Swap Sunscreen & Skip Straws: All The Expert-Approved Ways To Save The Ocean

mbg Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care."

Photo by Shane Gross

In response to President Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, mbg is ramping up its sustainability coverage to give you the tools and resources you’ll need to make a real difference. And as signatories of the We Are Still In pledge, we’ll be taking action right there with you.

Today, we’re ringing in World Oceans Day with advice from the experts on how we can tackle the biggest issues facing our waters.

Today marks World Oceans Day—a global event that celebrates the world's waters and highlights how everyone, no matter where they may live, can help protect them.

To ring in the occasion, thought leaders are gathering at the United Nations this week to discuss how we can best conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas, and marine resources for decades to come. Needless to say, they have a lot of ground to cover. Here are a few of the key issues in marine conservation today and a few ideas on how you can get involved, straight from the experts.

Plastic pollution.

The amount of plastic in our ocean has reached staggering new heights. Around 8 million tons of plastic are now dumped in the world's oceans every year, the equivalent of 136 billion milk jars, or five grocery bags per every foot of coastline. This barrage of trash is more than just unsightly: Marine life can eat or become tangled in the debris, and the latest research finds that pollutants are seriously damaging the immune systems of some of our most beloved aquatic pals like dolphins.

Most of this waste accumulates in five ocean garbage patches, the largest being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. Exciting initiatives like The Ocean Cleanup, inventor Boyan Slat's plan to extract 50 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch over the next five years, provide glimmers of hope. In the meantime, we can take action to make sure we're not adding to the problem even more.

Photo: iStock

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You can make a difference by showcasing your talents (and refusing plastic straws).

Lea d'Auriol, founder of Oceanic Global, a nonprofit that organizes experiences to inspire people to preserve our oceans, explains that this conservation will look a little different for everyone. "No matter who you are or what your background is, you can use your individual talents and perspectives to raise awareness or drive change. If you’re someone in a public position, use your voice to raise awareness; if you’re a journalist, write about the issues; if you’re in the fashion realm, push for the use of more sustainable materials," she says. "As consumers, we all have the individual power to create change as well. Small actions such as saying no to single-use plastics such as plastic straws (we use them for only three minutes, but they’ll outlive our great-grandchildren on this earth) is a great way to start."

Dr. Stephanie Wear, senior scientist for the Nature Conservancy, adds that she's seen these small changes galvanize larger shifts. "Some of the small, daily changes that people can make in their homes include reducing the use of single-use plastics (think water bottles and plastic bags) and conserving water (think cutting two minutes off your shower or turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth). It's also important that people get involved in their communities. Reducing plastics and water use is a great beginning to engaging at a deeper level. Start small and go big!"


Photo: iStock

Globally, around 180 million tons of seafood are caught annually, which makes for a fishing industry that's notoriously difficult to regulate. In order to satisfy demand, fisheries have been known to overfish certain species and go after ones that are threatened, which throws off the delicate ecosystem balance. These days, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that over 70 percent of the world’s fisheries as either fully exploited, overexploited, or significantly depleted. Your decisions as a consumer play a major role in shifting this industry, and remaining conscious of your purchasing power is key.

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You can make a difference by doing your homework.

Jean Flemma, a founding member of Ocean Collectiv—an advisory group that supports sustainable fisheries management—recommends doing your homework to ensure that you're choosing fish that was ethically caught.

"Given that 90 percent of the seafood we eat in the U.S. is imported, we can help support sustainable fishing practices worldwide through the choices we make at the market or when dining out," she says. "Programs like the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch and the Marine Stewardship Council's certification program help consumers identify those sustainable seafood options. By asking where the fish you are buying or eating comes from and how it was caught, you can encourage better management of fish stocks here in the U.S. and abroad."

Natalia Vega-Berry, founder and CEO of the Global Brain, an environmentally focused consulting agency, echoes this idea. "One of the most important levers people have is their purse! Every time they shop, they can make local and sustainable buying decisions." She adds that your commitment to the cause shouldn't stop in stores. "There are so many ways for people to get involved on a local level to inspire leaders to create stronger environmental policy. Voting, speaking up, marching.

Global warming and reef loss.

Photo: iStock

When water reaches a certain temperature, its coral releases the algae that gives it its coloring in a stress response. So once these coral turn completely white, it's a sign that they are vulnerable and dying. Reefs around the world are suffering from such climate-related coral-bleaching events, with the most notable being the Great Barrier Reef. Experts have concluded that 95 percent of areas surveyed in the reef have now been bleached. Just last month, scientists concluded that it has reached a point of no return.

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You can make a difference by tweaking your routine (and swapping out your sunscreen).

So what can we do to make sure that widespread coral bleaching stops now? Earlier this summer, environmental research scientist Craig A. Downs told us that chemicals in our sunscreens play a role in the problem. "There are several chemicals that are a known threat to coral reefs where they are in high enough concentrations. The UV chemicals that pose a threat are oxybenzone and octinoxate but also nanotized zino oxide and titanium dioxide," he says. If you're going to be swimming in reef waters, remove your sunscreen or go with one that doesn't list these ingredients.

Gabby Ahmadia, the senior marine scientist at the World Wildlife Foundation, reminds us that even if you're not directly interacting with coral reefs, your actions likely still affect these vitally important ecosystems. "If coral reefs are to survive into the next century, we must all act on their behalf," she explains. "We all have the power to help give reefs a fighting chance by making climate-smart decisions and standing up for the planet. You can walk, bike, or use mass transit instead of driving, switch to clean, renewable energy in your home, and urge your elected officials to support climate action."

David Gruber, a marine biologist and National Geographic emerging explorer, says that his work designing undersea technology to help humans relate to deep-sea life (think: shark-eye cameras and robots that can interact with marine creatures without harming them) has shown him the urgency of climate action. "Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on our planet, but they are also one of the most fragile and delicate systems. I view them as the canary in the coal mine, and as they decline dramatically, other ecosystems will soon follow," he says. "Start by educating oneself: Watch documentaries, listen to talks, and participate in citizen science project like Reef Watch, MPA Watch, and Earthwatch."

For all you overachievers out there, here are some more resources to help you save 3,000 gallons of water with your next meal and revamp your purse into an eco-activist tool kit. (We promise, it's easier than it sounds.)

And are you ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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