The text on this site is presented as an archival version of the script of "Ocean Planet," a 1995 Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition. The content reflects the state of knowledge at the time of the exhibition, and has not been updated.

Like other scenic wonders, sea-floor and shore sights suffer from overexposure. Droves of tourists and water-sports fans descend on and into tropical and coastal waters. All too often they leave damage in their wake.

Snorkelers and cruise ship, Caribbean islands, 1988
Coral reefs in 90 of 109 countries are being damaged by cruise- ship anchors and sewage, by tourists breaking off chunks of coral, and by commercial harvesting for sale to tourists §.
photo © Dan Ham/Tony Stone Images

What happens when a ship drops anchor? §
The anchor, which may weigh up to 5 tons, can break coral heads, like this one broken by a freighter in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the long swaying anchor chain can crush coral in its wide swing. Just one anchoring in calm seas with no wind can do damage that will take a reef 50 years to repair.
photo © Doug Perrine

Strolling snorkelers in Belize may not know they've stepped out of line
Just walking on a reef can damage coral that takes years to regrow.
photo © Tony Rath

Boat propellers leave visible scars on the ocean bottom
Sea-grass meadows, scraped and clogged with silt stirred up by propellers, may take decades to recover §. Less visible are effects on fish and nesting birds. Noise from personal watercraft, like these in the Florida Keys, scares them away §.
photo © Catherine Karnow/Woodfin Camp & Associates

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Under Attack

Manatees had it made until motorboats moved in §

Manatees spend their lives grazing on aquatic vegetation or just resting in shallow rivers and coastal waters. They have no natural predators, but they do have "enemies." Manatees can be mangled by powerboat propellers, crushed under large boats, or trapped and killed by canal locks or discarded "ghost" fishing gear.

Manatee, Crystal River, Florida, 1986 A typical adult manatee, a marine mammal, weighs 800 to 1200 pounds (363-544 kg) §. Perhaps two thousand of them still live in the southeastern U.S. §
photo © Jeff Foott

Propeller-scarred manatee, Crystal River, Florida, 1986 Researchers have identified 900 manatees with distinguishable propeller scars on their backsides §. Watercraft kill about 40 animals a year--a quarter of all manatee deaths §.
photo © Jeff Foott

Since 1978 all of Florida has been a manatee sanctuary §. Signs on manatee rivers and estuaries identify safe speeds and caution boaters to look out for manatees. Proceeds from a special "Save the Manatee" license plate support state manatee protection and environmental education programs §. courtesy of Florida Department of Environmental Protection

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Life Preservers

Moorings may make a difference

Building moorings to tie up ships can help reduce damage to coral from anchors, particularly in localized areas of high usage such as the Florida Keys §. But moorings require regular maintenance, and are expensive to install and maintain. Very few moorings for large vessels have been built.

Divers installing mooring buoy, Florida, 1989 With help from the National Marine Sanctuaries Program and the grass-roots organization Reef Relief, Greenpeace divers learn how to install a type of single-hole mooring used by boats transporting divers and snorkelers. Reef Relief has installed more than a hundred mooring buoys in Key West.
photo © Robert Visser/Greenpeace

Sanctuaries begin to save wear and tear in coastal environments

The National Marine Sanctuary Program, established in 1972, now protects and manages more than 18,500 square miles (47,915 sq km) of U.S. coastal and ocean waters. Restricted or regulated activities include exploring for or mining oil, gas, or minerals; designating new dredge-material disposal sites and discharging other materials; building on the sea bed; and injuring or harassing marine mammals, turtles, and birds. Scientists, fishermen, kelp harvesters, and tourists can use sanctuaries year-round. § §

Sea otter, one of the more popular residents of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Monterey Bay is the largest federally regulated marine sanctuary. Its diverse habitats range from rocky shores and sandy beaches to sandy sea floor and the largest and deepest underwater canyon off the continental U.S. It also includes the largest kelp forest in the U.S. §
photo © Tom Campbell

Ocean Planet Exhibition Floorplan

gene carl feldman ( (301) 286-9428
Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)