It’s been an unseasonably mild winter and the high temperatures that spring has brought have us all thinking about summer. Beach weather will be here before you know it and while having fun and relaxing with friends are a top priority while on vacation or during weekend getaways, its important to also respect the environment. There are many little things you can do this summer to help protect marine wildlife and keep the beaches beautiful so you can keep going back year after year.
How many times have you been at the beach and seen garbage littering the sand? This garbage not only takes away from the beauty of the beach, it is also harmful to marine wildlife such as fish, coral, reptiles and dolphins once it ends up in the ocean. The top trash offenders at the beach are cigarette butts (over 3 million were found during the 2008 International Coastal Cleanup), plastic bottles and caps, food wrappers, plastic and paper utensils, glass bottles, cans and paper bags.
To avoid putting marine wildlife at risk and to keep the beaches beautiful, dispose of trash and recyclables in their appropriate bins at the beach. It’s also helpful to bring a trash bag with you just to make sure you always have somewhere to store your garbage. This will allow you to also do some cleanup in your surrounding area at the beach. Another option is to cut down on waste your bringing with you to the beach. Bring a reusable picnic basket filled with reusable containers for food storage instead of disposable plates, utensils and cups.
We all know the importance of wearing sunscreen everyday, but this is especially true on the beach when we’re in direct sunlight. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the sun causes 90% of all non-melanoma skin cancers and 65% of melanoma skin cancers, not to mention that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. When purchasing sunscreen, look for one that offers broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF of 30 or greater, one that’s water resistant and also eco-friendly.
Research over the past few years has shown that while sunscreen may be protecting us, it’s harming the oceans coral reefs. Researchers estimate that up to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen is washed off swimmers into the ocean annually, which in turn threatens 10% of the ocean’s coral reefs. Chemicals in sunscreen cause coral bleaching which in turn causes a virus in the algae to grow. The virus kills off the alga and since coral feeds on algae, it makes it difficult for the coral to survive. Look for sunscreens that are eco-friendly and that have physical blockers such as dioxide and zinc oxide to prevent coral bleaching. Some great eco-friendly sunscreen options are Tropical Seas Reef Safe, Badger Sunscreen and Loving Naturals.
Lastly, do your best not to disturb the eco-system at the beach, including marine wildlife. The beach is a fragile eco-system and being precautious helps to preserve it. Also try to follow marked paths whenever possible instead of walking in the unmarked areas. These paths are designed to prevent people from distributing the sand dunes.
If you are interested in learning more about ways to keep the beaches beautiful, look into becoming involved in your local community beach clean up. The Ocean Conservancy hosts their annual International Coastal Clean Up Day in September after beach season is over, and there are a number of other organizations such as the Blue Ocean Society’s Adopt a Beach program in New Hampshire or Heal the Bay in Southern California, among many others.