Did you know that around 70% of our Earth’s surface is covered by oceans? June 8th is World Oceans Day, a day delegated by the United Nations to raise awareness, and to protect and celebrate the major role that oceans have in supporting everyday life. Oceans are critical to life as they provide most of the oxygen we breathe, are a major source of food and medicines and are an essential part of the biosphere. Oceans also intrinsically bless us with beauty and wonder. However, between rising temperatures, climate change, ocean acidification, and single-use plastics polluting our seas, we are taking a detrimental toll on our oceans, not only negatively affecting marine life but also compromising human health. The good news is there are ways we as travelers can protect our oceans.
In honor of the 17th annual World Oceans Day on June 8, Impact Travel Alliance (the world’s largest community for impact-focused travelers and travel professional) is asking travelers to take a stand for our oceans by making conscious changes to their routines as they explore the world. As a devoted member of the Impact Travel Alliance (ITA) and an ocean-lover myself, I wanted to share some tips and resources on how we as travelers can make a difference and help protect the future of our oceans.
“Destinations on or near the ocean continue to be a favorite for travelers,” said Kelley Louise, ITA founder and executive director. “But with our oceans’ health at serious risk from climate change and overpopulation, it’s important to understand how we can make a difference with small, individual decisions we make while away from home.”
Ocean Conservation Travel Tips
The Ocean Project has worked in partnership with hundreds of organizations and networks from all sectors to help rally the world around World Oceans Day, a way to bring about a healthier ocean and a better future. Check out these guidelines on how you can make a difference and help conserve our oceans.
Avoid Single-Use Plastics
Did you know that more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year?
The proliferation of plastic products in the last several decades is unimaginable and hard to fully comprehend. According to the Plastics Oceans, a nonprofit organization with the mission to end plastic pollution, we are producing over 300 million tons of plastic every year, 50% of which is for single-use purposes – utilized for just a few moments, but last on the planet for at least several hundred years. Where does the plastic end up? In our oceans.
While plastic is a valuable resource -it is cheap, effective and durable – plastic is overtaking our planet and wreaking havoc on our ecosystems. Per the Plastic Oceans:
- Packaging is the largest end-use market segment accounting for just over 40% of total plastic usage
- Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
- A plastic bag has an average “working life” of 15 minutes.
- Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century
- According to the Container Recycling Institute, 100.7 billion plastic beverage bottles were sold in the U.S. in 2014, or 315 bottles per person.
- The process of producing bottled water requires around 6 times as much water per bottle as there is in the container
- 14% of all litter comes from beverage containers. When caps and labels are considered, the number is higher.
What can you do?
It’s simple. Avoid single-use plastics, which often end up in our oceans. Travel with reusable water bottles, straws, silverware and bags. I almost always bring my recyclable bags to the grocery store and even when I buy clothing and other items. I refuse a bag when I don’t need one. If you must use single-use plastic products, recycle. I recycle all my plastic and even my plastic bags.
Seek out sustainably sourced, local seafood on restaurant menus and in markets
Per The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch– a program that helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean, “Roughly one-third of assessed fish populations are over-fished and over half are fully-fished. Overfishing, lack of effective management, and our own consumption habits are just a few factors contributing to a decline in wild fish populations.”
Other harmful practices such as illegal fishing, by-catch (the accidental catch of unwanted species), misuse of fishing gear, habitat damage and ineffective management of our fish through industrialized large-scale fishing, have lead us to dire situation that threatens our current seafood supply as well as the health of our ocean.
What can we do?
The great news is that each one of us can make a difference. We can educate ourselves on the fish we eat online and can download The Seafood Watch app that gives you recommendations for ocean-friendly seafood and sushi. At restaurants you can ask if they sell sustainable fish (fish that’s been caught or farmed in environmentally sustainable ways). Also, many grocery stores such as Whole Foods and local co-ops let you know where the fish is from and what standards they comply with. As consumers, we have the power to impact positive change for our oceans.
Use Reef-Safe Sunscreen Products
Did you know that around 70% of American sunscreens contain two ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate that can damage coral and harm the very reefs we are trying to protect? Thankfully some destinations are taking the lead to protect their valuable natural assets. Hawaii became the first state to ban common sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate and more places such as Key West are following suit. Meanwhile tons of tourists continue to slather on these harmful sunscreens (unaware of their harmful impact) before entering our reefs.
What can you do?
Use reef-safe sunscreen products and avoid sunscreens that contain harsh chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate. Research appropriate reef-safe sunscreens and use brands such as BeautyCounter and RAW Elements who are committed to protecting our oceans and reefs.
Be Mindful of what kind of souvenirs you buy
There is nothing more beautiful than swimming within the warm clear waters of a reef and coming upon a majestic sea turtle. Tragically, six of the seven species of sea turtles are endangered or critically endangered. Even worse is the fact that these endangered animals are being killed and their shells are being sold off as souvenirs. However, there is hope that we can save these beautiful creatures.
The world’s leading conservation organization, The World Wildlife Fund has been working for over 60 years to raise awareness and protect our planet. Rules and regulations don’t always exist in the places we visit around the world and just because a product is for sale, it may not be legal to bring it home especially if it is made from protected animals or plants.
“Every day, we are faced with choices about the purchases we make—and those purchases can have a profound impact on wildlife. While many wildlife and plant products are sold legally around the world, there is also tremendous demand for illegal products made from endangered species. This demand feeds wildlife crime and devastates populations of elephants, marine turtles, rhinos and tigers, among other species”. – World Wildlife Organization (WWF)
What you can do?
Refrain from buying souvenirs that encourage the harvesting of local marine life, such as coral jewelry and tortoise shells accessories. Here are some general guidelines from the WWF’s Buyer Beware: Before making a purchase you can ask what the product is made of, where it is from and if it is allowed to be legally brought back to your home. For example, all international trade in marine turtles is banned and can be found illegally in hair clips, bracelets and other souvenirs. Simply don’t buy it. If you are purchasing coral, you must make sure to find out if you need a CITES permit to bring it home.
Research the sustainability practices of any cruise lines or ocean-based tour operators that you’re booking.
Impact Travel Alliance (the world’s largest community for impact-focused travelers and travel professionals) recommends doing your homework before booking your tours to ensure that the tour operators meet your standards in sustainable travel. Travelers have the choice to make a difference by investing their tourism dollars with the companies that are transparent about their practices and have strict ethical standards around wildlife tourism especially when engaging in water activities such as fishing, snorkeling, diving, whale watching and dolphins. Kelley Louise, Impact Travel Alliance founder and executive director says “It’s important to take the time to research and book wildlife tours that put the animals and their environment first.” As an avid traveler and nature lover, I could not agree more. In fact, National Geographic’s takes a deep look into the dark truth behind wildlife tourism when done unethically in their June story Suffering Unseen: The Dark Truth Behind Wildlife Tourism.
What you can do:
Thoroughly research the the sustainability practices of any cruise lines you use. Opt for smaller ships if you must take a cruise (as we all know cruise ships are not very environmentally friendly). Before booking any marine activity, find out their stance on marine wildlife. Remember to look but not touch. Wildlife is wild. They should be left that way.
Take action with Oceanic Global
Did you know that only 4% of our oceans are protected and 75% of coral reefs are projected to die by 2050? Oceanic Global a global nonprofit working to protect and conserve our oceans is working to change this tragedy. This year, Oceanic Global is the official nonprofit partner of the United Nations World Oceans Day 2019 celebration.
Oceanic Global Foundation’s #ourchoicesmatter campaign outlines simple steps that individuals can take to become more responsible consumers:
- Say No to Single-Use Plastics
- Avoid plastic wrap packaging
- Eat Ocean Friendly Foods
- Shop Responsibly
- Reduce your carbon footprint
- Shop Responsibly
- Be Aware of Aquatic activities
- Wash responsibly
About Impact Travel Alliance
Impact Travel Alliance is the world’s largest community for impact-focused travelers and travel professionals. The organization aims to educate and empower travelers on how to spend their money mindfully so that their experiences empower locals and protect our environment. ITA is an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit with a highly engaged and active global community with 30 local chapters in cities around the world. For more information, visit impacttravelalliance.org.
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