need to find someone who does in order to go there. This is kind of a bummer if you are a tourist, or a local with no military ID.
On the upside, if you can go there, you will find it less crowded than other places because access is restricted.
I like to go to Gab Gab because it is easy to get into the water. There is no long wade or swim to get out to the reef. And, the water is calm because it is inside of a harbor and is therefore protected from currents and tides that might otherwise prove problematic.
I also like to go to Gab Gab because it is a brilliant place to see turtles. They tend to enjoy spending time in some of the more shallow areas where they can bask in the sun. They also swim over to the boats at the port, and eat algae off the sides. Any day that I go snorkel or dive and see a turtle is a good day in my book. They really are magical.
Gab Gab was effected by the bleaching event in the summer of 2017, and some of the corals in the more shallow areas died. However, the deeper reef is still intact and as beautiful as ever.
Gun Beach: Snorkeling or diving in deep water. Access: Everyone.
Another fabulous place to snorkel or dive is Gun Beach. A quick word of warning: About every six months, someone dies at Gun Beach. Therefore, I need you to listen up to the warning I am about to give you:
This is a reef that is not enclosed in any way. There are waves, currents, and tides. If you see white caps when you look out, do not get in the water. Just hop back in your car and go to a different spot for the day.
The people who die at Gun Beach are usually scuba divers who go out too far, and then get caught in a current and pulled out to sea. They only find the bodies about half the time. Please don’t leave the safety of the reef, and do not go out when the water is choppy.
Most of the time, the water is smooth as glass and it is perfectly safe to snorkel or dive at Gun Beach. You park out by the Beach Bar, and then walk out to the water. Look for the pipes, and follow them out to the reef.
The water is colder than anywhere else on the island. If you are used to Hawaii water temperatures or colder, you will be fine. However, if you are used to the tropics, I recommend wearing a rash guard and pants.
The reef is beautiful. There are so many kinds of corals and fish! A lot of times you see bigger things too, like giant porcupine puffers, octopus, and huge schools of trigger fish. This is easily one of my favorite places to snorkel, and the swim out really isn’t that bad. I would note that the swim out is much easier at high tide, so keep that in mind. However, you can really make it out at any time of day.
As long as you do it on a calm day, Gun Beach is amazing. I highly recommend it.
The Spanish Steps: Snorkel in Shallow Water; no Diving. Access: Restricted.
The Spanish Steps is another one of the beaches with restricted access. Like Gab Gab, it is on Navel Base Guam. Unlike Gab Gab, there is no easy access to this snorkel spot. You will have to hike in, and the trail is steep and dangerous.
If you go, I recommend hiking boots, long pants, and climbing gloves for the parts so steep that you have to use the ropes provided. It’s not a long high, but it is a very intense high. I wouldn’t bring small children or anyone with any major physical limitations.
However, if you can make the hike, this tiny pocket of life is really very pretty. Obviously you can’t dive there, but the snorkeling is awesome!
The Spanish Steps are at the very end of Orote Point. You can’t go out into the open water because the waves and currents are crazy. However, inside the shelter of the rocks, you can see all kinds of fish and larger marine animals.
I have seen some of the best anemones, eels, and schools of fish that I have ever seen on Guam at the Spanish Steps.
Go at High Tide. It is the only time you will be able to swim over the coral. If you go at low tide, you can’t do anything except float in a little pool of water. At high tide, you can glide over coral gardens and see lots of cool fish.
Fish Eye Marine Park: Snorkeling or diving in deep water. Access: Everyone.
Fish Eye Marine Park is my favorite place on Guam. There is no easy access. At high tide, it is a long swim out. At low tide, it is a slippery and dangerous walk. However, once you get past the long, shallow coral shelf, you will see the most amazing things!
There are a lot of advantages to going to Fish Eye. First, it’s easy to see where to get in. You just head out under the walkway for the observatory. The parking lot is right there. Once you get into deep water, you have so many options!
Fish Eye has a double reef, which means that you can swim along and follow the reef to the left or right. However, you can also go straight out through the deep water. I know that sounds scary. The first time I did it, I was nervous. However, you soon come to a second reef spanning hundreds of meters out to the wave break and full of corals and life.
Another great thing to do at Fish Eye is to swim out to the left. Once you get past the rows of sea grass, you can swim to the left in a HUGE area called the Piti Bomb Hole Preserve. There are so many deep areas where bombs made holes in WWII, and the edges are ringed with exciting corals.
I have seen turtles, sharks, huge schools of all kinds of fish, a barracuda, and so much more! It is the only place around Guam that I have ever seen cowrie shells. There are angelfish and spiny toad fish and all kinds of wonderful things. It is definitely worth checking out.
If you bring scuba gear, I recommend swimming once around the base of the Fish Eye Observatory. It looks like a giant tin can under water, but a huge variety of fish live there because the Fish Eye people regularly throw chum in the water. Then head to the left towards the Piti Bomb Holes, where you will find plenty of deep places to explore.
Fish Eye is often a little crowded. However, there is still nowhere else I love as much. Just be sure to wear a long-sleeve rash guard and long pants. Maybe even a bandanna over your hair and gloves. Jelly fish are often sighted there, and they cant sting you through clothes. It’s better safe than sorry since you want to make sure you have a good time.
If you don’t have clothes to wear in the water, there is a dive shop right across the street from the Marine Park, and they have all kinds of cool options.
Old Wives Beach: Shallow and Deep Water Snorkeling. Diving only by boat. Access: Restricted.
Old Wives Beach is one of the most dangerous beaches I have ever been to. If you feel the need to go, do it at high tide and make sure there are no storms in the area. It is a long slog to get out to the deeper water. The rocks are sharp, and often the waves can be forceful.
Once you get out to where you can easily swim, you have options. To your left you will see a little island, and on the other side of that is Dadi Beach. There are often spinner dolphins sighted there.
To the right is Tarzan Cave and Orote Point.
The sea floor is littered with trash. The military dumped a lot of things there during the war. Make sure you don’t touch anything if you are diving. The military believes that there could be un-exploded munitions down there.
There are lots of turtles and other large animals who like to hide among the trash. If you dive there, it will have to be on a boat out of the Agat Marina, because you would never get out to the deep water with gear on.
That said, I have seen some schools of fish, a dolphin, and several turtles. So, if you are willing to brave the waves, tides, and sharp rocks, you might see some cool stuff.
Tumon Bay: Shallow Snorkeling; No Diving. Access: Everyone
Tumon Bay is the area where all the resorts are. If you stay at any of the major hotels, this is what you will see from your window and this is the place you can walk to the water.
The water in Tumon Bay is very shallow, even at high tide. There are not many places that you won’t be able to stand up. As long as you stay inside the bay, it is a perfectly safe place to be. However, some people like to go out to the edge of the bay and jump into the deep water. I actually watched someone do this, and they were swept out to sea. The recue crews had a very fast response time, and they were there within minutes. However, they never found the guy’s body.
It’s fine to do a drift dive out there past the reef with one of the tour companies. When a boat is monitoring you and you have dive gear and a safety sausage (required for all boat dives on Guam) then you are safer. But as a swimmer with just a snorkel mask, you chances are not so good.
So what can you see in Tumon Bay? Well, count on lots and lots of trigger fish. The most common kind that you will see are called Picasso Trigger Fish here, but in Hawaii I noted that they are called Black Bar Trigger Fish. Either way, we have a lot of them in Tumon Bay. We also have ells, schools of various baby fish, and all kinds of other stuff.
Wear coral shoes even though it seems like the sand is safe. Lots of things live in that sand, and from long-horned cowfish to eels, you don’t want to step on them.
There is a very strong current when there are storms. This can make it a real challenge without fins. Don’t go in the water when the current is really strong because it will suck you over to Gun Beach and out to sea.
Most dives on Guam are done from a boat, because shore access is limited. There are several options for companies to take you diving, but go with MDA. They are the best, and have access to the most places.
You will need a safety sausage to do a boat dive on Guam. Most boat dives are drift dives because of the currents, and you need to have a way to signal the boat to come pick you up. You can rent all the gear you need except for the safety sausage, so bring one or be prepared to buy one.