10 Easy Ways We Can Protect the Ocean for World Oceans Day

These 10 simple steps – from reducing plastic usage to choosing an eco-friendly car wash – can help overcome the challenges faced by ocean ecosystems worldwide.

With every breath we take and every drop of water that we drink, we’re connected to the ocean – no matter where we live. The world’s oceans are the lungs of our planet, supplying most of our oxygen as well as a vast amount of our food and medicine. Life on earth simply can’t survive without healthy oceans, and yet marine ecosystems are faced with seemingly insurmountable threats like global warming, pollution and overfishing. What can we do to help? Here are 10 easy steps that we can all take to protect the oceans for World Oceans Day.

1. Use Less Plastic

Plastic is such a big problem for the world’s oceans, it’s accumulating into a disgusting mass of man-made junk in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Garbage Patch is big enough to qualify as the nation’s largest landfill. While recycling is an important step, the best thing you can do to help is simply use less plastic. Carry a reusable shopping bag and water bottle at all times, and choose products that come with less packaging.

2. Eat Ocean-Friendly Seafood

Many species are being overfished into extinction, so it’s important to be aware of how your eating habits impact the ocean and its interdependent marine populations. National Geographic has a Seafood Decision Guide that you can consult to make sustainable seafood choices. Oh yeah, and there’s an app for that, too. The free iPhone app Seafood Watch will help you out when you’re in the supermarket seafood aisle or looking over a menu at a restaurant.

3. Cut Your Carbon Footprint

Global warming is having a devastating effect on coral reefs and other marine life. The oceans are getting hotter and more acidic, leading to a domino effect for all of the species that live within them and depend on them for survival. What can you do about it? Support efforts to fight global warming, especially at the polls. But on a more personal note: cut your carbon footprint. If everyone reduced their contribution to global warming, it would make a big difference. Check out six apps that help you cut your carbon footprint.

4. Mind What You Flush

Whatever you pour down the drain or flush down the toilet could end up in the ocean. Never dispose of paints and other household chemicals at home, switch to non-toxic household cleaners and toiletries and avoid flushing anything other than human waste down the toilet. Triclosan, a chemical in antibacterial soaps, has been detected in dolphins, and the effect of pharmaceuticals on coastal ecosystems is still unknown. Follow FDA guidelines in disposing of unused medications.

5. Cut Chemicals & Contaminants in Your Yard

Even if you live far inland, the pesticides, fertilizers and other substances you use in your yard can have an effect on the ocean. These substances can seep into groundwater or be washed through storm drain systems, causing nutrient imbalances, toxic algal blooms, seaweed overgrowth and many more problems for marine environments. You don’t need these chemicals to have a beautiful yard – the Nature Conservancy recommends planting a native garden, which requires less water and fertilizer than non-native plants, making your own compost to use as fertilizer and following Audubon Society guidelines for a ‘Healthy Yard.’

6. Choose Green Car Washes

It may seem like washing your car at home is more eco-friendly than taking it to a car wash, but that’s not necessarily the case. The runoff from your car goes straight into storm drains, where it’s typically swept off into ocean-bound waterways. Dirty water from washing your car not only contains harsh detergents from the products you use, but also gasoline, oil, exhaust fume resides and heavy metals. Federal law in the U.S. requires commercial car washes to drain this waste water into sewer systems instead, which is much safer, but some car washes go even further than that, filtering and re-using the water.

7. Support Ocean Conservation Groups

There are dozens of marine conservation groups in need of donations and volunteers to clean up pollution, carry out crucial research, protect threatened species and fight global warming, which is speeding up ocean acidification. Pick your favorite out of national and international organizations like Oceana, Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, or find a local group that helps marine ecosystems in your area.

8. Avoid Products That Put Endangered Marine Life at Risk

There’s no doubt that coral is beautiful, and it makes for stunning earrings and mantelpieces – but leave it on the ocean floor where it belongs. Don’t purchase goods made from threatened marine species, including real tortoiseshell accessories and anything made from marine animals or animal parts. Demand for these items leads to poaching.

9. Be Smart About Seaside Recreation

A day by the sea is incredibly relaxing, whether you’re lounging in the sun, boating or taking a dive to the ocean floor. But be sure that your visit doesn’t have a negative impact on the natural settings that you love. Look but don’t touch when snorkeling and scuba diving, avoid taking natural souvenirs home with you and be careful where you set your anchor in open water. Stay off fragile sand dunes, which are crucial for preventing erosion, and always dispose of your trash.

10. Clean Up the Beach

Integrate a little community service into your next trip to the beach by bringing an extra trash bag to pick up some of the litter that’s bound to be scattered in the sand. Or, go one step further and participate in organized beach clean-ups in your area. If you don’t live near the sea, you can still help. Because litter often travels a long way before it gets to the ocean, picking up some of the plastic bags, aluminum cans and other trash in parks and roadways near your home can make a big difference.

Photo: Dawn

Stephanie Rogers

Stephanie Rogers currently resides in North Carolina where she covers a variety of green topics, from sustainability to food.