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When booking a getaway to the coast, we might be particular about the hotels we book or the restaurants we choose. A gorgeous ocean, however, is typically a given. But before we go taking Mother Nature for granted, we should take a minute to think about how our own travel M.O. can affect—sometimes unexpectedly—her health. Here, six easy steps for making your next trip to the deep blue as green as can be.
Seek Out Sustainable Stays
With the perils of ocean pollution gaining worldwide attention, more beach hotels, from major chains to tiny B&Bs, are taking plastic-free or reduced plastic pledges. Others, meanwhile, are going green through other means, including programs to reduce energy and water use. Considering these eco initiatives as mandatory as great views or a comfy bed when booking a hotel not only supports sustainability through dollars but also makes reducing your personal carbon footprint much easier. Ask a hotel’s concierge what their environmental policies are—or, even easier, narrow your hotel search on TripAdvisor to those within the GreenLeaders program.
Say No to Plastics
And not just water bottles. While it’s important to BYO reusable bottles on vacation (even in regions where water may be unsafe to drink, nearly all hotels offer filtered water in the lobby and/or gym to fill up), avoiding other types of plastics is just as important. To make low-waste travel seamless, pack things like reusable drinking straws, utensils, and refillable toiletry bottles. (Or seek out hotels that offer toiletries in bulk containers versus tiny plastics.) Avoiding single-use plastics is “especially important when traveling to developing countries or regions that do not have good infrastructure for waste management, as there is a much higher risk that your plastic waste will end up in the ocean,” says Brian Hutchinson, vice president of outreach for the Oceanic Society, an organization that aims to raise awareness and action toward ocean conservation. “In such situations, a growing number of travelers are choosing to keep room in their luggage to pack their plastic back home where it can be disposed of properly.”
Screen Your Sunblock
There’s no denying that sunscreen is essential for beach vacations, but before you go throwing that old bottle from the back of your bathroom cabinet into your suitcase, you might want to read the label. Many major sunscreen brands contain a chemical called oxybenzone (among others) that’s proven to be harmful to coral reefs and marine life. “These chemicals, which are common in sunscreens, are known to accelerate coral bleaching even at small amounts and are therefore being banned in a growing number of places in the United States and worldwide,” says Hutchinson. Instead, look for sunscreens that contain natural ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
From both an experience and a sustainability standpoint, it’s best to eat on vacation the way you might already at home: as fresh and locally as possible. Seek out restaurants with on-site gardens for the freshest and most seasonal produce. The same goes for seafood—if it’s caught locally, that’s a nod in its favor. Having a pocket guide handy from the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch program is also a smart way to make sustainable choices while away.
Choose Wildlife-Friendly Activities
While nature-based excursions, like snorkeling and whale watching, are fun and educational parts of any vacation, when not run properly, so-called eco-tours can do more harm than good. “With only a few exceptions, activities that involve touching or feeding wild animals should be avoided,” says Hutchinson. “Viewing wild animals should always be done in a way that minimizes interference with the animals’ natural behaviors.” For your safest bet, look for tour operators with green certifications or partnerships with local scientists or non-profit groups, and always ask questions about what the tour entails.