Welcome to the Undersea Naturalist Blog. You’ve likely found this corner of the Internet because you either are already in love with the amazing quantity of life underneath the waves, or are on a journey to satisfy your curiosity about one or more of the seemingly limitlessly diverse life forms that make their homes off of the coasts of the world. This blog and associated podcast will focus mainly on ocean life and the environment, although I see myself covering estuaries as well, since they’re the intermingling of salt and fresh water.
IS THIS YOU?
This site is only for people who want to learn more about marine life and the environment that life inhabits. Did you want to become a marine biologist, but someone talked “sense” into you about getting a “real” job? Are you an ocean enthusiast (scuba diver, snorkeler, beachcomber, tide-pooler, boater, surfer, etc.) who wants to be more knowledgeable about the plants and animals you encounter? The Underwater Naturalist is here for you with original articles that translate the latest scientific articles into terms intelligent nonscientists can understand and a curated newsletter. Do you want mini-courses about marine biology? Those will be coming soon.
CLOTHING IS NOT OPTIONAL
This website is NOT about practicing public nudity in an ocean setting; that would be marine naturism. So, if you are interested in naturism, this is not the website for you. I am also not using the naturalist in any philosophical sense.
WHAT IS A NATURALIST?
Common definitions of the scientific use of “naturalist” include, “a person who studies nature, esp. by direct observation of animals and plants”, “a person who studies and knows a lot about plants and animals” and “a person who studies or is an expert in natural history, especially a zoologist or botanist”. This last definition best describes my conception of a naturalist because natural history “focuses on where organisms are and what they do in their environment, including interactions with other organisms” (H.W. Greene and J.B. Losos). Natural history study is primarily done in the field and by means of observation rather than preforming lab experiments. Observational tools can be as simple as your eyes and a notebook and pencil to record what you see. Additional useful tools that will allow you to expand the scope of your observations include camera, binoculars, mask, fins, snorkel, and a magnifying glass.
HOW TO BECOME A NATURALIST
I believe that you don’t have to hold a degree in biology or environmental science to be a naturalist. One of my foundational principles in creating the Underwater Naturalist website was that anyone, regardless of their formal education, can become a naturalist. The only necessary requirements for you to become a naturalist is the amount of curiosity you have about marine life and the ocean environment. Remember, the third definition of a naturalist listed above refers to, “a person who studies”. Don’t let the idea of studying dissuade you from becoming a naturalist. While the word “study” may bring flashbacks of unpleasant hours spent doing homework and reading uninteresting textbooks, the you most likely thought of it that way because you wanted to spend your time doing something else. Have you ever noticed that when you find something new, that you are interested in learning about that the time spent pursuing that interest just fly by? You tend to not think the time it takes to learn a new hobby or skill as wasted time because your interest in mastering a new subject keeps you engaged.
TWO EASY STEPS
1. Pick a topic in which you are interested and find books and videos online or your local library that will provide you with introductory information.
2. Get out into nature as often as possible and just observe and record. Nature journaling is a great way to hone your naturalist skills of observation, recording and questioning. Writing down your observations and writing down questions that pop into your mind will focus your next round of background research.
I know some of you are thinking, “How do I make observations of the undersea environment?” And the answer is, “It depends”. It depends on several different factors.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
If you live far away from the coast, you may have to limit your observational explorations to trips, whether weekend excursions or longer vacations. This can be an advantage, as you can spend time planning the trip. You can pick the geographic area you wish to travel too based on what interests you. An internet search can help you find ways to view whales, sharks, bird migrations, etc. It can also allow you to plan the type of observations you want to do, from exploring tide pools, to beach combing to snorkeling and scuba diving. Don’t forget public aquariums, which and provide undersea naturalists with closeup views of many marine creatures and loads of information about their natural history.
If you live close to a coast, you can participate in explorations along the shore or into saltwater marshes. Often these areas will have parks associated with them and observation areas with signage that gives you an overview of the area. Additionally, the rangers or local conservation organizations may have organized programs designed to get people familiar with the local marine life.
Another option is to get into the water and view the animals and plants through a mask. Depending on the water temperature and conditions, snorkeling and scuba diving are ways to get underwater and observe things up close and personal. Snorkeling is the easiest method to see what goes on under the surface. however, it can be the gateway “drug” to a lifelong addiction of scuba diving. Scuba diving requires much more equipment and training than snorkeling. While snorkeling requires no certification, you should approach it like you would any outdoor aquatic activity and get good information and do some training prior to going into open water. I’ve gone over some of the basics of snorkeling here. Scuba diving requires specialized knowledge and skills that lead to a certification. You should not be diving if you are not certified, as breathing compressed air at depth can result in injury or even death.
THE FINAL WORDS
Now that you have some idea of what an undersea naturalist can be, you probably have some more questions. Please feel free to use the contact form on this website to submit them for future blog posts.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end of this post. If you are interested in becoming a more knowledgeable undersea naturalist, please sign up for the newsletter of curated marine biology-related articles.
HW Greene and JB Losos. 1988. “Systematics, natural history, and conservation.” Bioscience, 38, Pp. 458-462.