ashley englishsmall measures

small measures: eco-friendly ocean & waterway tips

by Ashley

Image above: My older brother, my Pop and myself, circa ’78, Virginia Beach, VA.

I love bodies of water. From churning oceans to still ponds, tidal pools and placid lakes, if there’s water involved, I’m a fan. Having just returned from a visit to Florida’s Gulf Coast, my water passion feels especially fervent. My younger sister and her college buddies were visiting for spring break from Notre Dame. Their time off from school coupled with our fun in the sun got me thinking about ways we can all preserve our waterways.

Today’s Small Measures proposes tips for turning trips to the beach, lake, creek or other body of water into eco-friendly ones. With spring upon us in the northern hemisphere and warmer weather ahead for months to come, many of us will be headed out to cool our heels in natural settings. And many of those areas take a serious beating after our frolics and forays have passed. That needn’t be the case. Below are my 10 suggestions for treading lightly while we’re treading water. — Ashley

CLICK HERE for Ashley’s tips after the jump!

1. Use marked pathways for reaching your water destination. At the beach, that might mean using walkover bridges or raised walkways to steer clear of fragile sand dunes, while lakes and creeks will have well-worn paths. Stick to the walkways indicated, and allow ecosystems in the area to remain intact.

2. Remember the “All in, All out” rule. If it came with you, it should return with you. Don’t leave anything behind. We already have so much trash in the ocean (the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean showcases this fact in graphic, honest detail), there’s no need to add more.

3. Use a natural sunscreen. The jury is still out on the use of sunscreen. While it may protect you in some ways, ingredients in many sunscreens can be harmful (such as disrupting the body’s absorption of Vitamin D, as well as disturbing hormone systems). Here’s some information from the Environmental Working Group on the topic. Play it safe from the beginning and wear protective clothing, avoid full-sun exposure when sunlight is strongest and stay in the shade before reaching for the sunscreen. When necessary, though, seek out those sunscreens offering both UVA and UVB protection with minimal hazardous chemical inputs. I refer to this list from EWG when picking up sunscreen, especially now that I’ve got a wee one to look after.

4. Bring non-disposable items for food and water. Toting your own food and water minimizes the production of garbage. Water or other beverages can be stored in reusable containers, eliminating the need for plastic water bottles. This is also the ideal opportunity to use a picnic basket instead of schlepping your wares in a plastic bag (which could easily get caught up in a hearty breeze and float away into the water).

5. Carpool or bike to your destination. Nothing pollutes quite like an automobile, so whenever and wherever possible, pile in together, or even better, hop on a bike and get a workout on the way.

6. Consider purchasing swimwear from recycled or upcycled materials. Now I’m the sort of gal who still sports the same Old Navy swimsuit I purchased over a decade ago. If, however, you want a bit of variety or your water-wear is simply not cutting it, check out this round up of sustainable-minded swimwear from White Apricot.

7. Spring for organic-cotton beach towels. Cotton is one of — if not the most — intensively chemically sprayed crops on earth (this link from the Environmental Justice Foundation elaborates on the subject). Sea Glass Organic has some beautiful organic and fair-trade options.

8. Pick up trash left by others. Why not enhance the place that brings you so much (often free!) happiness? Spend a few minutes gathering refuse left by others (wear gloves if the idea seems distasteful), and leave the space better than you found it. Check out Planet Green’s “Ban the Bags, Butts, and Bottles” campaign for additional sprucing-up ideas.

9. Consider joining an ocean or water advocacy group. Oceana is the largest international organization working on ocean conservation and advocacy. Ocean Action (musician Jack Johnson is a supporter) has a 35-year legacy of ocean stewardship.

10. Be mindful of how your behaviors affect our oceans, rivers, lakes and streams year-round. Every time it rains, litter on the streets runs down storm drains, ultimately finding its way to the sea, as does trash and cigarette butts tossed out of car windows. Similarly, buying, growing and eating organically limits the amount of synthetic fertilizers that would otherwise be spread on soil and washed into waterways.

What about you? Got any tips of your own for keeping our watery world happy? I’d love to hear them!

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  • I love this! I live in a coastal, beach town, in Maryland and am active in many of our ecofriendly organizations and nonprofits. Thanks for sharing this. These little things to make a HUGE difference in our local watersheds!

  • Thank you very much for this. I am a full time resident in a beach community, there are many great people who work very hard to keep our home clean and enjoyable for everyone. All efforts my residents and tourists are always appreciated.

    Oh yeah, and shop local. Beach communities and businesses live off the seasonal boosts.

  • thanks for putting this together! Another tip is to enjoy human powered boating instead of gas powered as they dump gasoline and tons pollutants straight into the water.

  • Support the work of Surfrider Foundation ~ a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves and beaches for all people, through conservation, activism, research and education.

    Wishing you warm days in the sun.

  • these are great tips…if you’ve been using natural sunscreen, would you mind doing a review/roundup in the future? I switched last summer, and unfortunately ended up HATING the brand I bought (for a lot of money), but am willing to try again…

  • Great article for looking forward summer! But please: the jury is still out on Sunscreen???? That’s like saying the jury is still out on global warming; sure there’s two sides to every story, but common! The pro’s definitely outweigh the con’s here. You get all the vitamin D you need from 20 minutes of exposure to sun on your face – and that’s in the northern latitudes of Nova Scotia!

    I love Design*Sponge, but please try to be a little more responsible!

    • allison

      i’m with you on sunscreen to be honest, but not everyone feels that way. a large number of our readers are of the opinion that sunscreen has chemicals that are harsh, etc. i’ve been told via email and twitter numerous times that i shouldn’t be so cavalier about the chemicals in them. that said, i grew up on a beach and never leave the house without some sort of sunscreen (even in the cold dark winter), so ashley and i feel a little differently about this.


  • I agree with you totally about your attraction to the water. Having just come back from a trip to Florida myself, I am always infatuated by the ocean. I don’t understand how so many people will travel thousands of miles to go to the ocean and never go in it? It is so amazing. Great tips as well. As for sunscreen, you just have to be aware of the different brands and ingredients and make your choices. I never leave home without wearing sunscreen on my face. I was burned badly in my early 20’s and have not sat out in the sun without protection since then. Also, my mom recently developed skin cancer (not the best kind) on her face. She had to have it surgically removed with 11 stitches. It developed from yearly trips down south and not wearing sunscreen at all. Always, always wear a hat!

  • where on the gulf coast did you just get back from? i’m from pensacola beach :) ps, there’s toxins in 99% of the products we use every day. the LAST thing i’m gonna skimp on is sunscreen. i agree with rest of these points, being from a beach town, i can tell you NOTHING is worse than tourists who litter because they don’t live there!

  • Ahh, great post! And that photo, particularly that navy and yellow raft… brings back serious memories of childhood! We spent many a summer on that exact raft :)

  • Allison-By all means, you should do what you think is best for you. Again, I am not advocating that people forgo sunscreen, but as mentioned above, I think that natural sunscreens are wise. Perhaps you may have missed the above link to the world renowned Environmental Working Group’s list of why there are indeed many reasons to be concerned about the safety and effectiveness of many commercially available sunscreens. I’ve listed the points that they address on my blog, which you can link to here: http://small-measure.blogspot.com/2011/03/great-debate.html.

    Again, as I always say on any personal issue, weigh the evidence and make the decision that is right for you. Informing people that the jury is still out on the pros and cons of many commercial sunscreens is not irresponsible, however, it is honest, and based in fact. The incontrovertible fact that research has shown melanoma risk significantly increases, not decreases, with regular use of commercial sunscreens is something that people should be aware of. The National Cancer Institute has actually found there is no evidence whatsoever that sunscreen protects you from melanoma. As mentioned above, I think the best thing is to use natural sunscreens for prolonged sun exposure. I am also with the doctors who recommend some exposure without any sunscreen, to avoid D deficiency.

  • Thanks for the eco-friendly beach tips! I live here on the Florida Gulf coast and the beach is my backyard – I appreciate everyone who does their part to maintain it’s natural beauty!

  • I love the OCEAN! Living on a tiny Caribbean island for several years, there was always plenty of trash to pick-up (even old school stuff washed up from the ’70’s-ha!). and check out my blog to see some art created from island trash! ~ya. http://lucky2bu.blogspot.com/
    thanks for bringing eco-love to our beach days :D

  • I love this, SO much! Please have more “small measures”, Design*Sponge!

    I remember one year I started picking up all the trash just in my area alone and there were so many cigarette buds.. yuck!

    And I’m so with you on the sunscreen. Not only is it killing our oceans, but it’s polluting our bodies! Here’s a great link about it: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/swimmers-sunscreen-kills-coral.html When it comes to health… chemicals in that bottle may end up giving you cancer among other horrible diseases/allergies/etc.

  • A couple of years ago, a friend invited me to her family’s 4th of July fest on the Gulf. On the 5th, three of us “adults” (ha) and her two nephews set out with a couple of large garbage bags and did a sweep of about a mile of the beach. We picked up four huge bags of beer cans, fireworks, and other trash — and got a cheer from a crowd sitting in lawn chairs blinking off their hangovers.

    Gotta teach ’em early…

  • Grace – I’ve been reading your blog for probably about a year now (if not longer) and somehow I didn’t notice the schedule. This one post must have just really popped out at me. I’ll definitely be paying more attention now, ha!

  • If you have older wee ones, a lot of the beaches that are national or state parks have junior ranger programs, which generally involve learning about the environment & wildlife (and human damage to it) & doing some clean-up (e.g. Padre Island National Seashore). Fun, learning, and environmental protection combined!

  • Great tips…I wish more people would strive for such etiquette. And by the way, your dad was (is?) a total cutie. Nice pic!

  • I am so bad when it comes to sun screen – but I have had to change my ways as in I do have to apply it to my children! On the beach there are no shady spots. We went for a walk on the beach last weekend, lots of sand and white caps? no no that was snow. Lake Ontario the lake that is blue and as beautiful as the ocean!

  • Just wanted to second the shout-out for the Surfrider Foundation! They do great work that relies mostly on grass-roots activism and volunteerism. They sponsor beach clean-ups, do water quality testing and work to keep access open to all users. If you love the beach/ocean, please support this organization (Jack Johnson is also a huge supporter).

  • I second the recommendation for Oceana! Oceana does incredible work on many large-scale ocean problems. Anyone who is concerned about environmental degradation should read up on ocean acidification. Oceana’s website is a great place to start.

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