INSIGHTS: Cruising Kindly 1 – Be Kind to the Sea

INSIGHTS continues with a two-part article from Richard Chesher, marine scientist and author of the Rocket Guides for New Caledonia and Vanuatu, on how to Cruise Kindly. Part 1 covers a number of reminders on how the cruising community can better care for coral, birds, reef creatures and the marine environment. Keep following INSIGHTS for more thought-provoking articles from our guest contributors and Part 2 of Cruising Kindly in a couple of weeks.

Published 4 years ago

It’s so easy to make mistakes while cruising and without thinking do lasting damage to the magnificent world you’ve cruised so far. Here are just a few ways you can be kind to the creatures of the sea, your fellow cruisers and the people who live where you cruise; specific actions that won’t cost a thing but will bring a huge profit in happy cruising.

colourful coral reefAnchor in the sand, not in the coral:

Yacht anchors and chains have already caused massive damage to coral reefs throughout the tropics. Corals are fragile, delicate, slow growing creatures; the foundation of the complex association of creatures that together build and maintain the marvelous coral reef ecosystems of the tropics.

A 30 kg anchor and 20 meters of chain can do an unbelievable amount of damage when it’s dropped onto a coral reef. First the coral is smashed, broken and abraded. Then infections begin in the damaged coral tissue that results in continued death of the corals even after the yacht has picked up the anchor and moved on. The coral reef fish and other invertebrates essential to the nutrient cycle of the coral reefs move to undamaged areas or are killed by predators.

dead coral and an anchor stuck into itNext, the dying corals attract coral predators like parrot fish and crown of thorns starfish. Followed by an overgrowth of algae that smothers any remaining coral and prevents further coral settlement. At night, when the algae stops photosynthesizing, oxygen falls to very low levels killing any fish and invertebrates still sheltering in the dead coral.

One yacht anchor and chain dropped into the coral results in terrible damage – a thousand yacht anchors over a single cruising season can destroy the coral in an entire bay. When this happens, the wealth of fish is gone, too, so villagers who depend on their reefs for subsistence must find food elsewhere.

brown damaged coral all deadAnchoring in the coral is not just unkind, it’s dangerous. Fragile corals have very little holding power. If a strong wind comes up the anchor will drag, causing even more damage to the coral and maybe also to the yacht. Anchors are designed to hold in sand or mud, not in coral and if they get fouled by coral fragments they won’t dig in again. If the anchor or chain is dropped into massive corals it can become trapped, impossible to retrieve without diving on it, and sometimes not even then.


  • Anchor in the sand, never in the coral.
  • Have a recording depth sounder aboard so you can see the coral on the bottom.
  • Learn how to recognize areas with no coral before you drop the hook.
  • In New Caledonia the marine parks have public moorings so yachts don’t have to anchor at all but if the moorings are all taken (as they can be on weekends and holidays). Kind cruisers anchor in the sand, not in the coral.

Further Reading: Cruising Vanuatu – Anchoring in Coral Environments

Watch your step:

Be careful what you step on. Cuts in the marine environment – especially coral cuts – quickly become infected with marine bacteria and are very difficult to cure unless treated immediately. You should be wearing shoes or fins to avoid cuts or spines in shallow water but if you walk on the coral or stand on it you’ll kill the delicate living coral. Even massive coral heads, like brain coral, are covered with a fragile coral tissue that dies if someone stands on it.

Vegetation growing on the top of tropical lagoon island beaches is critical to the complex environmental network of these unique ecosystems.

a white sandy beach stretching away from you with blue sea on the left and green border vegetation on the rightAvoid walking on beach vegetation for two reasons. First, it damages the plants and, if alot of visitors do it, the plants will die. Second, sea snakes nest in the vegetation; sometimes a lot of snakes.


  • When going ashore or snorkeling, anchor your dingy in the sand and walk in the sand. Do not walk or stand on the coral.
  • When walking on lagoon island beaches avoid walking on the delicate vegetation on the top of the beach.

Further Reading: Reef Resilience Network – Coral Reefs Tourism and Recreational Impacts

small black and white bird with a black beak and black cap on his head, grey body and black feetBe nice to the birds:

“Oh my God, look at them all! The birds are everywhere,” she screams as the dinghy comes up to the beach surrounded by thousands of birds wheeling, screeching, even dive-bombing the four people in the little inflatable dinghy. “They’re not afraid of us at all, they even tried to land on our heads!”

The video goes on to show the crew from a yacht strolling down the beach, birds rising up in clouds of swirling wings. A close up of a bird in its nest, screeching at the camera. A finger pointing to a nest on the beach with an egg in it. A man lying down on the beach to get a close-up video of a bird protecting an egg on the sand.

white eggs with light grey speckles, one broken open and dried out, amongst the beach vegetation
Dead eggs on Ilot Ua, New Caldeonia baked in
the sun when people disturbed the nesting
birds. Image credit, link to

These were really nice cruising people enjoying the wilderness of a tropical island – a nature reserve – during the nesting season of rare, endangered birds. What they didn’t realize is their leisurely stroll along the beach sent the birds into a panic and the birds trying to land on their heads were, in fact, trying to chase them off.

Sea birds that lay their eggs on the sand need to protect the eggs from the sun during the day. Even a few minutes of exposure to the hot tropical sun can kill the developing egg. There is a good chance the developing chicks in the eggs lying bare on the hot sand in the video died. (Note: the cruisers in the video were not involved in the Ilot Ua disaster described in the further reading link below and there was no red flag to warn them the birds were nesting).


  • Stay off the beaches of lagoon islands during the summer nesting season.
  • From October to March in New Caledonia nature guards erect masts flying red flags on beaches when the sea birds are nesting and boaters are prohibited from landing on the islets when the flag is flying.
  • But, in more remote areas, nobody puts up a red flag to warn boaters. So it’s up to considerate cruisers to leave the birds alone when they are nesting.

Further Reading: Sud Mag – Largest Roseate Tern colony destroyed on Ua islet

a fisherman wearing a snorkel and mask in a black shirt is holding up a fish on a line as he sits in a narrow canoe with outriggers

Stop Killing Reef Creatures:

Some cruisers kill coral reef creatures for “sport” or for dinner and even because some reef creatures are pretty.

Subsistence versus fun fishing: Killing coral reef creatures can create problems; environmental, safety and social problems. Coral reef fisheries are often depleted by local fishing for subsistence or commercial fishing. The local people need those fish and often there are strict rules on who can fish where, what they can take, how they can take it, and when.

a woman in a pink t shirt proudly holding up a colourful reef fish dying in her handsForeign cruising yachts normally don’t have a clue what the local regulations are and even if they do know about the regulations the local fishers can get very irritated by outsiders poaching on their fishing grounds. Yes, you might be the only yacht in a reef anchorage but hundreds of yachts will visit a good anchorage in any cruising season.

Poisonous fish: Cruisers seldom know which reef fish are poisonous. Ciguatera poisoning is a serious problem throughout the tropics. Some reef fish, especially large predatory fish, are always dangerous to eat and in some areas a particular species is OK to eat and in others serving one up for dinner will make everyone aboard very sick with symptoms lasting for months. You never know, so you’re playing a silly game of Russian Roulette every time you eat a reef fish.

a grey shark swimming straight for the camera with black tips on its fins in a blue sea
Blacktip shark

Sharks: Shark attacks are becoming more common as the ocean fisheries of the tropics are depleted and spear fishers are statistically one of the favorite shark snacks. If you spear fish for dinner you’re going to have fish guts left over when you clean it. If you toss the fish guts overboard in the anchorage it will attract sharks and the local sharks might think you’re feeding them again when you or your kids leap into the water to go for a swim or snorkel.

Eating endangered species: Some species take a long time to mature, grow slowly, and are relatively easy to catch. They are venerable to fishing or collecting and are now close to extinction. Many similar creatures have already become extinct. Endangered creatures include the larger species of giant clams, coconut crabs, some land snails, and fruit bats.

a green and black lipped clam amongst other living sea creaturesIf you happen to come across one of the endangered giant clams leave it alone. Since you probably would not know the difference between more common giant clams and a young endangered giant clam please leave them all alive.

Most cruisers never even see any of the other endangered species unless they happen to eat out at a restaurant serving them to tourists as special, unique menu items. Coconut crabs and fruit bats are on the menu in some Port Vila, Vanuatu restaurants. Unaware tourists sometimes think the menu means a crab cooked in coconut milk – not realizing they are about to eat a crab (perhaps 60 years old) stolen from a reserve in Santo and sold to the restaurant for 3000 vatu (about $30).

a large brown crab up a tree trunknow you know so if you find them on the menu in a restaurant eat something else or even better eat somewhere else. Why support a restaurant owner with so little regard for our world?

Beauty Killing: Many cruisers still collect sea shells and prize living ones in good condition. There are health issues collecting sea shells because some of them are extremely venomous. Picking one up to look at it or take it home can result in serious injury or death. Some species of mollusks are on the CITES endangered species list and if you sail into Australia or New Zealand or New Caledonia with one of the protected species, Quarantine is going to take it away from you. In New Caledonia you could also get a hefty fine because it’s illegal to have some species of sea shells aboard even if it is a clean, dead shell (like a nautilus you picked up off the beach or a triton).

a market stall with large shells displayed to purchaseRemember:

  • Leave the coral reef creatures alone; take photos or videos instead of killing them.
  • Don’t kill or collect sea shells and do not buy them (or the locals will destroy their reef to get more to sell to tourists).
  • Take photos instead. Photos use less room aboard, don’t smell, won’t get you in trouble, you might sell the photo or post it on social media for your friends to enjoy. The sea shell gets to continue playing its important ecological role.
  • If you fish for food, catch pelagic fish at sea; like delicious and non poisonous tuna, mahi mahi, pelagic mackerel,bonito etc. Clean them at sea, not in an anchorage. Nobody needs to kill reef creatures.

Further Reading:
Ciguatera Fish Poisoning
Checklist of CITES Species

a white sand beach covered in bits of rubbishKeep the trash on board:

As we all are aware, the ocean has become badly polluted with plastics, fishing line and nets. Beaches are littered with plastic waste everywhere in the world. Sea creatures from whales to turtles to sea birds are dying from ingesting plastics. We’ve seen coral reefs with diapers smothering the corals.


  • Remove as much plastic as possible from the groceries and hardware when stocking up and put it in trash containers ashore before heading out to sea. If recycling containers are available, use them.
  • When plastic or cans are left over from a meal wash it, compact it, and keep it in a trash container aboard until it can be disposed of properly in a dumpster ashore. That goes for used oil, cardboard, paper, batteries, etc.
  • Whatever you would not throw out onto the front lawn of your house stays aboard until you can take out the trash.
  • Use cloth diapers and wash them – never ever throw used disposable diapers overboard.
  • If it’s aboard when setting sail, it stays aboard until disposed of properly in an urban area with trash disposal facilities.

Further Reading: Noonsite Environment page – On Board Garbage


About the Authors:

Richard and Frederique Chesher began cruising the Pacific aboard their Peterson 44 cutter in 1976. Richard is a Ph.D. marine scientist and Frederique is an artist and professional photographer. Together they created and publish the Rocket Cruising Guide to New Caledonia and the Rocket Cruising Guide to Vanuatu, widely praised as the best cruising guides in the world.

Rocket Guides are computer programs for Windows and Mac computers (not Ipads or Android tablets). They are unlike any other kind of cruising guide you’ve ever used; extremely intuitive, fast and comprehensive. With just two clicks you can do a virtual visit to 220 anchorages in New Caledonia and 170 anchorages in Vanuatu, with 240 verified GPS routes in New Caledonia and 160 GPS routes in Vanuatu. The guides cover all of New Caledonia and Vanuatu and are updated at least 4 times a year.

Every anchorage has a high definition, color aerial image showing the anchorage area, surface or drone shots showing what it looks like on approach, what it looks like after you get there plus above and below water (sometimes even spherical 360 degree images) of beaches, coral reefs, forests, waterfalls, and trails.

The guides offer everything you need to choose the places you and your crew will enjoy most along with reliable sailing directions, exact GPS coordinates of the safest place to anchor, depths, bottom type, protection from wind and waves, hazards, VHF reception and times of the weather reports, mobile phone, Internet, WiFi and TV reception, points of interest, treks and trails. Plus important information on health hazards, social issues, where to get fuel, supplies or repairs, government and local restrictions, conservation laws, and more.

Guides are accompanied by the Rocket Travel Guides prepared for the tourism departments of New Caledonia and Vanuatu to train travel agents about the enormous range of tourism facilities and activities in both counties; accommodation, car rentals, shopping, tours, sights, beaches all the things tourists need to know about visiting these holiday destinations.

Rocket Guides have it all available in a couple of clicks – and you don’t need to be online.


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The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or World Cruising Club.

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