As quarantine restrictions ease, the first place on everyone’s mind is the beach!
There’s something about the sound of the waves that immediately sends pulses of relaxation through us. At my former job in healthcare, my boss would always advise patients to take a trip to the beach as most health issues needed more therapy of the mind than the body.
Most of us are in the vicinity of a beach within a few hours, by road or air, and as tourists we contribute billions of dollars in revenue to coastal areas.
After becoming involved in conservation however, I realized there are so many things we are guilty of doing, knowingly or unknowingly, that affect the beachside environment.
Let me start with our actions as city dwellers. The saying out of sight out of mind pops up. When we get a few days off, almost of us want is to be on a magical island for the much needed rejuvenation. However, once we leave to go back to the hustle and bustle of our lives, the protection and conservation of coastal areas is left to the local communities. What we need to become highly aware of is that our daily activities in the city directly impact the ocean.
Plastic, plastic, plastic is a song conservationists will sing till kingdom comes. Or at least till it is drilled into our consumerist society enough for us to make changes in our consumption patterns. Single use plastic, microplastics and chemicals in our cosmetics, manufacturing processes and on our farmlands ALL end up in the ocean. A quick search on Google will give you staggering statistics on how much of our waste ends up in the ocean, and it is depressing.
The two biggest actions we can take as city dwellers are:
- Support conservation agencies. You can do this in several ways: financial donations, volunteering for hands on work, citizen science programs, signing petitions and advocate for policy changes. Remember, conservation is a communal effort!
- Do our part to influence change. Educate yourself and help spread awareness about the problems facing the earth. When we get a better understanding we are more equipped to tackle these issues. Remember, be the change you wish to see in the world!
There are also several things we can be more considerate of the next time we visit the beach:
- Be mindful of what we touch. We do this out of awe or curiosity, but we don’t realise what that little touch can do. An example: starfish. Picking out one from the water to take a picture may seem harmless, but pulling them out of the water induces high levels of stress causing health implications. They actually begin to suffocate! Remember, leave everything as it is, it’s a delicate ecosystem!
- Dispose of our trash. A picnic on the beach is always a great idea. But the plastic bags, take away containers, soda cans, bottles and cigarette butts don’t only look ghastly, they end up getting washed into the ocean and choke and kill marine animals that mistake them for food. Remember to carry reusable items, pick up after your children and pets and have an extra bag handy so you can collect your trash and dispose of it responsibly!
- Buy wisely. Beach vendors usually have lots of beautiful items on sale including shells, seahorses, tortoise shell accessories, shark products and coral jewelry. But these are all off limits! Not only are they part of illegal wildlife trade, the removal of these items damage the fragile ecosystem. And yes, this includes picking seashells! Remember, in this case ignorance is not bliss!
- Check your sunscreen. A must have for anyone going to the beach. According to an article by the NRDC 14,000 tons of sunscreen makes its way into the ocean every year! The chemicals in sunscreen have harmful effects on coral reefs and marine life. When purchasing sunscreen opt for products made of titanium oxide or zinc oxide and avoid those with oxybenzone. Remember, the best protection comes from caps, cover ups and long sleeves!
- Watchful exploration. Coral reefs are one of the most beautiful things on the planet. Millions of people from all over the world travel to catch a glimpse. Coral reefs are living organisms and the slightest brush can damage years of growth. In addition, it is home to many small marine animals and is a nursery for several others. If you’re out snorkelling, diving or on a boat ride, keep a distance so you don’t cause any damage. Remember, coral reefs are living and breathing animals!
- Feeding wildlife. Wildlife such as birds and monkeys tend to be plentiful on popular beaches and are attracted by people that feed them. A harmless gesture to most not realising that a lot of human food isn’t suitable for these animals. In addition, increased amounts of excretory waste from these animals leads to the potential release of harmful microorganisms into the beach environment. Remember to enjoy the wildlife from afar!
- Clean up! While you’re out on your walk, pick up a bag and collect trash you see along the way! Many hotels partner with environmental groups and encourage their guests to take part in clean up activities. Remember, every action small or big counts when it comes to conservation!
I’ll sign off by saying that we have a world of information at our fingertips. With just a few clicks, we can research and make simple decisions that have an impact. A simple check on a company’s website can give you an idea on their energy efficiency, their policies on waste reduction, water conservation, recycling and their values on general conservation.
We are at the beginning of what we are calling ‘’the new norm’’ so let’s support green companies as a part of this.
Remember, lasting change will only be promoted by changed consumer behaviour!
Harveen Bansal is based in Nairobi and volunteers for the Conservation Education Society. Recently transitioning from the corporate world to marine conservation, Harveen is passionate about protecting our oceans.