Snorkeling is an activity that requires a very simple equipment, but choose it with care. Good quality equipment helps limit certain problems in the water, such as a leak in the mask or snorkel, or a fin that breaks. It is recommended to wear swimfins in the water, which allow you to move with ease, limit physical effort, and make it easier to get out of moderate current. Also protect your skin from the sun (when snorkeling at the surface, our back and shoulders are highly exposed to UV), ideally with a long-sleeved rashguard. Some of us also wear gloves during in the water, to be better protected in case of contact with rocks for example.
Snorkeling on the surface is an activity that usually requires little physical effort, but can be exhausting when currents or waves occur. Always assess and respect your limits, as some spots are for good swimmers or seasoned snorkelers only. Skindiving, which is making small dives underwater while holding your breath, can be risky if you have not been trained in freediving, or if you overestimate your physical condition. When snorkeling long distances, keep in mind that you will need even more energy on your way back. Do not let yourself be drifted by the current, even light, except during very specific tours supervised by professionals. One of the golden rules of snorkeling (like scuba diving) is to always snorkel with a buddy, in order to be able to assist each other in the event of any problem (cramps, discomfort, fatigue, etc.).
Swimming is sometimes prohibited in unsupervised areas, or due to weather, sea conditions, the presence of jellyfish or sharks, or any other potential danger. Always follow the signs on the beaches, whether they are supervised or not (signs, flags, buoys…). If you go out of marked swimming areas, where permitted by law or local regulations, it is often mandatory to take a diving flag with you. Do not go to boating or water sports areas (surfing, windsurfing, jet-skiing, etc.) to avoid any risk of collision. In areas exposed to shark risk, it is generally recommended not to enter the water at sunrise and sunset, near the river mouths, as well as after heavy rains.
Tides, wind, atmospheric pressure, air temperature: all of these can change sea conditions quickly and dramatically. A completely calm sea can become rough in a few minutes only. The dangers are not all visible: a calm, flat sea can, for example, hide strong currents. The tides can push you away from the coast, or suddenly reduce the water level on a reef flat. The swell can make water entering in your snorkel, or throw you against rocks. Always inquire about the local sea and weather conditions before entering the water and, if in doubt, postpone your snorkeling.
When snorkeling, we can encounter a wide variety of more or less dangerous marine species. These can in particular cause stings (with or without venom), cuts, bites, burns and even electrocutions, more or less severe. Among the species presenting a risk, the most common are jellyfish, scorpionfish, fire coral, crown-of-thorns starfish, sea urchins, stingrays, sea snakes and cones. Fortunately, these species are very rarely aggressive, and most contacts are caused by our own behavior: you will avoid most accidents by not putting your foot on the seabed or touching/picking up anything. Learn how to identify these species, for example by checking our marine life ID guide.
The stonefish, which perfectly mimics rocks, is considered the most poisonous fish in the world. It can also become completely silted up in the sand, making it invisible. This is one of the main reasons for never stepping on the seabed when snorkeling, even close to shore. This one was photographed in the Hermitage Lagoon, Reunion Island.
The crown of thorns sea star is a large starfish covered with many spines. Its color is variable, sometimes purple and blue, like this specimen seen at Îlot de Sable Blanc in Mayotte. This coral-eating species sometimes causes significant damage to the reefs of the Indo-Pacific. Its venom is toxic to many species, including humans.
There are many species of stingrays (here, a bluespotted stingray in Saba Bay, Australia) living in all tropical and temperate seas, including at very shallow depth. Stingrays have one or more poisonous sting on the tail, erected upwards. Accidents usually happen when you accidentally put your foot on the ray, which sometimes hides under the sand.
Lionfish and scorpionfish are elegant, placid, but also dangerous. Like this radial firefish, photographed at Motu Oftaro, French Polynesia, they have several poisonous spines in the rays of their dorsal fin. The lionfish, previously only found to the Indo-Pacific and the Red Sea, has now invaded the Caribbean Sea.
The flower urchin – here photographed at Etang Salé, Reunion Island – takes its name from its hundreds of elongated pedicellariae (a kind of little feet), which almost entirely covers its spines. But don’t be fooled by its rather sweet name: its spines can inoculate an extremely strong toxin, potentially fatal to humans. It is the most dangerous sea urchin in the world.
Want to learn more about marine species? Visit our marine life ID guide, with thousands of pics taken exclusively while snorkeling!
We have set a snorkeling level (beginner, intermediate, or advanced) for each spot published on the website. These levels are based on different parameters, as water depth, currents, waves, water entrance, and potential hazards. You can check below the criteria we use to define the level of a snorkeling spot:
These snorkeling spots are accessible to beginners and kids. You will enter the water gradually from a beach, or in a less than 3ft. deep area. The sea is generally calm, shallow, with almost no waves or currents. These spots are usually located in marked and/or monitored swimming areas. It is not necessary to swim long distances to discover the sea life.
These spots are accessible to anyone with basic snorkeling skills, and feeling comfortable in the water and with his snorkeling gear. You will enter the water from the shore (beach, pontoon, ladder, rocks) or from a boat. The water height in the sea entrance area is reasonable, but you will not necessarily be within your depth. Moderate currents can occur in the area, even when the sea conditions are good. The distance to swim to reach the most interesting snorkeling areas of the spot does not exceed 200 meters.
These spots are only recommended to good swimmers, in good physical conditions, and with excellent snorkeling skills. These spots can experience currents, moderate waves, important depths, tight or narrow passages, or tricky water entrance, and can be located near hazardous areas (channels, boat traffic, strong currents…). The distance to swim to reach the most interesting snorkeling areas can be important – up to 500 meters. The “advanced” category includes drift snorkeling (transported by currents) and snorkeling off the coast.
These levels only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. They are not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.
Marine life identification guide
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