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50 Ways to Save the Ocean
By David Helvarg, Jim Toomey
New World LibraryCopyright © 2006 David Helvarg
All rights reserved.
1. Go to the Beach
Enjoy the sand and the water and leave it as clean or cleaner than you found it.
For many of us, our sense of wonder over our blue-marble planet began with a trip to the beach. These days, despite theme parks, shopping malls, and sports stadiums, going to the beach remains the number one outdoor recreational activity for all Americans, with some 68 million of us hitting the ocean sand every year. The hot sand, the iodine-flavored sea air, the thrill of cold waves on a hot day — or, conversely, warm, clear waters on a muggy afternoon — are what "life is all about." Boardwalks and umbrellas, French fries and hot dogs, gulls and beach blankets, surf music syncopated by the thump of the waves, body boards and skim boards, pelicans flying with their wingtips to the waves, sandpipers skittering along the wet sand at sunset — these familiar images and memories are to many of us the very definition of leisure and renewal.
When children explore tide pools, pick up and examine seashells along a golden shore, or build sand castles, they often discover a spark of wonder that may inspire their life directions, bringing them to science, architecture, engineering, or a range of other callings. Looking out over a vast and seemingly unknowable ocean, or looking through a face mask into a world of brightly colored fish and corals, can also begin a child's transformation — the realization that each of us is part of something much larger than ourselves, something both mysterious and deeply attractive.
Mostly, though, beach time is about fun, family, friendship, and of course romance. The salty taste of the sea on our lips adds a tang of something sweet and special to long days whiled away without regret. Beach time is like living the good old days in the here and now.
To keep this time special we need to take care of the beaches we visit, whether for a day, a weekend, or a summer. Here are some commonsense precautions you can take to make sure the beach remains clean and natural for your future visits.
1. Take only pictures and leave only sand (carry out everything you carry onto the beach).
2. Wear waterproof sunscreen (you don't want to be a one-person oil spill, leaving sunscreen grease in the water).
3. Use the public restrooms, to keep the water clean.
4. Avoid swimming near storm-drain outlets, which can carry a mixture of pollutants into the water and increase your risk of getting sick by 57 percent, according to a major study.
5. Use walkovers to cross sand dunes, as opposed to walking through or jumping off the dunes themselves. Dunes help prevent beach erosion.
6. Keep your pet on a leash and away from areas frequented by marine wildlife, and make sure you clean up after your pet.
7. Don't chase or feed the wildlife.
8. Bring a trash bag with you, and pick up any litter you find.
2. Get Married on a Wild Beach
The places we associate with love are the places we seek to conserve.
One morning my love and I were staying in a guest cabin above the ocean in Mendocino, California, when we were awakened by the sound of a bagpipe. We went out on our deck to see the two guests from the other cliff-top cabin with a preacher and a piper. They were standing out at the end of the bluff, getting married on the edge of the Pacific, with blue skies, white clouds, and blue and white waves acting as their witnesses.
I've been to a number of beach weddings, seaside family reunions, ceremonies to release the ashes of a relative into the ocean (human ashes are recyclable in the sea), and a memorial service for my life's love on her favorite beach. The ocean offers us both hope and solace, making us feel a part of something larger as we celebrate or commemorate the major turning points in our lives.
While all beaches have some level of wildness about them, wild beaches are those closest to a natural state, with ungroomed sands, driftwood, seaweed, or other wind- and wave-borne debris. They tend to be sparsely populated, have limited access, and draw colonies of seals or sea turtles as visitors. They can be found from Maine to Hawaii and are sometimes considered sacred by those who have lived longest by their side.
A certain wild passion and love of the sea draws people to make bonds of commitment by the ocean, from a first kiss in a sandstone cave (I still recall) to wedding vows on a windy beach. When our most memorable occasions take place at the beach, saving the sea becomes as personal as protecting the place where you found the love of your life. Here are a few suggestions about how to have an environmentally friendly wedding or special event at a beach:
1. Before planning, learn about beach regulations. Find out whether there's a maximum number of guests, whether food and drink are allowed, what noise and time restrictions exist, and whether you can pitch a tent.
2. Make sure you pack out anything you bring in and have secure hold-downs and storage bins so that nothing flies off into the water or tumbles down the beach. Littering is not romantic.
3. Know what the weather report and the tide tables say, and then be ready to enjoy any unexpected change.
4. Consider encouraging guests to offer wedding presents that give something back to the beach, such as contributions to your favorite shoreline protection group.
5. Vow to return to your wild beach to work to protect it, and cherish it as you do each other.
3. Dive Responsibly
Take only pictures and leave only bubbles, while exploring underwater wonders.
It's been more than half a century since Jacques Cousteau and his friend Émile Gagnan invented the Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (scuba) that allows a diver to swim freely and weightlessly through the water, and, in Cousteau's words, "feel like you're an angel." Today, diving and snorkeling have become hugely popular activities, with some 5 to 10 million Americans scuba-certified and 2 million actively diving on a regular basis. Among the certifying organizations that train people are the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). Both teach safe and responsible diving practices, and no one should don diving equipment without having passed these or similar professional courses.
Having become certified some 20 years ago, I've witnessed changing conditions on our reefs, in our kelp forests, and in many other parts of our ocean, usually not for the better. I've also found that, once exposed to the wonders of our seas — the colorful diversity and mind-boggling variety of life underwater — divers and snorkelers often become leading advocates for the protection and restoration of marine wilderness.
Ironically, through careless behaviors, lack of experience, or lack of awareness, underwater visitors can also damage the very wonders they go below the surface to enjoy. In the early days, divers focused a lot on spearfishing and collecting. But sharp declines of abalone, sheepshead, and other once-popular marine prey in areas like California have taught local divers to be careful stewards of the marine wilderness they value. Today, far more divers are shooting pictures than spearguns as they seek ways to explore Jacques Cousteau's "silent world" without harming it. Here are some guidelines for protecting the seas while diving in them:
1. If you are diving or snorkeling from a boat, tie the boat to reef mooring buoys to prevent anchor damage to the living coral. If buoys have not been installed in the area, anchor in the sand a good distance from the reef, and make sure the anchor is secure, so that it doesn't drag.
2. Dive carefully so you don't harm corals and other organisms. A bump from a tank, knee, or camera can cause lasting damage. Keep your gauges and octopus (spare air source) secured, so they don't bump around.
3. Don't touch coral. A touch could remove a protective layer of "slime" and expose the polyps to diseases. (Also, many corals sting.)
4. Don't collect souvenirs. Dive sites can be rapidly depleted of their resources and beauty. Do collect discarded fishing line and other harmful human debris (see action 33), to protect the seascape you're enjoying.
5. If your dive site is crowded, ask your fellow divers or guide if they'd mind heading to a less crowded site. Crowds can negatively affect already stressed reefs.
6. When you join dive certification organizations, encourage them to include underwater environmental awareness and behavior in their training course curriculums.
7. Avoid the urge to hitch rides on turtles, manta rays, and other marine wildlife.
8. If you hunt or gather game such as lobsters, be sure to obey all fish and game laws.
4. Be a Blue Boater
Practice safe boating that protects both you and the ocean.
sailing out to sea — far from land, or along its margins on bays, at reef lines, and in coastal waters — is a journey, a pleasure, and an adventure that humans have "embarked" on since they first devised barks that floated. A day on the water is a day almost certain to be remembered. I recall days of sunlight and mild winds with passing whales and dolphins riding our bow waves; and wilder days standing in harness on a flying outrigger till our catamaran pitch-poled, and I found myself underwater working my way through tangled lines and buckles. I remember slow paddles in hot mangrove backwaters; and pulling Gs on a roaring go-fast boat. I've enjoyed long sails on an outer reach and been shipwrecked on an empty desert strand. I don't regret a day, nor have I met many sailors who would trade their time on the water for any other endeavor.
There are now some 10 million recreational motorboats and millions more sailboats plying the ocean waters of the United States, everything from personal watercraft to classic wind-driven sloops to luxurious megayachts. In total the recreational boating industry generates some $30 billion a year in economic activity. It also generates far more pollution and other environmental and safety problems than most of its participants would like. Here are ways to assure that you and your friends act as smart, ocean-friendly sailors:
1. Make sure your boat has a fuel-efficient four-stroke engine or new direct-injection two-stroke engine that reduces exhaust emissions. Outmoded two-stroke personal watercraft and outboard engines are "stinkpots" fouling the air and releasing up to 2.5 million gallons of oil and gas into coastal waters every year.
2. Keep a supply of oil-absorbent rags on board for cleaning up small oil and fuel spills. Diapers also work well.
3. Anti-fouling agents can be foul. When painting or cleaning your boat, use legal bottom paints and biodegradable cleaning agents. Sand and scrape your boat at a distance from the water, and use a tarp or drop sheet to collect the old flakes for proper disposal.
4. Be aware that in most coastal areas it is illegal to use a power sander on bottom paint unless you tent your vessel.
5. Avoid discharging toilet waste. Use marina pump-out stations for your boat. Pet waste should be similarly disposed of, not tossed overboard.
6. Secure all items before heading out from the dock, and discard trash once you return to land. Plastic bags and Styrofoam pellets can be killers to birds, turtles, and other creatures that mistake them for food. If you lose trash overboard, especially if it's plastic, go back to retrieve it.
7. When cleaning fish, use a fish-cleaning station, or scatter the scales and offal at sea, not by the dock where they will attract scavengers. Alternatively, try composting the remains with peat moss or using them as a garden fertilizer.
8. Whenever possible, do business with ecofriendly marinas that have good management practices for containing and controlling pollution.
5. Keep Your Home Aquarium Ocean-Friendly
Make sure your saltwater tank reflects the ocean's wonders without depleting them.
"I gave up smoking and got addicted to aquariums," says Brian Harrison, owner of The Reef, a restaurant in Washington, DC, whose marine aquariums contain a mind-boggling assortment of neon-bright saltwater tropical fish. He's quick to explain that the fish, algae, and corals in his tanks are all captive-raised, grown by hand, either by himself or by other aquarists and dealers. None has been collected from coral reefs in the wild. Just as he wouldn't think of serving nonsustainable fish in his restaurant, he doesn't believe in keeping display fish unless they fit his ethic of marine protection.
Most people who keep saltwater or marine aquariums, including some 600,000 in the United States, do so because of their love for and fascination with these wondrous fish — and their reef or other ocean environments. But many don't realize that their hobby also affects coral reefs. More than 1,400 species of ornamental fish are traded worldwide, more than 20 million individual fish each year. Many tropical fish are captured though the use of cyanide, which is sprayed into coral caves and crevices to stun the fish. As a result half or more can die within hours of collection. Fish that are not targeted for sale are also killed, along with many coral polyps, and the coral's intricate marine ecosystem is damaged. With the high price tropical fish often command, too many are being removed from their home waters, including oceans off Hawaii and Florida. Fewer than 10 percent of marine ornamental species are currently captive-bred.
You can create an ecofriendly saltwater aquarium, but you have to do more than simply purchase whatever fish or rock coral catches your eye at your local pet store. Here are some guidelines for a sea-friendly aquarium:
1. Consider owning a freshwater aquarium. It is easy to set up and maintain one, and more than 90 percent of freshwater fish sold as pets are captive-raised. Some African cichlids rival the color and beauty of their marine cousins and breed readily in home aquariums.
2. If you own a marine aquarium, purchase tropical fish that have been reared in captivity. Aquacultured species you can now buy include clown fish, dottybacks, cardinal fish, gobies, batfish, sea horses, and several interesting invertebrates such as peppermint shrimp and snails. The group Reef Protection International produces a pocket guide to help you select sustainable aquarium fish (see Resources).
3. Join a hobby club or contact more experienced aquarists to learn how to captive-breed and trade your marine plants and animals. Several excellent online resources are available, such as Reef Central (www.reefcentral.com), where experts answer questions for new hobbyists.
4. Patronize aquarium shops that are environmentally aware. Hobby groups such as the Marine Aquarist Society (MAC) and advocacy groups such as Reef Protection International can help you locate them.
5. Ask about the origin of all fish you purchase. If they are not captive-bred by a company such as ORA, Inc., make sure they have MAC certification, which assures they were sustainably captured.
6. Never dump anything from your tank into a storm drain, lake, river, bay, or other body of water, because you could be introducing harmful non-native species or microbes (see action 25).
Excerpted from 50 Ways to Save the Ocean by David Helvarg, Jim Toomey. Copyright © 2006 David Helvarg. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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