Tourism is a double-edged sword. It can cause direct and indirect harm to the biodiversity of our oceans and other bodies of water, endangering marine wildlife such as seabirds, mammals, reptiles, fish and other sea creatures. Winds and waves can carry our ecologically-destructive habits far beyond the waters of our travel destinations.
Examples of ocean pollutants
As responsible travellers, we need to think about the things we leave in the ocean: Non-biodegradable materials like plastic—especially single-use plastics like straws, cutlery, takeout containers, bottles and grocery bags—are often dumped or inadvertently end up in the ocean. Large ships discharge large amounts of waste and sewage into the waters, on top of fuel emissions. Even sunscreen and cosmetic products with non-biodegradable ingredients can contaminate waters when swimmers submerge themselves.
4 ways you can travel ocean-friendly
The travel industry needs to take a good look at the actions that have long-lasting, far-reaching impacts on the world’s ecosystems. Of course, it’s also on us, the travellers who fuel the industry, to travel responsibly in ways that minimize harm to our environment. To commemorate International Coastal Cleanup Day on September 21, let’s look at a few ways we can help keep the oceans clean while we travel.
Go somewhere else!
The images of pristine beaches and scenes of paradise we see on social media can sometimes be misleading. What’s not depicted outside of the camera’s frame is often the amount of litter on the sand or the pollution in the water, or the overcrowding of beaches by tourists.
By being mindful of where you travel next, you not only avoid adding to the problem of over tourism experienced by extremely popular beach destinations (Boracay, Mallorca and Santorini, to name a few), you also create the opportunity to explore destinations off the beaten track—and support alternative local economies that rely on tourism, in the process.
Choose the right companies
Do your research on the resorts, cruises or tour operators you’ll be doing business with. It’s important to support companies in the tourism industry that take responsibility for their own impact on the environment and have a good reputation for their green initiatives. Even by choosing smaller, independent group tours or smaller, alternative methods of travel, you’re already reducing your travel footprint.
Minimize your own impact at the destination
Control the amount of waste you leave behind by taking only what you need with you on your trip—just make sure to bring it back home! Consume local natural resources in moderation. Plan activities that are non-invasive to the wildlife and ecosystems of the places you’re visiting, especially if they’re protected.
For example, if you want to go snorkeling or scuba diving, do your best to be an observer and resist the urge to disturb the natural flow, even if it costs you a photo op. You may not realize the domino effects on ecologically-sensitive areas until it’s too late!
Give back to the community you’re visiting
If you have the opportunity, support protection and preservation efforts from local NGOs wherever you’re travelling to. Visit information centres or contact organization members to help educate you about the challenges the local communities are facing.
You can help raise awareness, donate, or better yet, volunteer for or lead a beach cleanup. If you don’t have time while travelling, you could always take part in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup back home; after all, our ocean is everyone’s ocean, too.
Doing all these things might feel like an uphill battle against ocean pollution, but by forming lifelong habits, spreading helpful information and inspiring others, we can prove that tourism can be a good thing for the environment, if we all just do our part.
Looking for sustainable travel destinations to visit? Share your thoughts below!