Today is World Oceans Day. A day to celebrate and raise awareness for the ever changing expanse that covers over 70% of our planet. A day for ocean conservation.
My personal love of the oceans is profound and has grown along with me. In my final year of high school I wrote a 20 page paper for my World Issues class, highlighting the threats to coral reefs. In 2013, Blackfish and the many books written about orcas opened my eyes to the issue of captivity. The next year, watching the documentary Mission Blue introduced me to Dr. Sylvia Earle, a renowned oceanographer working to protect the world’s oceans.
Ocean Conservation for Travelers: Ocean Education
But my most influential ocean education has been traveling. To touch the ocean, to see within the ocean, and to witness the impact that the ocean has on communities ever increases my love for it. Today, more than ever, I feel the need to do my part in helping to keep the ocean thriving for generations to come.
I am an educator by profession, and believe that there is no better tool for change than education. All of these tips are things I have learned through traveling, and try my best to practice myself. Whether you are looking to increase your efforts or you are just learning how to better care for the ocean, there is something on this list for you.
“It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing, because you can only do little- do what you can.” – Sydney Smith
Reduce Your Use of Plastics
This year it seems as if the spotlight is really on plastic. A few years ago a statistic kept popping up that stated “By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.” That really stuck with me and I have tried my part in making changes in my daily life- reusable grocery bags, refillable water bottles and better recycling.
On my vacation to Australia I noticed there is one single-use plastic that is commonly used by travelers and in everyday use: a plastic straw.
I have always been diligent about recycling my cups from smoothies, soft drinks or lemonades, but always still came away from the experience creating trash.
When I was in Maui recently I was so excited to see decreased use of straws. Paper straws were offered at WowWow Lemonade, and metal straws were being sold at the Pacific Whale Foundation. The beautiful beaches and all the marine life within the sea fare better if we decrease our use of plastic, and straws are an easy place to start! You can purchase paper or metal straws on Amazon if you absolutely must have them, or you can join in and skip the straw!
Update 2020: Wow! In two short years, the attitudes surrounding single-use plastics have completely changed. All over the world- from Canada, to France, to Kenya, to Taiwan, to Costa Rica- single-use plastics are being banned nationally. Each individual action surrounding decreasing the use of plastics accounts for a part of the push to change!
Observe and Interact with animals in their own environment
The ocean is a living habitat, although that it easy to forget as humans spent most, if not all of their time up on land. Destroying the ocean means destroying the home of so many unique and beautiful creatures.
Swimming with Manatees* technically not ocean!
In my opinion, manatees are one of the most unique ocean mammals. Spending part of their time in the ocean, and the cold Winters in waterways that spill into the ocean, they truly are a sight to see.
A few years ago I had the privilege of joining a day trip with River Ventures to Crystal River in Florida. We slowly moved along the river in our pontoon, learning about these creatures who congregate here en masse during the cooler months. We jumped into the water in our wetsuits and snorkel gear, feeling our way through the murky water. The manatees brushed me before I saw them. Although visibility that day was minimal, hearing them and feeling them around you was surreal. They really are sea cows!
Swimming with Dolphins
*Note: As of June 2019 this particular experience is no longer allowed. I am happy that researchers and New Zealand are putting the mammal’s health first!
One of the most exhilarating experiences of my life thus far was swimming with wild dolphins in New Zealand. When I was young and naive I “swam” with dolphins in a small enclosure in Cuba. It was absolutely nothing like actually swimming with wild dolphins. In the open ocean, three dolphins zoomed below and around us, on their own terms. No tricks, no commands, just them doing what they do best: interacting and playing. These marine mammals have regulations surrounding them, outlined in New Zealand’s Marine Mammal Protection Regulations.
Find out more about New Zealand’s Amazing Places!
The ocean is alive. By swimming with manatees, snorkeling with fish, whale watching for orcas, or kayaking with seals you are learning to love and respect the home of some of the planet’s most magnificent animals (and definitely our biggest: the majestic blue whale!)
Visit Marine Protected Areas
Visiting a marine protected area is crucial to understanding what the thriving sea looks like. In my state (Washington) there is an area in which 3000 sq. km of the ocean is under protection. Along the North Western tip of the United States, the Olympic Peninsula is a sight to see.
Here are the best things to do on the Olympic Peninsula!
The Olympic Peninsula
The Olympic Peninsula is protected because of its vast biodiversity- on land and in the sea. It is home to almost 30 different marine mammal species and it is one of the most productive fish growing habitats in the world. It is different from both the California and Oregon coasts, which make up the rest of the West Coast of the US.
Here is a look at what a West Coast Road Trip looks like!
Firstly, there is no development here whatsoever- the beaches are wild. There is no swimming on the beaches due to massive pieces of driftwood that come in with storms, and it is common to see seals in the sand.
Second of all, there is limited access. The entire Olympic Peninsula has only one or two main roads that run through it, making it even more remote than Oregon’s quiet coast. The Olympic Coast is associated with massive colorful starfish, and I have heard first hand from divers that these are some of the world’s most interesting dive spots.
There is no doubt that protecting an area makes a difference. To truly appreciate what a healthy ocean looks like you have to see it for yourself. Ocean conservation for travelers involves experiencing the sights, sounds and feelings that these wild places can provide you with. There are Marine Protected Areas all over the world!
Experience the ocean
Nothing has made me want to contribute to a healthier and cleaner ocean more than my time in and around it. Once you know it, you love it. And then you will want to save it.
Years ago I tried snorkeling for the first time, off a catamaran in Cuba. The reefs were bleached. As I learned more about what a healthy ocean should look like I snorkeled more. I saw firsthand the status of many waters. The first time I saw living coral was in Australia. I was mesmerized by the semi-colorful reef and the creatures that lived within it. But nothing compares to my snorkeling in Maui.
For more Maui, The Road to Hana is a great day trip on the island!
With a new snorkel set I explored right off the beaches, and to my delight found coral. Alive, well and full of fish. We snorkeled off Molokini Crater, on a trip with the Pacific Whale Foundation. I saw fish and a myriad of coral located hundreds of feet below me, and a trip to a lesser know, shallow area brought the coral within a few feet. I even met my first octopus!
Looking for somewhere to stay in Maui? Try a non traditional tentalow, at Camp Olowalu!
The ocean is otherworldly, and to understand what there is to love about it you need to experience it firsthand. Coral reefs are magical, but they are dying. See them yourself, and you will realize they are worth saving.
Choose Sustainable Seafood
There is a high demand for seafood. In 2016 a new high was reached, with 20 kg consumption per year, per capita. This has become something that is lately at the forefront of my mind, due to personal lifestyle changes. Last year I became a vegetarian, and have increased my seafood consumption dramatically to keep healthy. This is even more pronounced when I am traveling.
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On Seafood Watch’s website, you can find a list of the detrimental impacts of wild fishing. They include overfishing, illegal fishing, by catch and habitat damage. Their site is comprehensive, and offers each state a unique list of Best fish to eat, good alternatives and the types of fish to avoid. This is one easy way to keep track of sustainable seafood while traveling. One type of seafood that everyone eats, but is on the “avoid” list is shrimp that has been imported. According to an infographic imported shrimp is detrimental because it produces a lot of bycatch: 3-15 lbs of by catch for every pound of shrimp. I recently found out that the biggest threat to turtles is not plastics, but being caught in by catch.
Choosing sustainable seafood makes a change in a big way: you are directly impacting the ocean. If more and more people choose the sustainable stocks the demand for those will increase. This will give a chance for depleted stocks to recover and unsustainable practices to decrease. This is my personal goal this year: to be more aware about the seafood I am consuming, and following the guidelines set out by Seafood Watch.
Update 2020: Become a champion for the oceans while you travel
Learning about the ocean through experience is a great start. Individual travel changes are even better. Working towards preserving our oceans by supporting local ocean champions is the best idea!
Change has come since my initial publishing of this post. New Hope Spots have been declared in Little Cayman, between Costa Rica and Ecuador (Cocos-Galápagos Swimway) and Florida’s Gulf Coast. Single use plastic has been banned in many countries and cities around the entire globe. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is finally being shrunk thanks to The Ocean Cleanup.
Yet there is still so much to do. And there are so many ways to get involved in ocean conservation for travelers. Volunteer with foundations, charities and corporations to clean up the beaches that you visit. On World Oceans Day 2019 I participated in a beach cleanup in Maui, where over 50 lbs of trash was picked up in a matter of hours. Buy from companies that directly support the preservation of the ocean. Get involved with other forms of eco-tourism. There are so many resources out there, all you have to do is Google search “Eco-tourism in …” Visiting beautiful places is such a privilege in this globally connected world, so why not give back to the places that bring you joy?
The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it- Robert Swan
There is so much to discover about the ocean. From all the different marine mammals, to the different oceans themselves, there is so much to learn and still so much that we as humans do not know.
One of my favorite things to do is explore the ocean and its shores with my husband. My love letter on Valentine’s Day shares many of the places we have been!
This World Oceans Day I hope you are inspired to learn more and to take action to save our oceans: because ocean conservation means saving our world.
Here are some of my favorite resources surrounding everything to do with oceans!
*Updated 2019: Our Planet
Oceans: The Threats to Our Seas and What You Can Do to Turn the Tide by Jon Bowermaster
Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity by David Kirby
Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove
The Ocean of Life by Callum Roberts
Blue Hope: Exploring and Caring for Earth’s Magnificent Ocean by Sylvia Earle
Happy World Oceans Day!
A Truthful Traveler