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.
Two of my favorite places in Australia were located on the ocean: Noosa National Park and Moreton Island!
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!
Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve/ State Marine Conservation Area
This stretch of the Southern California coastline is arguably the most beautiful: palm trees swaying in the wind, long stretches of beach, drastic coastal bluffs and tidepool life everywhere. There is no doubt that part of its beauty has to do with it being a conservation area.
On any given day you can see pelicans flying in their formations above, sea anemones hiding in tidepools, crabs crawling the rocks, and if you’re lucky, maybe even a dolphin or a sea lion just off the shore. This marine reserve was established in 2012, and goes all the way from Abalone Point in North Laguna and Aliso Creek beach in the south.
Some of the beaches have the most amazing tidepool life. I have spotted abalone, too many sea anemones to count, crabs bigger than my hands, snails, and chiton. The longer you look at the tidepools, the more appears! While visiting, be sure to follow the rules. Don’t take anything, even seemingly empty shells. Don’t overturn rocks or shells in the tidepools, tread carefully as you walk through them, and do not move animals from their locations.
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
56 Comments on “Ocean Conservation for Travelers: 5 Tips”
Chasing Coral and Blackfish made me bawl my eyes out! I think everyone should watch them and then actually apply it to real life. It is so so important
They are really touching documentaries! I watched Blackfish in theaters when it came out, after having read the matching book. I decided then I wanted to visit Seattle, and never imagined I would end up living right by the killer whales’ habitat!!!
I very much enjoyed the post. I live across the steeey from the beach and so the ocean and conservation is very dear to me. I also always refuse straws. Great information.
Thanks so much! It is one of those things that honestly people just don’t think about until someone tells you, but I am happy that straws are now getting a bad reputation and it is becoming “cool” to refuse them!
My mom lives on Kauai and there’s a huge push to eliminate plastic straws. My kids use straws all the time when we’re dining out and I’m thinking of bringing my own reusable ones.
That’s awesome, I found in Hawaii that they take conserving their land and waters much more seriously than we do here on the main land. It is so convenient and has become a habit for us to use straws, it would be awesome to encourage your kids to use reusable ones!
Yes! More of this please! When we were traveling in Europe, I was so happy to see that plastic bags in stores were practically non-existent. Most people brought their own or were forced to pay for a plastic bag, so they were more likely not to do so. Imagine the impact in the world if that was the case everywhere!
Here in Seattle we have also banned plastic bags, but all of the suburbs still give them out for free! It is such a huge issue that is starting to change, but we have a long way to go as a planet. That’s so awesome that you saw great examples in Europe!
I’ve been seeing a lot of interesting information about straw use and how important it is to discontinue our use. This is a great post with so much information.
I’m so happy that you’re seeing it elsewhere. The more it is talked about the more people will get on board with the idea! Thanks so much for reading!
This was such an interesting read. I’ve never snorkeled before or had an interest in seeing what’s under water. It’s always been scary to me! Your post has made me really want to experience it for myself. I’ve heard coral reefs are beautiful.
It was very, very scary to me just a few short years ago as well. I convinced myself I needed to do it because I love the ocean so much, and I can remember checking anxiously all around me the first time I went snorkeling. The pay off is amazing, especially if you have a chance to visit a place with coral and all the life that comes with it!
These are great lifestyle tips. Unfortunately, by far the most damaging thing you can do to the oceans while traveling is the hard-to-avoid long-haul flight to your destination. (Offshore drilling and climate change are both devastating!). And of course never, ever ever take a cruise — unless you want to contribute to raw sewage being dumped in fragile marine ecosystems, ugh. Travel is great, but unfortunately it’s less great for the planet.
I am so happy that you raised this issue- it is the most unfortunate part of travel that to get to these beautiful places we have to pollute. I recently read a post that led to me a site where you can “Carbon Offset” your flights by typing in your home and destination airports, and based on the distance it will allow you to donate dollar amounts to various environmental charities. I also recently saw videos on the horrors of cruises and decided that the only cruises I will be taking in the future are cruises to Alaska, because they have very strict guidelines that cruise ships have to follow in their fragile waters.
Thoughtful post! Its sad to see so much of Plastic going to the ocean. Together we all can make this Planet a happy place again.
Thanks so much! Every little bit counts!
This is great!!! Ive been meaning to watch Blackfish – I’ll have to watch it soon, heard so many positive feedback from it. Also definitely agree about reducing your plastic! I also don’t use suncscreen that can harm the ocean too ?
Blackfish changed my life! I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in protecting the ocean and its creatures! Reef safe sunscreen is a great step to saving the planet, and is one I should start practicing myself!!!
I have been seeing more and more about the plastics in the oceans and it is so devastating. I, myself am going to try to cut back on use of plastics. Your photographs are beautiful and you had some great experiences. I would love to learn how to scuba dive one day!
I would love to learn as well but am afraid of being so far down there with no quick way of escape! It is good that more and more people are talking about these issues now, thanks so much for the compliments!
Great tips and wonderful pictures! I am much more mindful of any single use plastic I am using now. I especially try my best not to take straws, my downfall is forgetting to ask at restaurants for no straw. I also so agree with you that spending time in the ocean or observing animals is so powerful! You realize how incrediable it is down there and want to preserve it!
Thank you! My downfall has also been forgetting to ask at restaurants for no straw, but it is in the forefront of my mind now so I’ve been a lot better. I am happy you loved my tips!
Thank you for sharing this post. It is also a great reminder to focus on recycle and reuse in our lives on a everyday basis, so that we can contribute to our environment
That is a very important step. It always baffles me how many restaurants do not have separate containers for recycling. I hope that there is more of a push for these big companies to take more responsible actions!
I really love this post and I couldn’t agree more on the interacting with animals in their own environment – last year I went swimming with sea lions off the coast of Lima and it was magical – we were just out there in the open ocean observing them in their natural habitat up close, but far enough to not bother them!
That sounds amazing! I’ve never swam with sea lions but I did have seals following me when I was sea kayaking here in Washington once!
I can’t believe you got to meet Sylvia Earle!! Wow! And I think it’s awesome that you highlighted Sustainable Seafood – seafood is a very big industry and not going away anytime soon, yet the mainstreaming of its sustainability certification is lagging behind other food industries where ‘organic’, ‘free range’ etc are now fairly familiar terms.
Unfortunately I did not meet her, it was just a documentary that I watched. If I ever do get to meet her I will make an entire post about it haha. That is such an interesting point- everything is cage free, organic, not treated with antibiotics and there is a huge push for it in the meat industry, but not so much in the seafood industry. I am happy to see bigger suppliers such as Costco sourcing their seafood from sustainable sources!
This is such an important topic. Also a pescatarian I had no idea I was contributing to the detriment of the ocean. This was wildly helpful and so well written. Thank you!
It is an interesting thing to think about- even eating fish has its impact. Thank you so much, that means so much to me that you found this helpful!
Wow I love this so much – thanks for sharing. !! Will definitely k eep these tips in mind when traveling.
Thank YOU for reading! The more that people practice these small tips, the more the world starts to change!
I wrote about the great pacific garbage patch for a college project! The oceans are so important! Thanks for creating awareness!
I taught Grade 1’s about that once and they were horrified. It’s crazy- we all want to save our planet whether we are 6 or 65, we just need to keep informing younger generations as well as adults so everyone can help to make a change!!!
I love this. Living in Hawaii gave me a whole new appreciation for the oceans.
It is so amazing how seriously they take ocean (and in general) conservation there! I would love to see a whole lot more of that around the world!
This is so informative and many things I didn’t know. I have heard of the straw campaign and I also heard people using glass straws too. Nowadays we use so much plastic we dont even realise it. This is very eye opening. Thank you for sharing with us.
D, xo || from https://livedreamcreate-d.com
SO much plastic! It was such an “innovative” invention when it was created but I do not think anyone saw the environmental impacts coming. Thank you for reading!
Love this post! It’s so important that we start treating the environment better! I always am making changes to reduce my negative effects!
I love that! There are always changes to be made, and I am learning new things about how I can help the environment each and everyday!
Happy World Oceans Day! I also can’t get that startling fact about 2050 being the tipping point of having more plastic in the sea than fish out of my head. Saying no to plastic straws is a good place to start. But I like how you dig down even deeper to find other ways to encourage that connection and care for our oceans. Great suggestions in this post! : )
It is a startling statistic. Getting people to start small encourages success, and then they will want to take it a step further! Thanks for reading!
Yes to all of this! Reducing plastic usage is so easy, it’s a wonder more people don’t think to do it.
It really is! Most of the time it is about simply saying no, and the more people that say no the less demand there will be for the stores to offer plastic bags, plastic straws, or excessive packaging.
Love this post. I try to not to using plastic.and the plastic that I so use I recycle it.
A lot of plastic is recyclable, which was news to me as I never saw people recycling it. The statistic of how much of it gets recycled is insanely low, so I am happy you are recycling it!
Ocean pollution and acidification is one of the greatest threats we face. Good to see such an important post on this critical matter!
They are! I am so happy that more and more people are talking about it, but we still have a lot of work to do in terms of awareness and action!
I don’t think people understand how important the ocean is to the survival of all species. We’re trying hard to cut down on all trash, especially plastics. I love the ocean.
I think it is easy to forget that we are literally here because of the ocean. Every little bit helps, that’s what I tell everyone! The ocean is magical and deserves to be clean & thriving for generations to come!!
The importance of this subject is so underrated in the digital world.despite all our efforts. This is a true and informative post and I just wanted to thank you for sharing this with the world.
It does seem to be, although there is recently a rise in ecotourism blogs, which is a great step forward. Thank you so much for reading it!
Such an important post and topic <3 Aside from a trip to Seaworld orchestrated by my father when I was 4 (which, fortunately, I don't remember) the only experiences I've ever had with sealife have been in the wild. Dolphins in India, New Zealand and here in the UK, sharks in Belize, whales in Sri Lanka… and each and every one has been absolutely breathtaking! It's such a privilege for us to even have these incredible animals in our lives, we really do need to learn to respect them and their home a lot better than we have been! I have a little drawstring bag with 8 steel straws in, and I am the absolute envy of all my friends when we go out!
I love that you have had all those experiences! Every experience I have had with a sea creature in the wild has made me respect the ocean even more! I have to get some steel straws, I just stopped using straws but I feel as though having steel straws makes more of a statement!!!
This is awesome!