New This Month

Change the Day: Clean Oceans

Did you know that the storm drain on your street leads to the ocean? This summer, we're pledging to pick up litter when we spot it and help keep our seas clean—take the pledge to join us!

Wrapping your head around the importance of our oceans—and just how interconnected they are to all our waterways—is like trying to contemplate the size of the Pacific while standing on the shore. These bodies of water supply most of our oxygen, hundreds of billions of pounds of food annually, millions of jobs, hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, and—not to forget—priceless memories. (Long walks on the beach would be impossible without them.)

 

Take the Pledge: Join us to help keep our oceans clean by picking up litter when you see it

 

But the truth is, our marine ecosystems need our help. Iain Kerr, chief executive officer of Ocean Alliance in Massachusetts, puts the issue quite bluntly: “Our oceans have become our toilets. The detritus from our consumer lifestyles inexorably makes its way down into them.” His research-and-education organization uses drones to study whales without harming them, safely collecting samples of their spray to find and identify pollutants. “Whales are a good bioindicator species for ocean health, warning us of problems as they develop,” Kerr explains—namely, increases in garbage and chemicals, which end up there via streams, rivers, and aqueducts after slipping through our pipes, running off streets, or being dumped into sewers. Also, 40 percent of the carbon-dioxide pollution we generate gets dissolved by surface water and undergoes chemical reactions that increase water temperatures and make it more acidic. This causes sea levels to rise and compromises the delicate marine ecosystem.

 

The good news is we can help turn the tide. Read on to learn what you can do, both at home and when you head to the beach.

 

Text by Sarah Engler

Help from Home

Thoughtful purchases and healthy practices can clean the seas.

  • 1
    Choose Reusables

    “Every year, 1.4 billion pounds of trash enter the ocean, and more than 85 percent of it is made of plastics,” says Morgan Knowles, a media and outreach coordinator at the Florida based Youth Environmental Alliance, which empowers kids and communities through hands-on education and eco-advocacy. The simplest habits to adopt: Skip single-use plastic straws and bags (take a cloth tote to grocery-shop, and bring your own fabric bag to the dry cleaner). While on the go, drink from a reusable mug or water bottle, and keep cutlery in your work drawer.

     

  • 2
    Watch What You Flush

    The only thing that should circle down that bowl (aside from waste) is toilet paper. Items like dental floss, hair from a brush, cotton swabs, matches, feminine products, and wipes (even those labeled “flushable”) belong in the garbage. When it mixes with fats and oils in pipes, all of the above can create big blockages (called “fatbergs”) in sewers, which cause waste to overflow into waterways. And sadly, even partially treated sewage negatively impacts reefs, seagrasses, and marine life.

     

  • 3
    Don't Send Chemicals Down the Drain

    “We’re most concerned about the pollution you can’t see,” says Kerr, like runoff from pesticides and fertilizers that flows into storm drains on rainy days, or industrial chemicals in cleaning products. Use nontoxic goods for both gardening and homekeeping (Environmental Working Group has an exhaustive list; go to ewg.org), as well as biodegradable bar soaps or body washes that don’t have ingredients like parabens or triclosan, which can harm sea life. To find out how to safely dispose of old medications, contact your local sanitation or environmental-health department.

     

  • 4
    Eat Sustainably

    Americans consume close to 5 billion pounds of seafood every year. To ensure that what you’re ordering isn’t overfished or caught in ways that threaten other marine life, like dolphins, download the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s free Seafood Watch app.

Every year, 1.4 billion pounds of trash enter the ocean, and more than 85 percent of it is made of plastics.

Aid at the Beach

Whether you’re off to a river, a lake, or the ocean, follow these guidelines.

  • 1
    Don't Tresspass

    “There’s a reason it’s called ‘the beaten path,’” says Knowles. Certain walkways are meant for people. Climbing dunes, traipsing through vegetation, and stripping a beach of shells all cause erosion and can damage habitats of endangered species, like sea turtles and migratory birds. Use binoculars or a zoom lens, rather than trying to get too close.

  • 2
    Turn Off the Motor

    You’ll make a lighter impact on the water (and shrink your carbon footprint) if you enjoy paddleboards, kayaks, and sails in place of Jet Skis and speedboats. If you surf, consider joining a Surfrider Foundation chapter near you. The California-based conservation group has teamed up with Scripps Institution for Oceanography and the nonprofit Smartfin on a tool that attaches to a surfboard’s fin. It collects data about the health of your locality while you ride the waves. “Scientists have previously lacked baseline information about changing ocean chemistry,” explains Smartfin project manager Shannon Waters. The sensor currently measures temperature and motion, and in the future will log acidity, dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll fluorescence in the surf to help experts proactively develop solutions to curb acidification, which damages shellfish and coral reefs, and increases harmful algae blooms.

  • 3
    Apply Reef-Safe SPF

    “Not all sunscreens are safe for the environment,” says Knowles. Use mineral formulas with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide instead of chemical ones containing oxybenzone, which can bleach coral and slow new growth, according to a 2015 study published by Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

     

  • 4
    Leave the Shore Cleaner Than You Found It

    “We suggest you take five,” says Nick Mallos, director of the Washington, D.C.‒based Trash Free Seas program for Ocean Conservancy, which is launching a beach-cleanup locator on its website this summer (oceanconservancy.com). “Spend five additional seconds scanning your area before you leave to make sure you’ve picked up all your trash, and grab five more trash items you see while you’re at it.” Take that garbage with you, so it doesn’t get blown out of on-site cans and into the water. And if you bring your dog, keep him on a leash, and pick up after him, too.

Plan a Green Getaway

If a beach vacation is on your horizon, make it ocean-friendly with advice from Wayne Sentman, director of conservation travel programs at California’s Oceanic Society.

1. Tread Lightly: “Research the place you are thinking of traveling to, and learn about its issues,” he says. A crush of tourists puts extra stress on already fragile coasts and waters, so take a pass on overcrowded spots. Or travel at the very beginning or tail end of the most desirable season.

2. Find Responsible Tour Guides: Look for local operators who work with small groups of tourists and consider the environmental impact of every activity, whether it’s snorkeling, diving, or fishing. “Ask conservation groups in the area who’s doing good work or supporting their efforts,” Sentman says. A tip for finding those groups: Use the search term “friends of” with the name of your destination, as in “friends of wildlife refuge in Belize.”

3. Book Eco-Accommodations: Choose lodgings that provide information about their environmental commitments, whether it’s reducing waste or energy or donating money to local preservation efforts. Look for a thirdparty eco-certification like Green Globe (greenglobe.com) or Green Seal (greenseal.org).

Meet Our #ChangeMakers

These individuals are stepping up to make a difference in their communities. Click through to see what they're doing to keep our oceans clean—and how you can help!

  • These Students Found a Way to Keep Microplastics Out of Your Drinking Water
    These Students Found a Way to Keep Microplastics Out of Your Drinking Water

    Meet the high school teens who created a filter to keep microplastics out of our water supply.

  • The Girl Scout Inspired an Airline to Skip Plastic Straws
    The Girl Scout Inspired an Airline to Skip Plastic Straws

    As one of our first #ChangeMakers, 17-year-old Shelby O'Neil is making big strides in the eco-world. 

  • These Swimwear Brands are Stylish and Sustainable
    These Swimwear Brands are Stylish and Sustainable

    See some of our favorite eco-designers dedicated to making you—and the ocean—look good.

  • Why Ian Somerhalder is On a Mission to Make Our Oceans Clean Again
    Why Ian Somerhalder is On a Mission to Make Our Oceans Clean Again

    See what's driving this "Vampire Diaries" star to help us #ChangeTheDay.

  • The Father-Son Team Turning Ocean Plastic into Outdoor Furniture
    The Father-Son Team Turning Ocean Plastic into Outdoor Furniture

    See how the founders behind Yardbird are keeping our oceans—and your patio—clean.  

  • This 9-Year-Old is Turning Bottle Caps Into Benches For a Cause
    This 9-Year-Old is Turning Bottle Caps Into Benches For a Cause

    Sammie Vance is on a mission to help her classmates and the ocean. 

  • These Students Found a Way to Keep Microplastics Out of Your Drinking Water
    These Students Found a Way to Keep Microplastics Out of Your Drinking Water

    Meet the high school teens who created a filter to keep microplastics out of our water supply.

  • Why Ian Somerhalder is On a Mission to Make Our Oceans Clean Again
    Why Ian Somerhalder is On a Mission to Make Our Oceans Clean Again

    See what's driving this "Vampire Diaries" star to help us #ChangeTheDay.

  • The Girl Scout Inspired an Airline to Skip Plastic Straws
    The Girl Scout Inspired an Airline to Skip Plastic Straws

    As one of our first #ChangeMakers, 17-year-old Shelby O'Neil is making big strides in the eco-world. 

  • The Father-Son Team Turning Ocean Plastic into Outdoor Furniture
    The Father-Son Team Turning Ocean Plastic into Outdoor Furniture

    See how the founders behind Yardbird are keeping our oceans—and your patio—clean.  

  • These Swimwear Brands are Stylish and Sustainable
    These Swimwear Brands are Stylish and Sustainable

    See some of our favorite eco-designers dedicated to making you—and the ocean—look good.

  • This 9-Year-Old is Turning Bottle Caps Into Benches For a Cause
    This 9-Year-Old is Turning Bottle Caps Into Benches For a Cause

    Sammie Vance is on a mission to help her classmates and the ocean. 

New Wave News

Check back for the latest headlines on environmental happenings around the world. 

  • The EU is Planning to Ban These Single-Use Plastics
    The EU is Planning to Ban These Single-Use Plastics
  • Here’s What’s Washing Up On Beaches Around the World
    Here’s What’s Washing Up On Beaches Around the World
  • IKEA Is Making A Huge Step to Be More Sustainable
    IKEA Is Making A Huge Step to Be More Sustainable
  • India May Ban All Single-Use Plastics By 2022
    India May Ban All Single-Use Plastics By 2022
  • This Major Coffee Chain is Skipping Plastic Straws
    This Major Coffee Chain is Skipping Plastic Straws
  • These Credits Cards Are Made From Ocean Plastic
    These Credits Cards Are Made From Ocean Plastic