Every single action we each take to conserve natural resources and promote sustainability has a great impact on our worldwide efforts to save the environment. Check out the information below to learn how you can implement simple, environmentally-conscious habits into your everyday life.
Refuse Single-Use Plastics
Plastic debris is the most abundant form of marine litter. Half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once, resulting in a tremendous amount of waste. At least 8 million tons of plastic enter our oceans every year, weighing nearly as much as 90 aircraft carriers (IUCN). The lightweight material makes its way from our homes, cars, boats, and garbage cans into creeks, rivers, and oceans, where it can be fatal for wildlife. Plastic bags, bottles, caps, and straws are mistaken for food and ingested by many types of animals. Plastic has been documented at all levels of the food web – inside sea turtles, fish, birds, marine mammals, even plankton. Plastic does not decompose, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics. We can help solve the plastic pollution problem by refusing single-use plastics at every opportunity.
Plant Native Species
All plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air, which helps to prevent climate change. Native species offer even more benefits for ecosystem health because they are adapted to local environmental conditions. Native plants can help reduce soil erosion, provide food and habitat for wildlife, and decrease pollution by filtering chemicals and nutrients out of watersheds. Marine plants like kelp, seagrass and plankton are also very important – scientists estimate that between 50-80% of the oxygen production on Earth comes from the oceans, mostly from plankton (NOAA). A great way to help the environment is to start a native plant garden with species that attract pollinators. According to the California Native Plant Society, milkweed, lilac, and buckwheat are good options for supporting bee and butterfly populations. It’s also helpful to remove invasive plants, which can overgrow and negatively impact natural habitats and wildlife.
Reduce, Reuse, then Recycle
The first step towards responsible waste management is reducing the amount of trash you produce by being thoughtful about your purchases and choosing products with minimal packaging. Step two involves finding ways to reuse items before tossing them out. Recycling is the final step, and in order for recycling to be successful, we need to be informed. Americans generate about 258 million tons of trash per year, and only a small percentage of what goes into household recycle bins is actually recycled (EPA). Mixed packaging, soiled materials, plastic wrappers, bags, and electronics are generally not recyclable through the standard “single-stream” process. According to the UN Environment Program, over 55 million tons of e-waste are produced every year, weighing more than all commercial airliners ever made, and much of that ends up in landfills. Learn about how to sort your recyclables by visiting your local government’s waste management website.
Pick It Up
All watersheds connect to the oceans, so if you notice a piece of litter on the ground, it’s already on its way out to sea. When trash reaches the coast, it has a negative impact on marine life, as well as on the health and beauty of our beaches. Try picking up a few pieces of trash from your community each day. When you visit the beach, take a few minutes to clean up before hitting the water. If you need to throw something away, don’t add to an overflowing garbage can – take your trash with you and dispose of it at home. You can also participate in organized cleanups like California Coastal Cleanup Day, which removes over 100,000 pounds of litter across the state each year. Remember, “poop pollutes” – pet waste carries germs and bacteria that attack clean water – so always pick up after your pets.
Experience Nature Responsibly
Spending time in nature is an essential part of a healthy, active lifestyle. Time spent in nature has been linked to improved cognition, reduced stress, and increased self-esteem. There are many great ways to experience the outdoors, and it’s important to do so responsibly. You can participate in bird watching, habitat restoration, or guided tours, just be careful to “leave only footprints”. This means you should pack up all your food and belongings so that you don’t leave anything behind that can alter the natural landscape or turn into pollution. When you visit the beach or any outdoor area, you can contribute real data through citizen science projects like Ocean Alert, eBird, and the NOAA Marine Debris Program. If you ever encounter a wild animal that is stranded or in distress, don’t approach the animal, and contact your local wildlife rescue hotline to make a report.
Fight Climate Change
Climate change is affecting the health of our oceans and all life on Earth. Sea turtle nesting beaches in many parts of the world are threatened by rising seas, invertebrates and coral reefs are struggling due to ocean acidification, and whales, sea birds, and polar bears are becoming more vulnerable due to warming conditions in the Arctic. Human lives are also in jeopardy as a result of more extreme storms and excessive heat. We can reduce our carbon footprint and fight climate change by walking, biking, and taking public transit whenever possible. Eating a plant-based diet can also help. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock is responsible for at least 14.5% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. Turn off lights and appliances when they are not in use, and replace incandescent lightbulbs with LED bulbs. All together, these actions can make a difference.
Select Your Seafood Carefully
There are many factors to consider when it comes to selecting seafood. One major concern is bycatch, which is the incidental capture of non-target species. It is estimated that for every pound of shrimp caught, up to 6 pounds of other species are discarded, which could include dolphins, sea turtles, and sharks (Monterey Bay Aquarium). Overfishing is another serious issue. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that more than a third of fisheries are overfished. In addition, eating some types of fish can lead to concerns over food safety, health and origin. To avoid contributing to this complicated issue, only purchase seafood from responsible fishers, who are making an effort to eliminate bycatch, obeying fishing regulations, and being careful with their use of fishing gear. Oftentimes, it is better to support small, local fishers, and it is always important to know the source of your seafood.
Kickstart Your Environmental Career
A fulfilling career in environmental science, research, or conservation can begin with volunteering. As you enter the next phase of your education, whatever that may be, there are many amazing organizations that can help you put your existing skills to good use, or equip you with the knowledge and experience needed to turn your passion for the environment into a rewarding career. Volunteering is an important community service that many nonprofit organizations, including Ocean Connectors, rely on. We seek dedicated volunteers and interns to provide support with a number of aspects of our work and to achieve our mission. Check out our Opportunities for Ocean Connectors Graduates page for information about some of our partner organizations that offer volunteer positions in San Diego County and around the world – including stipends and academic credit – to help you take the next step in your education.
One of the best ways to make a difference is to influence someone else to take positive environmental actions, whether in your own home, community, or across the globe. Become a role model by pledging to follow the conservation tips on this page and then talking to your friends and family about what you’re doing to help the environment. Remind others that we are all connected to the oceans and that we have a responsibility to protect them for marine life and for future generations. Contact your elected officials to let them know that protecting the environment is a top priority. Ask local businesses to find ways to cut down on waste and to participate in recycling programs. Remember, an open-minded and respectful conversation is the best way to influence others and to create change. Most importantly, keep the learning process going.