Americans love the ocean — but do they love it enough to work hard to save it, even if that means a more conscientious vacation?
Beaches are the most popular leisure destination for U.S. adults, with 52% of respondents in one survey saying the sand, waves, boardwalk and all that goes with it is their favorite type of vacation, according to Statista.
But the ocean isn’t just a travel and leisure resource. It’s a huge resource for the world, period.
And as June 8 marks the United Nations’ World Oceans Day, it is a perfect time to take stock of our relationship with this bountiful and threatened wonder.
Why should I care about oceans?
The globe’s seven major oceans and seas are a lifeline. These bodies of water produce at least 50% of the planet’s oxygen; are home to most of Earth’s biodiversity; and are the main source of protein for more than a billion people around the world.
Plus, ocean-based industries are worth at least 3.5% of global gross domestic product (GDP), a value the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development predicted will double by 2030.
The ocean is important for its ecology, but it also carries cultural and social significance. More than 3 billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihoods, and more than 350 million jobs are linked to the ocean worldwide.
Historically, the size and resiliency of the ocean has made it a challenging campaign for protection. Don’t, however, underestimate the significance of this movement.
With 90% of big fish populations depleted, and 50% of coral reefs bleached and destroyed by warmer water, we are taking more from the ocean than can be replenished without more urgent action.
Overfishing, damaging commercial fishing practices, an ever-growing micro-plastic problem and the effects of climate change are taking their toll. Microplastics are fragments of any type of plastic less than 5 millimeters in length, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Chemicals Agency. Some break off from larger pieces of plastic, and some are made this small, such as the grit intentionally put in sunscreen and toothpaste.
Can individuals make a difference on World Oceans Day? Yes.
Take a hard look at habits both in your daily water use — which can impact oceans even if you never step foot on a beach — and if you vacation at the seaside. Even a little change can bring great benefits, and you’ll be all the better for it. And these tips can help you enjoy a guilt-free trip to the shore.
Understand your impact. The National Ocean Service, part of NOAA, is a valuable resource for all things ocean. NOAA has a handy graphic that outlines consumer behavior and its impact on oceans.
2. Avoid carrying any unnecessary items on the beach, to decrease the possibility of leaving them behind. Do carry your own reusable water bottles, food containers and at least one trash bag, so that you don’t leave waste behind or overburden public garbage cans. Avoid packaging food in aluminum foil or plastic wrap, as these materials can be particularly hazardous for ocean wildlife.
While it’s tough to say exactly how much plastic is in the ocean, scientists think about 8 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2010. That’s the weight of nearly 90 aircraft carriers, and the problem continues to grow.
3. Beach bonfires can burn both the air and the water. Be mindful that old fire pits and ash can degrade the quality of water but also contribute significantly to air pollution. Widening the lens, however, the science is mixed on ash’s impact on wildlife and plant life, with some evidence pointing to a resurgence in tiny marine life from nutrients after Australia’s recent mammoth wildfires. For now, be careful, and let the scientists figure it out. Make sure to cover the bonfire circle with rocks, and conceal the ashes with sand to prevent them from getting into the water.
4. Throwing cigarettes or their ash in the sand can leave behind toxins and pollutants. Instead, bring your own ashtray to the beach. In one laboratory study, conducted by an anti-smoking nonprofit, the chemicals that leached from a single cigarette butt (soaked for 24 hours in a liter of water) released enough toxins to kill 50% of the saltwater and freshwater fish exposed to it for 96 hours.
5. After you’re done relaxing, spend 30 minutes for a good beach clean-up and feel the endorphins from helping others. Encourage your friends and family to do the same, and cover different areas of the beach for a thorough cleaning. You can even make it a fun activity by attaching a prize to a job well-done.
If you want to make a beach clean-up even more involved, say with some promotion and inviting lots of volunteers, 4Ocean.com has some tips. They emphasize determining what you’ll do with the trash you recover before you begin. Will it be easy to carry out? Is the area path-accessible? Make sure you review local waste disposal guidelines and decide how you’ll sort and dispose of recovered debris in advance.
6. When enjoying seafood on a beach vacation, take a moment to think about the fish and shellfish. Ask local markets and restaurants where they source their fresh seafood, so at least you’re informed and can decide on your purchase with the full knowledge of the dish’s origins. The Marine Conservation Society regularly updates its site with fish to avoid purchasing or eating based on overfishing or other considerations.
In fact, more responsibility for how our fish for consumption is sourced is one facet of an ocean-saving economic plan advanced by the World Resources Institute.
WRI says investing $2 trillion to $3.7 trillion globally across four key areas — conserving and restoring mangrove habitats, scaling up offshore wind production
decarbonizing international shipping and increasing the production of sustainably sourced ocean-based proteins — would generate $10.3 trillion to $26.5 trillion in total benefits over the next 30 years. This is a rate of return on investment of 400% to 615%.
7. Eco-tourism continues to expand. Consider taking your beach vacation with the professors, scientists, activists and other tourists who want to make a stamp on ocean and beach conservation, although with a light tourism footprint.
Several international organizations are targeting the most vulnerable coastlines.
Long-established Seacology offers unique ecotourism adventures throughout the world’s islands, TimeOut reports, where travelers interact with local people and are part of the formula that helps conserve both habitats and communities. Seacology guests explore the coral reefs of Fiji to the rainforests of Borneo, while staying at well-appointed resorts and visiting important cultural sites.
Marine Conservation Philippines is one such organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of the coastal regions throughout the nation. MCP also runs an eco-aware scuba program.
For climate-minded tourism more broadly, Discover Corps has long had a toehold in vacations with a purpose. The company, part of Terra Education, and a certified B Corporation, operates with full transparency and has become something of a gold standard for the model, TimeOut says.