As Canadians stare down the barrel of at least another 3 months of deep winter, many will be considering borrowing other, more balmy countries’ weather for a week or two to get a shot of vitamin D to give a morale boost. People choose their sunny destinations for all kinds of reasons like for their beaches and water sports, their tropical forests for hikes and wildlife spotting, their history and culture, and their delicious food. If you’re planning a beach vacation, one other thing you could consider is choosing a destination that takes sustainability and ocean conservation seriously, and making sure you’re well equipped to reduce your vacation footprint.
Unfortunately, while can tourism brings money and jobs, it also has been shown to take a serious toll on the natural environment. Coastal destinations are top of this list. It’s no surprise that it is often some of the most beautiful and ecologically unique places that people love to visit the most, but this can mean trouble for ocean ecosystem health and marine biodiversity.
What types of negative impacts are we talking about? The list is sadly very long. Sunscreen polluting coral reefs, an increased demand on seafood from tourism causing overfishing or illegal fishing to meet demand, increased vessel traffic and ocean noise displacing or even causing strikes on marine mammals, and increased demand for unique marine products like shells or coral jewelry causing over-harvests and habitat destruction. Then back on land coastal development of hotels or other infrastructure often results in removal of important ecosystems like mangrove forests, disturbance of wildlife areas such as sea turtle nesting beaches, or degradation of coral reef structures. When you add the rapidly growing problem of resorts, restaurants and convenience stores using and disposing of tonnes of single-use plastic water bottles, cups, straws and other disposable products, the impacts to our oceans from tourism can be overwhelming for local communities and local ecosystems alike.
But there are lots of ways to visit and appreciate beautiful ocean destinations without contributing to those problems. Here are some top tips for greener travel and vacations.
Location, location, location: Choose eco-hotels or resorts where possible and otherwise see what they say about sustainability. Where are they located? Is it beach front? Get to know the area and whether there are sensitive habitats that are not being protected because of the development.
Bring your own necessities and reusables: To avoid the dozens of plastic water bottles, before you go, ask your hotel or accommodation if they have filtered water. If you’re concerned about water safety, you can always bring water purification tablets or other filtration devices to be extra safe. Bring your own ocean and poolside reusables like a water bottle, a cup for cocktails, and a straw if you or your kids like to sip. Reusable shopping, beach and snack bags can be of great use on beach or exploring days. And while those hotel shampoos can be tempting, bring your own cosmetic and personal care refillable containers with your favourite products from home to avoid disposing of those two time use containers.
Reef safe and bio sunscreen: Some destinations are considering enforcing use of reef safe sunscreen to combat pollution. The eco and reef safe sunscreens are also better for your health, so opt for one of the various brands that offer this option. Your local health food store will likely have what you need. Also, avoid wearing other lotions and products into the ocean, and remove bandaids and other things that can easily come off before you swim
Skip the animal shows: Lots of resort towns and tourist areas offer live animal shows, swimming with the dolphins, interactive wildlife exhibits and snorkelling with various species. While it may sound like a dream come true for you or your family, I can guarantee it isn’t for the animals. Whether in captivity or in the wild with heavy human interaction, ocean life is under enough stress and has suffered too much already to also have to contend with added exploitation and disturbance. Be sure to do lots of research before embarking on adventures that involve wildlife interactions of any kind.
Be a socially responsible visitor: Many tourist and resort towns have become largely owned and operated by mega corporations that are not operating in harmony with, or in respect of, local peoples. Choosing locally owned establishments, understanding the history of the area and cultural context, and ensuring you are aware of local customs are important for all of us to take on as considerate global citizens.
Lastly, try to leave no trace: Whether you’re visiting a remote island, diving the blue hole, sailing the Caribbean or just chilling on a beach in Hawaii, try to leave it better than you found it. Together we can help protect the places we love to visit and use our tourist dollars to support businesses that are working to reduce their impact on our oceans and support strong and vibrant communities.
Publisher’s Note: Sarah King is the head of Oceans & Plastics at Greenpeace Canada with a MASc, Environmental Applied Science and Management.