World Oceans Day, on Saturday 8 June, is a UN-backed international celebration of the world’s ocean. It’s a day to remember that the ocean comprises 70% of the earth, and that it does things like provide more than half of the world’s oxygen and regulate our climate. Not to mention the simple joys it gives us from swimming, snorkelling, kayaking and boating!
The ocean currently faces a myriad of threats – like global warming, mass pollution and overfishing – that are causing extreme damage to the fragile ecosystems within it.
As travellers who get to enjoy the many wonderful things the ocean gives us in different parts of the world, it’s also our responsibility to ensure we can help it in return. Here are just a few simple ways we can be more ocean-friendly in our daily lives and as travellers…
The damage that plastic pollution has wrought on the ocean has been well documented. From news of whales being from consuming tens of kilograms of plastic, startling images of seabirds tangled in waste, plus literal ‘plastic islands’ floating at sea, there’s no doubt drastic measures need to be taken.
According to the journal Science in 2015, up to 12.5 million tonnes of plastic waste enters the ocean each year. They key, as individuals, is to reduce the amount of plastic we use. Especially single-use plastics like straws, shopping bags, drink bottles and cutlery.
Another simple way to stop waste entering the ocean is to ‘Take 3 For The Sea’ i.e. when you’re at the beach (or river, lake, or anywhere really), pick up three pieces of rubbish and just put them in the bin!
No one should skimp on sunscreen when they’re outside. However, not all products are created equal when it comes to being environmentally friendly.
The biggest issue with ‘toxic’ sunscreen is the use of the ingredients ‘oxybenzone’ and ‘octinoxate’. According to a study conducted by Dr Craig Downs of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, USA in 2015, these two ingredients cause significant reef damage, like stunting the growth of coral and coral bleaching. The study also found the presence of oxybenzone in sea turtle eggs and other marine life like fish and oysters.
Sunscreens in aerosol cans also pose a problem, as much of the spray seeps into the sand which then makes it way into the ocean.
In light of the significant problem that toxic sunscreens pose to the environment, some hotel groups, states and even countries have even banned their use. There is still a huge variety of eco-friendly sunscreens available, though, and many are specifically labelled as ‘reef-safe’.
Coral jewelry and keepsakes may make for nice souvenirs and gifts, but the toll they take on the environment can be rough. In many cases, the coral has been taken from reefs that become damaged in the process. Coral reefs are a vital part of the ocean’s ecosystem and are imperative for biodiversity.
Taking seemingly innocuous coral or shells that have washed ashore can also prove to be detrimental to the environment. Shells especially play an important role in the ecosystem; after the organisms that inhabit them die, they’re used by birds for nests, and as an attachment surface for algae and seagrass.
The ocean is victim to a shocking amount of overfishing, which can disturb the balance of ecosystems and cause the depletion of entire species. Not to mention that commercial fishing is also often detrimental for other marine life like turtles and sharks.
Being aware of the types of seafood that aren’t depleting, and only eating what is sustainably caught are the best ways to be ocean-friendly when eating seafood. In Australia, it’s easy to figure out, thanks to the handy Sustainable Seafood Guide published by the Australian Marine Conservation Society.
Support ocean conservation organisations
There are countless organisations in Australia and around the world working hard to protect the ocean on large scales. Showing support to them by volunteering or donating is a great way to help the ocean. The Australian Marine Conservation Society is a good place to start, otherwise, there are plenty of local groups in beach-side areas around the country.