Whether you’re more enamored with the rocky coast of Maine or the crystalline waters of Sri Lanka, we can all agree that the ocean is a magnificent and mysterious place — one that should be protected from increasing threats.
While saving and protecting the ocean is no small feat and may sound overwhelming, there are small actions we each can take that add up in a big way. In honor of World Oceans Day, we’re sharing a few tips that will help you be a more ocean-conscious traveler.
Say Goodbye to Single-Use Plastic
It’s no secret that single-use plastic is one the of the largest threats to marine life today. In fact, it’s estimated that there are over five trillion pieces of plastic debris currently floating throughout our oceans. What’s more, plastic is the leading cause of death for over one million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals each year — and it’s not getting any better. Because plastic takes between 20 and 1,000 years to break down, our problem is only getting worse.
Granted, it can be difficult to avoid plastic, especially while traveling. Airports and bus terminals, for instance, are full of packaged goods, snacks, and drinks. However, while the convenience factor may be a draw, you should do your best to avoid plastic-wrapped goods.
Where drinks are concerned, consider purchasing a reusable water bottle to refill at any and every opportunity. That said, if you’re traveling to a destination with water-quality warnings, remember to ask before filling your bottle, or invest in a portable filtration system (like a SteriPen or a water bottle with a built-in filter). For snacks or meals, you can purchase fresh foods from markets and store them in your own containers. Want to up your game even more? Consider purchasing travel utensils and a steel or copper straw so that you can forgo those made of plastic. And always remember to carry a reusable bag for your produce, souvenirs, and other products.
If you find yourself in a place where you must purchase plastic goods, be sure to search for blue bins to recycle your empty bottles and packaging.
Use Biodegradable Products
You may not be aware of the fact that your bathroom toiletries could be harming the ocean, even if you aren’t actively dumping them on your nearest shoreline. Drains and sewer systems often empty their contents directly into the ocean or other bodies of water. A quick rule of thumb is that anything you use on your body, hair, or face may eventually find its way into our oceans.
It’s also important to note that the chemicals used in sunscreen can be very harmful to marine animals and ecosystems — even a single drop can severely damage sections of delicate reefs and disrupt marine life. And nearly 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in the world’s oceans each year. If you want to consider more eco-centric alternatives for sun protection, here’s a list of the most environmentally friendly sunscreens on the market.
Additionally, consider using biodegradable shampoo, conditioner, soap, and body wash in addition to eco-friendly detergent or hand soap when you travel. You may pay a bit more for the products themselves, but if you use them sparingly, they’ll last for quite a while. For a bit of inspiration, click here and here.
If you’re visiting a location on the water, chances are, you’re going to want to sample the local seafood. And while we understand that fish is often a staple of traditional cuisine, consider the environmental effects of fishing before you order to your heart’s content. After all, over 90 percent of the ocean’s fish stock has been depleted by overfishing.
To ensure that you’re ordering the most “ocean-friendly” choice on the menu, familiarize yourself with local fishing practices as well as the region’s endangered species. If you can, figure out which items on the menu are sustainably harvested or which fish populations are under the least amount of stress from local and commercial fishing ventures. You can check out Seafood Watch (or use their accompanying app) to inform your decisions about ordering seafood abroad.
If you come across any of the following fish on menus during your next overseas adventure, consider passing them up. Their populations are often overfished and are therefore largely depleted.
Choose Sustainable Ocean Activities
With the influx of travelers hopping to coastal destinations, the number of adventurers exploring the seas is higher than ever. While admiring the beauty of the ocean is an educational experience in itself, scuba diving or snorkeling to explore coral reefs can affect marine ecosystems in detrimental ways, so be sure that you partner with local organizations who are conducting their operations in a sustainable way.
Your “target organization” should have strict policies concerning your time in the water — there should be stringent rules about touching marine life, wearing certain kinds of sunscreen, and removing animals from their habitats. Tours and organizations should also provide prospective clients with educational information so they can learn more about the ocean and how their ventures are affecting the surrounding environment.
Wherever you go, choose to partner with companies who are striving to make a difference. After all, as a visitor, your dollar counts!
Be Mindful of Souvenirs
While you may be tempted to bring back a souvenir to remind you of your time at your favorite beach destination, avoid purchasing souvenirs that utilize marine life as design. For example, many popular tchotchkes reimagine sea creatures as things like coral jewelry or magnets, shell-based trinkets, or items with taxidermied fish or other marine mammals.
Purchasing these goods supports the overfishing/overhunting of fish and other animals and encourages merchants to plunder reefs and shallows in order to continue a lucrative souvenir trade. While these knick-knacks may be fun ways to remember your travels, purchasing them is ultimately not worth the trouble it causes local marine ecosystems. Instead, bring home memories and, perhaps, a few good photos!
Volunteer with Sustainable Organizations
If you’re looking to make your trip all the more worthwhile, consider donating some of your time to helping a local organization with a mission of ocean conservation. Whether that means cleaning up trash-littered beaches or campaigning for a local environmental change, volunteering will help your getaway reach new depths. For more information about worldwide and local campaigns, refer to these helpful websites: MarineBio, One Green Planet, Lonely Whale, and the Ocean Conservancy.
Again, even if you’re not brainstorming ways to solve the Pacific Garbage Patch, you can still do your part to keep our beaches and seas clean — after all, change starts with a plan of action and a willingness to help out.