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Seagull. Credit: Stevens Camera/Flickr Creative Commons.

Leave only footprints in the sand…

Posted on: 29.07.14 (Last edited) 29 July 2014

Summer has finally arrived in the northern hemisphere! If you’re heading to the coast any time soon, Fauna & Flora International Marine Project Officer Kate West has a few tips to ensure you don’t leave an unwanted legacy behind you.

For those of us who live in the UK, it will come as no surprise that July and August typically see a huge peak in the number of people travelling to coastal areas, both at home and abroad. But before you slap on a hat and head to the seaside, I hoped you’d spare a few minutes to read through some tips that will help you ensure that our beautiful coastlines don’t suffer…

Health & beauty

Tip 1: Make sure you’re not washing plastic down the drain

After months locked up inside with the heating on, we jump at the chance to get outside and bare all! Primping and priming ourselves for the sunshine can be a time-consuming affair, but did you know that your beauty choices in the bathroom can have a very ugly effect on the beaches you’re planning to stretch out on?

Here’s how…

There has been a recent trend amongst cosmetic producers to add plastic microbeads into facial exfoliators and body scrubs. These microbeads are often less than a millimetre in diameter and are designed to wash away after use with little regard for their environmental impact.

These plastics can make up anywhere between 10% and 90% of a product. One product we found, for example, promised 2,000 beads per application – which would mean something like 40,000 beads per tube!

Sea urchin with plastic fork. Credit: Kay Wilson/Indigo Dive Academy, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Credit: Kay Wilson/Indigo Dive Academy, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Luckily, a wide range of affordable, natural alternatives (such as apricot kernels, sea salt or oatmeal) do exist, and can do the job just as well.

FFI’s Marine Plastics Project Officer, Tanya Cox says: “The use of plastic ingredients in face and body scrubs is both unsustainable and unnecessary. Consumers have the power to drive positive changes by voting with their wallets, and we’ve created the Good Scrub Guide to help them do just that.”

Food & drink

Tip 2: Don’t bottle it up

Sadly, there are few coastlines in the world where you’d have trouble finding bottles washed up ashore. Not only is this unsightly, it also threatens wildlife and natural ecosystems.

Litter at FFI project site. Credit: Sarah Rakowski/FFI.

Plastic litter can mar even the most pristine environments. Credit: Sarah Rakowski/FFI.

What’s more, bottled water generates up to 600 times more carbon dioxide than tap water due to the raw materials and energy needed to make, store and ship the bottles.

New research shows that drinking a bottle of water has the same impact on the environment as driving a car for a kilometre – so whilst you may have cycled to the beach, reaching for a bottle of mineral water when you get there will undo all of that hard work!

Not only are they unsustainable and unsightly, drinking bottled water is an expensive habit that will eat into your hard-earned holiday savings! The average person will spend an astonishing £25,000 (around US$43,000) on bottled water and soft drinks in their lifetime.

Try to drink tap water wherever possible, or use a reusable water bottle if you’re on the go. If bottled water is unavoidable, then try buying fewer large bottles, rather than many small ones. And dispose of them carefully once you’ve finished – recycle them where possible and never, ever leave them on the beach.

Tip 3: Find out where your fish is from

I come from the UK, and for me summer wouldn’t be summer without the smell of sea spray mingling with the mouth-watering aroma of fish and chips. Similarly, a holiday abroad for me is generally synonymous with a huge variety of sumptuous seafood. But before tucking in, ask where the fish has come from!

A shocking 88% of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion – this means we need to think more about what we are eating and where it has come from. Luckily, there are plenty of useful guides to point you towards sustainable options.

Seafood. Credit: Lam Khin Thet/Marine Photobank

Credit: Lam Khin Thet/Marine Photobank.

The Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide offers simple advice on which species to enjoy and which to avoid.

Or, if you’re eating out, take a look at Fish2Fork, an independent website that rates restaurants according to the sustainability of their seafood. Currently covering the UK, France, Belgium, USA and Switzerland, you can search for a particular restaurant or chain and check on the sustainability of a restaurant’s fish before you even step through the door.

Leisure & travel

Tip 4: Take only pictures, leave only bubbles

There are so many incredible coastal areas to explore and enjoy, from snorkelling off the Great Barrier Reef to watching turtles lay their eggs on a beach in Costa Rica to simply sunbathing on your favourite beach.

But as the world becomes an ever busier place we need to keep a careful eye on our own impact on the marine environment so that we are able to enjoy these experiences time and time again.

For example, in Western Australia the number of people heading out to see whale sharks has soared in recent years. To ensure that this did not harm the animals, the Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation established a code of conduct which applied equally to commercial and recreational users when interacting with whale sharks.

Ecotourism can allow you to encounter amazing marine wildlife while contributing to the conservation of those species by providing a monetary incentive for their conservation. And with a small amount of input, marine ecotourism can be sustainable.

A study carried out in Sharm el Sheikh – a popular diving destination – showed just that. It revealed that after giving divers an environmental awareness briefing, they were far less likely to damage the corals and reef.

Here are some suggestions of how you can help:

  • Never remove shells or live fish
  • Try not to touch corals or other reef structures when diving or snorkelling
  • Don’t crowd animals when trying to view or photograph them
  • Try to use a tour operator that exercises a code of conduct

Making better choices

Advice on reducing your impact on the environment can often read like a long list of forbidden pleasures, but the truth is there are often easy steps we can take to help protect our planet without sacrificing too much, as I hope I’ve shown here.

So eat, play, drink and be gorgeous to your heart’s content – just keep an eye on your surroundings, and make sure your choices today don’t cost the earth.

Happy holidays!

Main image courtesy of Stevens Camera/Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Written by
Kate West

Kate West is Project Manager of FFI Cambodia’s Coastal & Marine Conservation Project. After graduating from the University of Oxford with a degree in Biological Sciences, Kate worked on a small island nature reserve in the Seychelles before returning to study for a Conservation Science Masters at Imperial College London. Her Masters research took her to the coastlines of Senegal and Guinea in search of the West African seahorse, which had never been studied or photographed before in the wild. This experience in West Africa helped her to secure an exciting short-term role with an organisation leading the campaign against illegal fishing before she joined FFI in early 2013. Kate has worked for FFI as both an independent consultant and a Marine Project Officer in Cambridge.

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