Few experiences in life are as carefree as a day at the beach. But recklessness can cross the line into recklessness. And careless beachgoers can really take a toll on the seaside they cherish so much. Taking care of the range where you play doesn’t have to be a buzzkill. With a little planning and some basic respect, you can pull an environmentally-themed beach read out of your durable beach bag and kick back into a better day at the beach.
Although a beach may only look like a deserted stretch of sand, it is actually a living ecosystem. Beaches are liminal zones where multiple systems come together and can be incredibly rich in biodiversity. But overcrowded and heavily developed beaches can affect water quality and offshore marine life. Beaches are prone to degradation due to erosion, which occurs primarily from development and storms. Heavy traffic and irresponsible behavior can also contribute to erosion. Sand and water can be contaminated by chemical and plastic pollution washed upriver or onto the beach. Marine animals, as well as creatures living in the intertidal zone and on land near water can also be directly harmed by the actions of people visiting the area.
Before you leave
Your actions at home – even if you live far inland – can affect coastal ecosystems. Chemical pollution flows from inland watersheds, so reconsider your use of fertilizers and pesticides. wash your car at the car wash instead of in the driveway. If you change your own oil, collect and recycle it properly.
Plastic waste – including PPE and cigarette butts, as well as water bottles and other packaging – travels great distances to reach the sea. There it accumulates on beaches and spills into the ocean where it forms huge whirlpools of trash and harms wildlife. Try to eliminate single-use plastics from your home and pick up plastic waste wherever you see it.
Better at the beach
Driving on the beach can cause erosion. In most places it’s illegal, but even in the few places where it’s allowed, don’t drive on the beach. Likewise, if a beach has designated paths, stay on them – they’re there for a reason and can protect nests or loose ground. Do not step on plants or pull on grasses growing on the beach, as their roots help stabilize the sand.
Unless your car has an oil leak in the parking lot, chemical sunscreen is the main chemical pollutant emitted by swimmers. Approximately 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter the oceans every year. The chemicals used in sunscreens include suspected carcinogens. Besides the potential danger to the person wearing sunscreen, the chemicals in sunscreen are toxic to marine life and contribute to coral reef bleaching. Hawaii has banned the sale of sunscreen containing the coral-damaging chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. Even if you don’t have a Hawaii ticket, choose a Hawaii-approved ticket reef safe sunscreen is a good idea.
Nothing beats a picnic on the beach, but blown away plastic wrap and abandoned takeout containers can really spoil the mood. Pack your picnic in reusable containers and take all your trash home. Bins on the beaches are often full to bursting and picked up by seagulls. This results in trash blowing around the beach and being washed into the water, where it ends up contributing to giant trash whirlpools with sometimes devastating results for wildlife. While you clean up your own trash, spend a few minutes picking up plastic trash from the beach before heading out.
It’s natural to want to get close to sea creatures when you find them. But wildlife at the beachas elsewhere, don’t take advantage to interact with humans. Do not feed, handle or hunt any animals you see in the water or on the beach. Do not touch or even approach nests of any kind, even if they are not currently occupied, as you may introduce pathogens. Try not to damage any tracks you see on the beach, especially turtle tracks, which provide information to researchers.
Follow all fishing and clam fishing regulations to avoid overfishing. Do not bring home small animals like crabs for the same reason. And while driftwood and seashells make great keepsakes, it’s best to leave all natural materials where you found them. They are part of the ecosystem, and even if some seashells don’t miss the beaches can be devastated by lost gear when hundreds of visitors each take just a few.
If you follow these guidelines for better beach habits (and work to reduce your carbon footprint the rest of the year), you’ll help keep the seaside beautiful for generations to come.