We apologize right off the bat for the pun in the title. But the truth is that there’s an element of, well, truth in that play on words. Despite our best efforts, it may not be possible to “save” the world’s oceans and their inhabitants in the form that we’ve long known them. However, there are ways that we can help battle the world’s waters back to health over time and ensure biodiversity in some form of the word. We certainly don’t mean this to sound negative. In fact, in recent years we’ve actually begun to feel somewhat positive about changes happening in the world with regard to environmentalism and even addictive consumerism. But the oceans are among the most damaged parts of the planet, and nursing them back to health won’t be easy or quick. With that said, here’s our list of ideas that you can embrace in order to help save the ocean this summer and all year long.
Number One: Embrace Reusable Bags
We’ve promoted the use of reusable shopping bags before as part of our gigantic list of ways to be more eco-friendly when it comes to food, but what do they have to do with saving the ocean? Well, for starters, chances are extremely high that any disposable plastic bag that you use will end up in the ocean. Sure, you may be a responsible person who recycles your plastic bags, but that doesn’t mean that the next person who uses them will be. How do these plastic bags end up in the ocean? Generally they wind up in landfills where they blow away, enter a water supply and then make their way to the ocean (remember, in 99% of cases the ocean is always downstream). Once they’re in the ocean, they’re not only a harmful pollutant, but they’re also a quick death for fish and other sea life that become entangled in them. As long as you’re using plastic bags, you’re keeping them in circulation. As long as they’re in circulation, they’ll eventually make their way to the ocean. There are many reasons to change or reinforce your habits so that you’re using reusable shopping bags, and love and protection of the ocean is among the most important ones.
Number Two: Use Less Plastic Overall, Because It’s All Making Its Way to the Ocean
While plastic bags are, unquestionably, the biggest culprit in ocean pollution, it’s really all plastic that you have to be wary of. Each year, inclusively, the ocean absorbs anywhere between 40,000 and 110,000 metric tons of human waste plastics. That’s not all plastic bags, friends. In fact, the ocean absorbs so much plastic waste per year that the waste is actually conglomerating and forming what are, essentially, floating islands like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Many of these plastics are particularly harmful to sea life. Think for a moment about what happens to a fish or other sea animal when it gets tangled up in the plastic rings used to hold a six pack of aluminum cans together. There are plenty of reasons to be reducing the amount of plastic in your life, most notably BPAs (and recently it’s been proven that even BPA alternatives aren’t safe for humans). But if toxins aren’t enough for you to embrace glass reusable items, then consider the ocean and pare down your use of plastics.
Number Three: Avoid Antibacterial Soap; It Doesn’t Benefit You and It Hurts the Ocean
If you’re lucky enough to have met members of the Postconsumers content team in real life, then you know that there’s a significant contingent of us who cringe at the American obsession with hygiene. Hand-sanitizer at every turn weakens immune systems for the coming apocalypse, but one of our greatest pet peeves is antibacterial soap. It’s just such a marketing gimmick. Repeated studies have shown that antibacterial soap offers absolutely no health benefits but does create new health risks by changing the makeup of your skin and body bacteria. Yet clever marketers still have people believing that antibacterial soap can prevent colds, flus and other “germy” things. If being at the mercy of a marketing team isn’t reason enough for you to stop using antibacterial soap, then consider doing it because antibacterial soap is incredibly harmful to the ocean. The primary ingredient in antibacterial soaps is Triclosan. Whenever you use an antibacterial soap, the Triclosan then rinses down your drain, and studies have shown that not all of the Triclosan is broken down in water treatment facilities. That means that it’s eventually making its way to the ocean where it destroys marine environments by disrupting the ability of algae to perform photosynthesis. We are confident that you remember enough high school biology to know that algae is the heart of all ocean and aquatic life cycles.
Number Four: No Visiting SeaWorld or Similar Theme Parks
We freely admit that we have a conflicted relationship with any type of public attraction that keeps animals confined out of the wild. On the one hand, it’s arguable that some animals and even entire species will only survive our current extinction event in man-made environments like zoos. But probably much like you the true center of our heart believes that animals need to be in their natural habitat. This is most true for endangered species that have been shown to have difficulty both breeding and surviving in captivity. We admit that when we were children we loved going to SeaWorld. We loved watching the dolphin and killer whale shows and felt close to the animals. But then we grew up and realized what a sad existence those dolphins and whales had, and more importantly we read about how difficult it is for those endangered species to survive in captivity. Saving the oceans includes saving the species that reside there, and when you support orca whale captivity (which is starting to be phased out) you’re ultimately harming those species. Animals deserve to be in nature, and in the case of orca whales their ultimate species survival may depend on it.
Number Five: No Swimming with the Dolphins, Either
We’ve called out SeaWorld in particular, but if we’re being brutally honest then we have to remind you that we’re hurting the ocean and its inhabitants, particularly the endangered ones, each time we support an endeavor that keeps those species essentially jailed. We won’t give you an entire list because we have utter faith that you are intelligent enough to sort these things out for yourself, but we did want to call attention to one that we often think gets overlooked. Many coastal tourist locations are rich in “swim with the dolphins” attractions. We understand the allure. We admit that it’s one of our fantasies to encounter a wild dolphin and swim with him or her as well. But dolphins in the swim with the dolphins attractions are jailed species in danger. We can’t create a better list than this one to explain why it’s absolutely critical that you not support any type of program that involves putting dolphins in captivity. As harsh as this may sound, Japanese dolphin hunting may do less harm to the species than swim with the dolphins attractions. You want to swim with dolphins because you love the animals, but in truth the best thing that you can do for them if you love them is to help put swim with the dolphins programs out of business.
Number Six: Eco-Friendly Sunscreen Protects You and the Ocean
Sunscreen. It’s an absolute essential any time you’re out in the beautiful, glorious rays of the sun. But sunscreen isn’t unlike anything else that you put on your body. Eventually it wears off, which is why all sunscreens have a time frame in which you’re supposed to reapply them. What happens to that sunscreen as it wears off of you as you’re playing in or around the ocean? The chemicals in the sunscreen directly enter the ocean waters. In fact, sunscreen specifically is a primary cause of the mass loss of critical ocean coral in the last decades. According to National Geographic, “Four commonly found sunscreen ingredients can awaken dormant viruses in the symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae that live inside reef-building coral species. The chemicals cause the viruses to replicate until their algae hosts explode, spilling viruses into the surrounding seawater, where they can infect neighboring coral communities.” The four ingredients in question are: paraben, cinnamate, benzophenone, and a camphor derivative. The good news for all of us is that there are plenty of ecofriendly sunscreens that intentionally do not include those chemicals. Please embrace ecofriendly sunscreen and help save the coral population.
Number Seven: Proper Pharmaceutical Disposal; No Frankenstein Fish
Rivers flow into oceans, so anything that you ultimately put into a river will end up back in the ocean. And of course that’s not to say that saving and protecting our freshwater supplies isn’t equally important to saving and protecting the ocean. That’s why it’s so important that you dispose of any old medications properly. Medications, particularly hormonal birth control and antibiotics, have a huge impact on native marine life. You’ve all seen the pictures of the Frankenstein fish, so we don’t need to make your stomach upset by re-posting them here. What we can say is that if you want to protect all of the world’s water supply and its inhabitants, you have to take the time to dispose of medications properly. That includes absolutely not flushing them down the toilet or rinsing them down the sink. The best idea is to a) read the disposal instructions that your medication comes with b) look for drug buy-back programs and c) ask your pharmacist for advice. We have tips on proper medication disposal here.
Number Eight: Proper Beauty Product Disposal; The Ocean Does Not Need Makeup
Much like your sunscreen and your medications, most cosmetic and beauty products are also full of things that you’d rather not have end up in the water supply or the world’s oceans. Even ecofriendly and cruelty-free cosmetics have binders and ingredients that are decidedly not native to aquatic environments. While it’s obvious that you should recycle the containers that your cosmetics and beauty products came in (you’ll want to note the impact of non-controlled plastic in the ocean from our first two suggestions in this article), the other key is to not rinse remaining amounts of cosmetics down the drain. When possible, let them sit out and evaporate instead. Evaporation naturally breaks down most molecular structures in liquids whereas dissolution into another liquid does not. We have more tips on disposing of cosmetics and beauty products here.
Number Nine: Leave Only Footprints (Be They in the Sand or the Dirt)
We feel as though this one should go without saying, but we’ve also found that in this world it’s always better to overtly say things than to assume people incorporate them. The fastest way for trash and pollution to make its way into the oceans is to be left near a waterway. Yes, most trash will eventually make its way to the oceans regardless, but why speed up the process? Whether you’re planning a trip to the beach or a day of fishing by your local river, don’t leave anything behind other than your own footprints when you depart at the end of the day. Remember, if it didn’t come from the water then it’s not native to the water and it can only do harm to the water and the plants and animals that live in or near the water. Of course, you’d be even more of a hero if, in addition to not leaving any trash behind, you also used fifteen minutes to take a walk and clean up any trash you found left by others. We’d send you hugs for doing that!
Number Ten: Sustainable Seafood is Very Important
Seafood is delicious and much more sustainable than meat. However, where your seafood comes from matters, and it matters a lot. We’ve talked about the importance of knowing the source of your seafood before when we’ve discussed ways to be more eco-friendly about the food that you eat. It’s incredibly important to make sure that both the oceans and our freshwater wild seafood sources don’t get over-farmed. In addition to wanting to ensure that there aren’t any species of fish or aquatic life that go extinct because we over-ate them, the overall marine biosphere is a carefully balanced equation. If you farm off too much of one predator or one prey, the rest of the environment goes haywire. Even more so than on land, creatures in the water depend on and (literally) feed off of one another in an incredibly symbiotic manner. Be careful about seafood when you’re eating out, and when you’re purchasing seafood utilize the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch® Buyer’s Guide.
Number Eleven: Overall Reduce Your Carbon Footprint and Emissions
Really when it comes down to it, almost any conservation or environmental effort that we’re talking about means learning to reduce your emissions footprint and wean yourself off of pollutants and fossil fuels. This is as true with the world’s oceans as it is with anything else. Why is that? Because emissions and pollutants are what is causing the rise in the globe’s average temperature, and this rise in temperature is what is causing ocean acidification. If you’re not familiar with ocean acidification, then we encourage you to read the linked content and also encourage you to have a stiff drink ready for after you read it. Ocean acidification is what is killing off any ocean creature that requires production of calcium carbonate shells. That includes shellfish (obviously) as well as corals. And as coral reefs are destroyed, so is the home habitat of plankton. Think back to high school biology and you’ll remember that plankton is the bottom of the ocean food chain, so without it no forms of sea life above it will ultimately be able to survive for long. Now, are you ready to reduce emissions seriously?
Number Twelve: Don’t Buy Essential Sea and Ocean Elements as Souvenirs
If you don’t want to encourage people to pillage our oceans and remove essential plant and animal life, then the buck has to stop with us, literally. Whether it’s a vacation souvenir, a gift for somebody else or a treat for yourself, there are certain things that you just shouldn’t buy. The short list includes coral (it’s already disappearing rapidly), tortoise shell and shark products. But our advice to you is to always pause and think about what you’re purchasing and use your own best judgement as to whether it will have a positive or negative net impact on the natural environment that it came from. You’re a smart cookie, we know it. You know what’s a good call for purchase and what isn’t. Fall in love with your own idea of how much consumerism is enough for today.
Number Thirteen: Vacation Responsibly
We all like to take a vacation to a beach, lake or even riverfront destination. Something in our human wiring seems to draw us to water. And though we’ve often gotten embroiled in the controversy of whether or not eco-travel is really eco-friendly, we believe that the value of travel in terms of making you feel connected to environments that you may not get to see regularly is worth the footprint left by getting there. But once you’re there, you need to be a responsible traveler and vacation goer! We already discussed the importance of not buying souvenirs made from endangered materials, but every choice that you make when you’re on vacation matters. That means how much you use the emission causing heat or air conditioning in your hotel, whether you dispose of plastic single-use travel sizes while on vacation and even whether you have the hotel launder your sheets and towels daily. Visit water areas, because they are amazing. But be a responsible traveler when you do. Here are our favorite ten tips for doing just that.
Number Fourteen: Don‘t Flush Cat Litter
Actually, both ensuring that you don’t flush your kitty litter and that you properly dispose of dog waste can help to save the oceans and improve overall water quality. Animal feces contain bacteria, viruses and parasites that can be deadly to sea life. And that’s just the feces themselves. If you’re using most common brands of cat litter, then the same chemicals that keep your litter box from smelling like its actual contents is going directly into water sources when you flush it. Even if you’re using a less toxic, more natural form of cat litter such as those made from cornmeal or newspapers, it’s unlikely to be entirely toxin free and you’re still putting the actual cat feces into the water source. What’s the ideal solution? Make sure that both your litter and your dog waste are going to landfills. Yes, we know that it hurts to think of anything making its way to a landfill, but in the case of cat and dog waste it truly is what’s in the best interest of all parties – and certainly in the best interest of the world’s oceans and their inhabitants.
Number Fifteen: Buy Pet Food Products Made from Sustainable Seafood
We all (for the most part) love our pets as though they were family. But we also all have budgets that we need to be cognizant of. That’s why very few of us are out purchasing gourmet crafted (and priced) pet food. We love our animals, we want them to be healthy, but we also don’t want to spend more feeding our pets than we would to feed ourselves. However, what you’re choosing to feed your pet may not only have an impact on their health, it may have an impact on the health of the world’s oceans. Browse any pet food aisle and you’ll quickly see that, no matter what the type of pet, there are many seafood food options for him or her. But where is that seafood coming from? The source of the seafood in your pet’s food is just as important as the source of the seafood that you eat. Non-sustainably caught seafood hurts us all, whether it’s in a cheap container of cat food or served up at a four star restaurant. While cat, dog and other pet food made from sustainable seafood may have a heftier price tag, it’s worth it to ensure that you and your pets have a healthy planet to live on in the future.
Number Sixteen: Aquariums are Great, But Don’t Stock Them with Wild-Caught Fish
We understand if you want a beautiful aquarium in your home so that you can feel close to nature (though of course keep in mind the carbon footprint of the energy required to run an aquarium). We also understand why, for some people, there’s an allure to wild-caught fish. There are some species of fish that are too rare to breed in captivity, but the key word in this sentence is “rare.” If a fish is swimming the wild, the best thing for both the fish and the body of water it’s in is for it to continue swimming in the wild. Not for it to be removed to your aquarium where it can’t enrich the biodiversity of its surroundings and, more importantly, can’t breed in nature. The main point of your aquarium is to be a tribute to nature, so it’s important that you also make aquarium decisions that preserve that nature. Be sure to ask your sea life provider where the fish you’re purchasing have come from and what their impact on their natural environment is. As we often say here, you vote with your dollar more so than anything else.
Number Seventeen: Don’t Release Aquarium Fish Back Into the Wild
Professional animal rescue organizations often rehab animals that have come from the wild to their shelter and then release the animals back into the wild. But these are professionals, and they often spend months preparing the animal for release into the wild. They also understand the habitats that the animals come from and whether releasing them back is good or bad for that natural habitat. Unless you are an animal and wildlife professional (and we mean trained and educated, not “Google educated”), then you do not know this! But what we know for sure is that releasing aquarium fish into your local water is a bad idea for the fish and possibly for the other wildlife in that water source. You almost certainly can guarantee that the fish itself won’t survive long outside of either its native habitat or a simulated native habitat that it had in your aquarium. But what if it does survive? What impact might it have? Will it be a new predator that changes the entire food change of your local aquatic environment? Will it introduce new parasites that are harmful to the environment? If, for some reason, you seek to get rid of your aquarium fish, find them a new aquarium home, not a wild one.
Number Eighteen: Support Ocean Organizations with Time and Money
It always comes down to money, doesn’t it! We say this affectionately because we do morally believe that the world is more than money worship, but we also accept the reality that the organizations that do the good work to help save and preserve our planet and, in this case, our oceans need money to make their visions happen. Do we wish that this weren’t the case and that people just genuinely cared so much about saving and restoring our ocean waters that there was enough human motivation to do this? Absolutely. But that’s not the world we live in, and if we want a world with healthy and robust oceans we need to make sure that some of our money goes to helping the organizations that preserve them. We caveat this by saying that before you donate money to any nonprofit or activism organization you should always do some research to see exactly how they’re spending their money. We do believe that some (many) nonprofit directors are worth six figure salaries (the job is demanding and difficult to do successfully). However, we also believe that organizations should spend the majority of their donations on actions, not staff. With that said, here are a few of our favorite ocean preservation organizations: Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, Institute for Ocean Conservation Science and the American Cetacean Society.
Number Nineteen: Just Say No to Cruise Ships
A cruise ship trip is hands-down one of the least eco-friendly vacations that you can take. They’re so non-eco-friendly that they’re actually bad for the entire planet. However, somewhat obviously, a giant emissions and waste generator that spends its entire existence floating on the top of the ocean is going to have a bigger impact on the oceans than anything else. In 2014 alone, cruise ships dumped more than a billion gallons of sewage directly into the ocean. Cruise ships account for more than a quarter of the harmful emission of nitrogen oxides in coastal areas. On top of all of that (plus all of the other impact of cruise ships), not all cruise ships are entirely responsible about dumping their bilge water. Just because you are on a ship on the water because you “love” the water, it doesn’t mean that you’re actually doing what’s best for the water you love. There are plenty of other ways to love and experience the ocean without supporting the cruise ship industry. Cruises are comparatively cheap vacation options for a reason.
Number Twenty: Reduce Fertilizer Use Personally and Advocate for Organics
It stands to reason that anything that you put into the ground or soil will ultimately make its way to the ocean via groundwater moving to creeks, streams, rivers and eventually to the oceans themselves. So when you use a chemical fertilizer to make your garden lusher or your grass golf-course quality, you’re ultimately sending those chemicals directly to the ocean. One of the best ways to reduce this on a localized and individual level is to make sure that however you’ve landscaped your home is native to the environment that you live in. That means that if you’re in the Nevada desert you shouldn’t have grass and hedges but rather succulents and painted rocks. Grow what’s native and you’ll need less fertilizer. In cases where you are using fertilizer, do your research. Even organic and natural fertilizers have their drawbacks, but they are still a million times preferable to commercial ones. Controlling fertilizer use on an industrial level is much harder. Even organic farms have to fertilize in order to meet the amount of food that they need to be financially viable. That said, when you purchase well-researched organics, you’re purchasing from a more responsible method of growing. And, of course, never purchase Monsanto products if you can avoid it.
Number Twenty-One: Don’t Wash Your Car in the Street
Washing your car is a good thing. It’s nice to be tidy. But the difference between washing your car in the street – or even your driveway – and a commercial car wash can have a big impact on what type of pollution is working its way directly into the oceans, streams and rivers. When you wash your car in your street or driveway, the soap and cleaning agents that you used to wash it go directly into the storm drains, which means that they go directly into the water supply. Those cleaning agents typically include phosphates and chemicals that can impact water quality and marine life. What can you do? Start by considering switching to a commercial car wash with a typically closed-loop water system or that send their water to a sewage drain. You can also consider using a pump kit and then diverting your water to a sewage drain. The main takeaway here is that you don’t want your chemical, soapy water going directly to the water or groundwater supply if you can avoid it.
Number Twenty-Two: Use Natural Laundry Products
Chances are that your laundry set-up at home (if you have one) is draining to sewage and then going to a water treatment facility, but the truth is also that any time we release soaps and chemicals into the water some of them will make their way to the main water stream. The less natural and more chemical-based your laundry detergent is, the more of that will make it to the water source. Clean clothes are nice. But ask yourself which is more dirty: some food or soil on your clothing or harsh cleansing chemicals on your clothing that then also impact the water supply? We think the answer is self-evident! Natural is better when it comes to anything that will work its way into the water eventually (or even quickly).
Number Twenty-Three: Stop with the Balloon Tributes & Celebrations
These days, a trend that we’re seeing a lot of and that is making us cringe is the mass release of balloons to commemorate both happy and sad occasions. We’ve seen mass balloon releases as newly wedded couples exit the church as well as mass balloon releases as memorial tributes for deceased loved ones. We understand why people are drawn to these. Colorful balloons rising freely into a sky are visually emotive and frankly just lovely to look at. But where do those balloons ultimately end up? Sure, some of them will end up land bound, where they pose a choking and health hazard to local wildlife. But a bigger percentage of them will make their way to the ocean, where they will add to the mass amounts of plastic and latex trash in the ocean, strangle fish, suffocate creatures and harm wildlife overall. There are worse things to release into the sky than balloons (like caged birds), but not very many. The next time somebody suggests a balloon release to you, kindly decline it (and educate them as to why).
Number Twenty-Four: Boat – Um, Responsibly
Unless you are headed out in a kayak or rowboat, there isn’t a form of boating that isn’t going to create some water pollution. But there are some things that you can do to help minimize the impact of your boating excursion. Firstly, don’t use a boat that’s bigger than you need. There’s no need for a party craft when there are only two of you headed out. Secondly, if you’re going to be fishing from your boat, be sure to only fish for approved types of fish in the waters where you are. Nothing endangered should come up on a line! Finally, whatever comes out on the boat with you should come back to land with you. Nothing should get dumped over the side of the boat into the water and left behind. No, not even food or bio-waste. This last pointer is just as true if you’re in a row boat or kayak as it would be for a motor boat. There’s not really an effective way to use any type of boat with an engine without it taking a toll on the ocean waters ultimately, but everybody has to find their own point of comfort with boating. Just try to follow the three “minimum” ideas above and you’ll already be doing a better job than most boaters.
Number Twenty-Five: Vote. Period.
In the end, no matter how many individual changes we all make, the worst of the water and ocean pollution and carbon emissions that are heating and acidifying the water are coming from industrial sources. As individuals, it will take us an incredibly long time to force industries to change their practices. However, our elected officials can impact this change much more quickly. The trick is that we need to elect officials and representatives who understand and are passionate about preserving the environment. And the only way to ensure that those officials get elected is to vote for them. Do your research. Find candidates who will actively advocate for the environment and the oceans. Then vote for them. And campaign for them. We can change the individuals in government power more quickly than we can force huge industrial change, and those government representatives can force industrial change faster than we could as individuals. So vote. Always vote. And vote for environmentally-friendly candidates.
Whew! It took much longer than we anticipated to work through these twenty-five items, but we wanted to give you fully thought-out reasons and actions with each. We hope you stuck with us – or at least skimmed all of the headlines so that you have a fuller picture. Want to dive even deeper (ha, we pun, we apologize) into the topic of water conservation? Visit our Water Conservation Resource Hub for more information.
Did we miss an action that you can take to help save the oceans? If so, tell us about it on the social media channels below.
Hero Photo Credit: Yosuke Shimizu via Flickr