6 Things All Surfers Can Do to Protect Our Oceans

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As surfers, we would be nothing without the sea. Unfortunately, the health of our oceans is steadily declining. Learn more about the steps that you can take to reduce your impact, keep our beaches clean, and protect our oceans.

1. Wear Reef-Safe Sunscreen

This is probably one of the more important things surfers can do to protect our oceans. As surfers, we are consistently slathering large amounts of sunscreen on our skin and proceeding to spend long hours in the ocean.

Commercial sunscreens are usually filled with chemicals like:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Avobenzone
  • PABA
  • Octisalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Homosalate
  • Octinoxate
  • Butylparaben
  • Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate
  • 4-MBC

So, what even are those? What’s the big deal?

In a report done by the International Coral Reef Initiative, these chemicals bleach coral populations significantly, even at low levels. They also cause the corals to get sick, digest themselves, or even genetically mutate and not function or procreate properly.

Basically, the chemicals in most commercial sunscreens kill coral.

Sunscreen, that is being released into the environment in huge amounts. An estimated 20,000 tons of sunscreen is released annually into the Mediterranean and between 4,000 to 14,000 tons sunscreen washes off people directly into coral reef areas every year.

Therefore, we as surfers should do our part to protect the ocean by wearing natural sunscreen alternatives.

They aren’t too much more expensive than regular chemical sunscreens, are as equally effective and are much better for the sea and for your skin.

Check out our article 5 Eco-Friendly Sunscreens to find out which ocean-friendly, reef-safe sunscreen might be right for you.

2. Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is a pillar ecological conservation concept. It’s pretty self-explanatory, the idea is to leave as minimal impact on the environment as possible when within a natural ecosystem.

When surfing, we are entering the Earth’s largest ecosystem: the ocean! In order to protect our oceans, we must be conscious of the footprint we leave behind.

Some key principles of Leave No Trace that we can incorporate are:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.  
    • Bring everything you need with you, so you don’t have to buy plastic disposable products that you will then have to throw away.                    
  2. Dispose of waste properly.
    • Take your trash with you. If it’s biodegradable, make sure you bury it or dispose of it responsibly.
  3. Leave what you find.
    • Shells, sand dollars, and other ocean finds may be beautiful, but it’s important to leave them where they are. They are essential to the health of the oceans and do more good on the shore than in a jar on our shelf.
  4. Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
    • Especially if you are camping or cooking on the beach.
  5. Respect wildlife.

If you want to be a true ocean warrior, you might want to implement the idea of leaving a negative trace when you surf. This means, leaving the beach better than when you found.

If you see a piece of trash on the beach, picking it up and disposing of it properly over time makes a huge difference in protecting our oceans and keeping our beaches clean.

3. Limit ‘Single-Use’ plastic

If we want to truly protect our oceans, we must try to minimize the use of single-use plastic in our lives.

According to the United Nations, 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. Therefore, reducing your plastic consumption is an important step all surfers can take to protect our oceans.

For example, one cup of coffee in the morning, a smoothie in the afternoon, and a bottle of a sports drink after the gym every day adds up to three plastic items that are ending up in the trash.

3 (drinks per day)

X 7 (days a week)

= 21 cups/bottles in the garbage per week

21 (cups per week)

X 4 (weeks per month)

X 12 (months per year)

= 1008 cups in the trash per year.

All of this trash could be reduced by using a portable cup, bottle, or mug. This is just one example of one person, and how adopting a minimal waste lifestyle, over time, can make a serious impact.

4. Eat Less Fish

Not all fish should be taken off the menu, don’t worry. There are some fish, however, that we should definitely eat less of.

The sad fact is, the majority of the world’s fisheries are being fished at a maximum, or are being overfished completely. Some marine species populations have suffered over a 60% population decline in the past 40 years.

Here is a list of commonly eaten fish that are vulnerable, threatened, or endangered:

If you love to eat fish – like me – try to fill up your plate with fish that have healthier populations and aren’t endangered so you can enjoy, without the guilt.

Some more sustainable fish options are:

  • Lionfish
  • Salmon
  • Tilapia
  • Dolphin / Mahi Mahi
  • Swordfish
  • Mackerel

If you are interested in learning more about which fish species are vulnerable, threatened, or endangered, check out the IUCN Red List for more information.

Not to mention, 40% of fish caught globally is thrown away as “bycatch”. So reducing our fish intake to once a week, or taking the extra time to research where you get your fish from can help ensure healthy ocean ecosystems, promote ocean health, and decrease the market demand for endangered fish.

5. Be a Conscious Consumer

Conscious consumerism is a great way to control your footprint on our oceans. It turns out, 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are produced by only 100 corporations.

Conscious consumerism is a technique that involves researching the company and the product that you are purchasing and selectively buying products from companies that align with your personal values.

The key, easy-to-implement principles of Conscious Consumerism are:

  • Do your research
  • Know the chemicals, ingredients, and packaging materials of what you buy
  • Shop local
  • Buy quality over quantity
  • Don’t buy what you don’t need

These techniques allow us to “vote” with our dollar and shows the large corporations the kind of products that are in demand. This, in turn, creates market trends that can literally change the way that companies do business.

This is one of the more time consuming techniques to protect our oceans, but this is also the most effective when it comes to changing the greater global market.

There are so many brands out there that are doing many amazing things like planting trees for every product purchased, donating rice to families in need, or removing plastic out of the ocean.

Taking the time to support these kinds of companies can be rewarding to both us and the planet.

6. Stick With It

It’s easy to get discouraged and overwhelmed when trying to be eco-friendly. It can seem like nearly everything we do is damaging the environment.

Taking it one day at a time and focusing on making small, everyday changes, bit by bit is important to not get so overwhelmed or disheartened. It’s all about intention, and being consistent.

Caring about a cause and wanting to make a change is what really matters and is what makes the most difference.