Beaches are home to a dense population of important marine species.
Here are five ways to plan your beach bumming this summer with the planet in mind.
1. Carpool, cycle or walk to the beach. On a hot summer day, everyone heads to the beach for the cool breezes, a refreshing swim and a day of relaxation and fun. But instead of meeting all your friends at the beach, carpool. Carpooling saves gas money, limits the harmful emission of greenhouse gases, and, if more people carpool, more parking spaces will be available at crowded beaches. Even better—if you live close enough—walk, bike or skate to the beach. After some exercise, that water will seem all the more refreshing!
2. Skip the snack bar, and bring snacks from home instead. It’s hard to walk along the beach without spotting Popsicle sticks, plastic bottles and other snack bar trash littering the sand. Instead of buying an over-priced soda from the beach, pack a BPA-free plastic or stainless steel water bottle filled with your favorite beverage. Pack snacks in a reusable cooler or lunchbox. Trash can easily make its way from the shore to the ocean by a gust of wind or rainwater runoff, where it can harm marine animal and plant life, so always be sure to bring home all trash or dispose of it in designated trash cans.
3. Be sun safe. Overexposure to harmful ultraviolet rays can lead to skin damage and sun cancer. Though a little vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, and tanned skin is considered trendy, be mindful of the long-term effects sun exposure can have. According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, and excessive exposure to UV rays is largely responsible. To enjoy the sun but also keep yourself safe, avoid direct sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and always wear sunscreen with an SPF level of 15 or higher. When choosing your sunscreen, go for a biodegradable lotion that’s paraben-free. In studies, parabens have been shown to act as weak environmental estrogens, or to mimic hormones, and their long-term effect on human and environmental health is not well known. And consider wearing sun-protective clothing, like wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved bathing suits. Wearing sun-protective clothing is easier than having to reapply sunblock every hour, and produces less waste than a bevy of plastic bottles. The most effective sun-blocking clothing is made from polyester, nylon, Lycra or tightly woven, heavy fabrics, which serve as a barrier between your skin and harmful UV rays.
4. Remember that the beach is a natural habitat—we’re just guests. Treat the beach and its wildlife with respect. Avoid feeding, collecting or disturbing beach wildlife. There is no reason we cannot enjoy the beach’s animal and plant life, so when seagulls swarm for a snack, or when a crab makes its way on shore, go by the "look, but don’t touch" rule.
5. Know what you’re swimming in. Beach closings and swimming advisories result from heavy water pollution. Polluted water comes primarily from untreated or partially treated sewage, and runoff from cities and urbanized areas which carry harmful microorganisms. Viruses, bacteria and other harmful pathogens are therefore often present and dangerous for swimmers when sewage treatment plants malfunction, or after heavy rainfall which causes runoff from cities. In 2000, Congress passed the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act, which encourages states to implement beach monitoring programs and reduce water pollution. To help cut down on water pollution, remember that everything you put on your lawn, or down the drain, could end up in the ocean. Use organic compost instead of harmful chemical fertilizers, and limit all chemicals that you wash down the drain.