Summer is just around the corner, and for most people (including me), that means it’s time for a beach trip! Working as a part-time Divemaster, I get plenty of time in the water all year round, and I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of it. Still, like most other people, I do enjoy a lazy beach trip every now and then, lounging on some soft sand and listening to the sound of the waves lapping against the shore.
On my beach days, I’ve noticed that a lot of people’s beach trips are far from eco-friendly — starting from the sunscreen they use to the litter they leave behind. It’s absolutely disappointing, and, with coastlines predicted to rise anywhere from 8 to 34 inches by 2100, a real cause for concern. Considering that the cleanliness and purity of a beach is what appeals to the masses, it’s baffling to see how many people don’t respect the sanctity of the beach space. As someone with a career that depends on the ocean, and as a concerned citizen in general, I urge you to consider and implement these environmentally responsible practices during your next beach visit.
Starting from the sunscreen you use, the choices you make on your beach trip can have far-reaching consequences when it comes to the environment. Most of the sunscreen we apply on our bodies with ends up in the ocean. Even though we don’t realize it, this sunscreen doesn’t simply get washed away. The chemical composition of sunscreen can contaminate ocean water with hormone-disrupting substances and even cause mass coral degradation.
That’s why as scuba divers, we are urged to very sparingly use “safe” sunscreen when exploring coral-rich reefs and wrecks. It’s important to choose a sunscreen that is organic, paraben-free, and one that biodegrades in the water, as this is better for you and the environment. In fact, sunscreens that are safer for the water are also safer for your skin, preventing unwanted skin rashes that are an extremely common side effect of going to beach. If you aren’t sure what to pick, The Environmental Working Group has an online sunscreen guide that rates hundreds of sunscreens by safety and tells you what’s the best and what’s the worst.
No doubt you’ll be entering the water when you visit the beach. From paddle boarding and surfing to motorized activities that involve taking a boat or jet ski out, it’s vital to “leave only bubbles.” As divers, we urge snorkelers and fellow scuba lovers to not touch coral while diving or snorkeling (as the oils from our skin can harm the fragile reef ecosystem), purchase eco-friendly equipment, and even recycle gear once worn out. While participating in search and recovery dives, or diving with a metal detector, local guidelines and standards about what can be taken from the ocean must be followed. Avoid deep sea fishing, and when fishing, make sure to do so only within designated fishing areas. Common sense should tell you that throwing plastics, or any sort of litter, into the ocean while on a boat is a complete no-no, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded.
To avoid unnecessary trash ending up in the ocean, be sure to pack a waste-free meal. Instead of plastics and paper plates, carry your food in reusable containers and bottles and toss it all in a large picnic basket, or wrap it up in tin foil, which can serve as your cookware as well and is easily recycled! Once you’re done eating, you won’t have to worry about disposing garbage and leaving it behind — you can simply bring it all back home. If you absolutely must go the disposable route, then opt for biodegradable cutlery and groceries, made from recycled materials. It is critical that whatever you bring gets disposed of in the right manner, without ending up on the sand or, even worse, in the ocean where it can never be picked up.
Take Nothing, Leave Nothing
For many, a beach trip isn’t complete without bringing home some seashells or collecting grains of sand. It’s understandable, considering how beautiful the treasures of the sea and sand can be. Think about it though — would you like it if someone came to your home and left taking any pretty item they could find along with them? Probably not. I’d assume the hundreds of living organisms in the sand and sea feel the same way each time we lift from their habitat.
It’s important to realize the displacement you might be causing each time you take something out of the ocean. For example, a lot of starfish that wash up on the shore are still alive, and taking them home as a decorative item is essentially killing them. Similarly, the shells we pick up often have tiny crustaceans living inside of them; shells act as protective shelters for many crabs and other creatures. Taking these home and washing them out pretty much kills the dwelling organism inside, and even if they are lucky enough to escape before you collect your shells, they’d have to find a totally new home.
At the same time, it’s important to leave nothing but footprints on the beach. Do a complete clean up of your beach spot before leaving for the day, and make sure to dispose of your waste in allotted waste baskets.
Keeping these tips in mind during your beach trip will help you help the environment and keep your favorite beach in its best possible condition. Caring for the beauty that surrounds us is integral. We must strive to keep it intact and preserve it for future enjoyment.
How do you practice sustainabilty at the beach and other travel destinations?
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