Who doesn’t want to visit the beach in the summer and walk in the sand and watch the waves?
For all that so many of us love the ocean, it’s an understatement to say that it and our beaches are in trouble, from pollution, acidification from carbon dioxide emissions that threatens the existence of coral reefs and overfishing. People have used the ocean as a garbage dump for centuries — for sewage, chemicals, oil, plastics and, really, who knows what else — and the result is that we have “dead zones” in the Mississippi River Delta and, of course, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Ten things you can do at the beach besides swimming (to help keep the water clean enough to swim in!) and that you can do to help take care of our oceans when you’re back at home.
1. Say no to plastic.
Pack your beach bag with reusable water bottles and forego plastic forks, spoons and other single-use products.
2. Pick up trash.
One of my memorable beach walks was in southern Alabama. A friend’s mother had made a point of bringing a bag and we picked up several discarded plastic bottles, a beach toy or two and other litter as we walked, thereby leaving the sands a bit cleaner. You can do the same or even join a beach clean-up and make sure all that you leave on the beach is your footprints.
3. Stay off the dunes!
I often hear lifeguards, and parents, reminding kids to do so at the beaches on the Jersey Shore. Direct your steps to walkways built to get you down to the beach so you don’t contribute to the erosion of the dunes, which are key to protecting the land against storm waves.
5. Go non-toxic.
The fertilizers and other chemicals many use in their yards (as well as the pesticides used in industrial-scale agriculture) run off into rivers into the ocean. As the EPA advises, minimize — or just don’t use — these. Use compost and be kind to your sewer system by disposing of medications, chemicals and any toxic wastes responsibly (certainly not down the toilet).
6. Minimize the amount of waste you create.
Seek out products with minimal packaging or those that use packaging made from recyclable materials (and recycle it). Rather than adding to the 2.3 billion paper cups Starbuck uses in one year, bring your own reusable cup for your coffee.
7. Keep an eye on storm drains.
These drain into rivers and streams and so into the ocean. Trash left on the street often washes into storm drains; you can help to keep these clean and prevent urban waste from ending up in our seas.
8. If you eat seafood, make sure it’s sustainable.
It’s all the more necessary to seek out sustainable fish at a time when the world’s fisheries are in serious danger. Seafood Watch has an app that can keep you up-to-date about where to find ocean-friendly fish. If you’re traveling, the WWF offers country-by-country guides that can help you find sustainable seafood around the world.
In addition, avoid buying products made from shells and coral, as these animals were very likely killed to create them.
9. Let others know you care year-round about the ocean.
Find out elected officials’ positions on ocean and marine policy and advocate for ways to preserve and protect our beaches and the ocean. Let local businesses know that you’re concerned they might be selling seafood that’s not sustainable and seek out places that do sell such.
10. Respect year-round beach residents.
Crabs and other wildlife and plants are native to beach ecosystems. If they seem to provoke you, they’re really simply protecting their home from visitors — i.e., us. Remember, we beachgoers are indeed beach guests.
Photo from Thinkstock