We all need the ocean, even if we don’t live right next to it. If 2015 is any guide, the ocean will need your help in 2016. Here are ten things you can do in your daily life to help the sea.
Eat Like You Mean It
When you eat seafood, what you eat and what you don’t eat matters. Some fish, like Alaskan Salmon or troll-caught Pacific Tuna, come from well-managed fisheries. Other fisheries create problems: Atlantic Cod or internationally caught Swordfish deplete fisheries, damage the marine ecosystem, and include a lot of accidental bycatch that is usually thrown dead back into the sea. To help eat sustainable seafood, download the Seafood Watch app onto your smartphone and use it at the grocery store or when you’re looking at a menu.
Born to Be Wild
And when you do eat fish, avoid farmed salmon. While some fish like tilapia can be raised sustainably in farms, most salmon farms raise Atlantic Salmon in net pens in the waters of Chile and British Columbia. In an open-ocean net, the sea lice and chemicals used to control the sea lice inevitably spread beyond the farm and are wreak havoc on the food chain. Fish farms are damaging a long history of sustainable, family-based salmon fishing. Eat the wild stuff. It tastes better, too.
Reduce Plastic Waste
The amount of plastic in the ocean is astonishing. As plastic degrades, it releases chemicals into the food chain, many of which are endocrine disruptors. The plastic that ends up in the sea and rotates in “gyres” or “garbage patches” does it’s worst damage not as big visible piles of garbage, but as millions tiny particles smaller than your fingernail, and can sneak their way into the ocean’s food chain.
One big thing you can do is stop buying bottled water. On a recent 2-hour river trip, my friend Chris literally filled his entire kayak with discarded plastic water bottles. Improperly discarded bottles account for a big chunk of the plastic in the ocean.
Let the Lawn Go
Even if you live inland, your lawn and the ocean are intimately connected. The fertilizers you put on you lawn eventually washes off and ends up in the stormwater system, which connects to a creek, which heads to a river, which, however long it takes, flows into the sea. There, the chemicals in fertilizer can damage the sensitive water chemistry of the estuary where the river meets the sea—a critical breeding ground for fish that feed much of humanity. Let the lawn be less green. Better yet, replace it with a wildlife garden with guidance from the backyard habitat program.
Participate in a Cleanup
Find a beach cleanup near you. If you don’t know of one, the Ocean Conservancy website will help you find one. These events remove beach debris before they can find their way into the great garbage patch or the stomachs of sea creatures. These cleanups are also a lot of fun. And if you’re one of those unlucky souls who lives inland, you can still help clean up your local river—everything flows downstream eventually. But when you head for the beach cleanup, carpool, because the another thing you can do is…
When you drive, carbon dioxide comes out of your tailpipe. Carbon dioxide, as we all know, is raising the earth’s temperature. But a lot of that CO2 also ends up in the ocean, where it combines with salt water and forms carbonic acid. The sea is slowly becoming acidic. The slightly more acidic water is weakening the shells of creatures like crabs, oysters, and clams, as well as smaller invertebrates like krill.
Driving isn’t the only way we contribute to ocean acidification. Household electricity and heat that come from oil, coal, or natural gas also pumps CO2 into the atmosphere. The good news is that solar panels have gone up in efficiency and down in price. Many states now allow people with solar panels on their roofs to sell electricity back to the grid. 2016 is the year to do it: the Solar Energy Investment Tax Credit expires at the end of 2016.
Give Some Cash
Organizations that work to protect the sea need money to operate. These organizations range from national or international groups like the Ocean Conservancy and the Surfrider Foundation to small local groups located in states, like the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition. They need individuals who care about the sea. Get online and chip in. Fun fact: the vast majority of nonprofit funding comes from individuals, not from foundations, corporations or the government.
These same organizations also need people as well as money. Volunteer to collect data, observe wildlife, manage environmental restoration projects, organize beach cleanups, write emails to elected officials, and mobilize others. It works. And when a lot of people do it, it works better. And it’s a lot of fun.
Play On the Beach
We’ll only protect the ocean if a lot of people care about it. Places that people don’t visit also don’t get protected. So get out there and walk in the sand, go swimming, fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, kayaking, kite-flying, or sand-castle making; whatever you do for fun on the ocean.