You would usually have to snorkel or dive underwater to see the wonders of the sea, but on a good day – when the water sinks to low or negative tide – all it takes is a few steps out to the shore to see the marine world come to life at your feet.
In addition to the increased safety that low tide brings while hiking along our coasts, the shallow water curtain that usually blankets the reef pulls back, revealing tons of ocean treasures.
This is the real payoff for scouring the reefs: collections of colorful corals, a slew of stunning seashells and majestic marine life. The experience grants an up-close-and-personal opportunity to peruse a usually underwater utopia, above water.
Please be responsible
While rummaging through the reef to see these natural wonders sounds like fun – and it is – there's great responsibility that comes with the expedition.
The reef is so vulnerable that a misplaced footstep has the potential for great damage, for both the explorer and the reef. Preparation and planning can make your adventure a walk in the park without leaving a habitat destroyed in your wake.
Here are some tips for reef walking, courtesy of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority:
• Wear protective footwear (preferably water tabbies or diving boots), a broad-brimmed hat and a long-sleeved shirt for protection from the sun.
• Avoid walking on the reef as much as possible. Instead, walk through the shallow water surrounding reef flats, rocky platforms or sand channels. If you hear crunching underfoot, stop and find an alternative route.
• Be aware of dangerous creatures that take refuge in the sand and reef, including cone shells, sea urchins, pufferfish and stonefish. These animals inject toxins that can cause serious injury.
• Limit your group size to avoid covering and potentially destroying more of the reef.
• Brief your fellow explorers on potential dangers and have everyone in the group follow a predetermined path using regular routes or sand channels.
• Observe sea specimens, including corals and marine life, but do not handle them. Many marine animals are already stressed during low tide, and handling them only increases this stress. Do not turn over coral or detach marine plants, or corner, chase or provoke marine animals.
• Be aware of incoming tides, and head back to shore when the water begins to gradually rise. Additionally, don't venture into deep pools, where more marine life might be seeking shelter.
Some local reef facts
With our safety seminar said and done, get to know a little more about Guam's reefs and what makes them so special.
Guam is surrounded by about 42 square miles of nearshore reefs, including patch reefs, shallow and deep lagoonal reefs, submerged banks and other reef types, according to the Guam Reef Life blog, which is run by local ecologist Dave Burdick.
Burdick, a research associate at the University of Guam Marine Laboratory, has compiled a great depth of knowledge of Guam's reef on his blog, including the significance of our reefs, their health, threats and current management projects. Visit his blog at GuamReefLife.com/blog to learn more about our local reefs.
He writes that Guam's reefs are home to more than 5,000 known marine organisms, with potentially thousands more still awaiting discovery.
However, our reefs remain under assault by many threats, including coral bleaching, crown-of-thorns sea stars that feed on hard coral polyps and human activity.
These factors have contributed to a constant decline of life in our reefs, and the consequences are visible when walking on the reef or snorkeling into the deep end.
A little safety and education can only benefit your reef exploration, and will help to preserve it for future generations.
Tread lightly, Guam!