In most of Canada, spring is a myth. So Canadians now face the annual dilemma: hibernate through the final weeks of ice and snow, or escape to a tropical beach. Either way, water is on our minds.
Whether you’re destined for sun and sand, or bingeing TV under a blanket, your habits could have a huge impact on our ocean’s ecosystems.
Our planet’s reefs are in serious jeopardy. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has lost roughly half of its coral since 2016 due to bleaching. Rising ocean temperatures kill the living organisms in coral and leave behind only the calcified exoskeleton, drained of life and colour.
Coral is more than just a snorkeler’s selfie backdrop. It’s a living marine ecosystem that supports biodiversity. It’s also an economic cornerstone of many island nations that rely on reefs for tourism and fishing.
Luckily, there’s a lot we can do from home and on the shore to protect reefs for future generations.
Life’s a Beach
Shop for reef-friendly sunscreens. Up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in reefs each year. To make matters worse, the slogan “reef-safe” is often just a marketing gimmick. Buyer beware. Read the label to make sure your SPF doesn’t contain benzophenones, parabens and cinnamates, which bleach coral. Look for sunscreens that use non-nanoparticle zinc oxide. And it’s always a good sign if the company backs up claims with third-party eco-friendly testing. Practice sun safety. The best way to keep sunscreen out of the ocean is to use less. Avoid prolonged exposure between 10 am and 2 pm, when the sun is most damaging. Cover up with long-sleeved tees, rash guards and wide-brimmed hats instead of slathering on more sunblock.
Pick reef-safe destinations. Islands popular with tourists are hit first and hardest by reef collapse. Look for reef-friendly resorts and tour companies, and never book any trip that promises to let you touch the coral. Ask your hotel what it’s doing to protect nearby reefs—they may surprise you with a great answer, or you may inspire them to do better. When tourists show concern for preservation, the travel industry is more likely to pay attention.
Reduce your reliance on harmful household cleaners. Everything we put in our drains ends up in the ocean. Caustic cleaners accelerate coral damage and endanger marine life. Shop for eco-friendly products or try making your own cleaners with baking soda, lemon and vinegar, which are also safer for pets and children.
Reduce plastics in your personal care products. Many exfoliant scrubs and shampoos contain microbeads, which have a devastating effect on the environment and have shown up in ocean catch. Cut those out of your regimen, and look into solid shampoo bars that reduce reliance on plastic bottles.
Go green with lawn care. Fertilizers are one of the biggest contributors to coral damage. Nitrogen and phosphorous dissolve into runoff water and end up in waterways near and far. Mulch your grass clippings as a natural fertilizer. If your neighbours tell you your lawn looks patchy, just tell them that your reef is thriving.
Whether you’re taking a seaside vacay or jealously scrolling through Facebook photos of someone else’s, small changes make a big impact.
Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE Movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.