Five Simple Steps for Families To Save the Ocean
Whether you are celebrating World Oceans Day on June 8, prepping summer activities by the beach or visiting aquariums with your kids, saving the oceans is on everybody’s mind. Global warming, plastic pollution, overfishing–oceans need our help. However, the challenge is so enormous that it’s hard to know where to start. That’s why I’m offering five simple steps to save the oceans. They are free, family-friendly, can save you money and will surely make the oceans a better place to swim in.
I was inspired to write about ocean conservation a few years ago, after a conference on Your Brain on the Ocean organized by ocean champion and sea turtle expert, Dr Wallace J. Nichols. I was struck by the powerful message that kept coming back. We love our oceans, it’s ingrained in our brains. The sound and sight of the ocean soothes our bodies. We need to protect our oceans.
And it is all true. We do love our oceans, even if we don’t live right by them. My girls are never happier than when they can splash around at the beach, or fill buckets of water and build sand castles, or take a wild ride in the waves. I showed my girls two short videos about ocean hero Jacques Cousteau. The first lasts only 100 seconds and was produced by cartoonist Jim Toomey – it’s a real treat to watch with kids.
The second one is a more lyrical call to protect our oceans with gorgeous underwater scenes, again 100 seconds of pure blue bliss with a tint of worry.
It was all sweet and blue, my girls almost felt good about the fate of the oceans until I showed them a video with bad news.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO SAVE THE OCEAN?
That was the first question my girls asked. Really, what can we do? Can we even do anything? I’ll admit to being depressed by news like this, horrified and worried about the ocean’s future. I wish I could tell you that there will be fish left in the oceans when my girls grow up but dang, the odds are looking bad. However, reasoning like that is not gonna take anybody far, least of all the oceans that represent 71% of the earth’s surface and 95% of the earth’s water. There is an eternal optimist in me, a person who wants to fight despite all the odds, a person who believes in change. So change it will be. Again my girls ask, what can we do?
If you can these 5 simple steps to save the ocean with your kids, it will be wonderful news for the ocean. If you can share them with your community and relatives, you’ll make a real difference.
#1 Reduce your Use of Plastic
I took this picture snorkeling with my kids in Thailand two years ago. From afar, I thought I was looking at two jellyfish. Scientists have shown that turtles confuse plastic bags with jellyfish or other gelatinous snacks, and I can see why. Ridding ourselves of plastic bags is a giant first step.
For parents, Living a plastic-free life by author Beth Terry offers tips on using less plastic in our lives. The easiest step by far starts with no more plastic shopping bags. As certain countries charge for plastic bags, carrying folding tote bags is both a budget- and ocean-friendly decision. I have half a dozen at home and each time we go grocery shopping, they come along.
For kids, reducing your use of plastic can be achieved by stopping to use single-serve sizes of snacks after school or in lunch boxes–crackers, cheese, biscuits, cereals, dried fruit or “healthy snacks” wrapped in plastic. It’s often less expensive to buy bigger containers and use re-usable containers (yogurt containers with lids can do the trick) to enjoy smaller portions at home or on the go.
#2 Recycle Plastic
In its recycling campaign, water company Arrowhead Waters introduced ReBorn water bottles using 50% of recycled plastic. I haven’t done the math on other plastic bottles but I know one thing for sure – plastic bottles and lids are one of the biggest culprits of ocean pollution. Once they’re floating away, they don’t biodegrade. They float and break down into small particles, mistaken for food by fish and birds.
Take a walk along the beach or near your local river and I guarantee you’ll find discarded plastic bottles on the shore or floating in the water. Plastic bottles need to recycled according to your community’s recycling programs.
#3 Eat Sustainable Seafood
You may have read about this–we are depleting our oceans by eating more than it has to offer. When you buy fish sticks or eat crab substitute in California rolls, you are likely eating Pollock caught in the Bering Sea. It’s also the fish used in McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish. Fishing quotas have allowed Pollock to survive so far, but global warming is causing warmer water temperatures and threatens future Pollock populations. What then?
When buying fish or eating fish when dining out, a simple step to save the ocean starts with making sure that it is sustainable. Even the local fish & chips joint should know about the type of fish they serve. Farmed or wild, line- or net-caught, even destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling all make a difference. If you don’t know about the origin and sustainability of your seafood, it’s probably bad news for the ocean. To help make ocean-friendly decisions, we rely on trusted resources.
- The Marine Stewardship Council issues a blue label that’s the international reference for sustainable seafood. Look for it on your supermarket fish packages. Look for tips on the website, which comes in different languages, depending on your geography.
- In the US, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a series of user-friendly Seafood Watch guides – also available as a mobile app.
- In the UK, the Good Fish Guide by the Marine Conservation Society helps you find sustainable seafood.
You can also support local fisheries that delivers local and sustainable fish in season with anecdotes about the fishermen, how they catch the fish and recipes.
#4 Participate in Beach/Lake/River Clean-Ups
Another simple step to save the ocean includes cleaning the crap that’s out there before it joins an ocean gyre. Earth Day is April 22 and you should be able to find coastal or river clean-ups where you can sign up as a family. The Surfrider Foundation organizes regular beach clean-ups all across the US. In the UK, the National Trust and the Marine Conservation Society organize beach clean-ups too.
For family events, why not encourage your kids to organize their own nature clean-up day? You can offer an ice-cream reward or take the kids out after the clean-up to celebrate. They’ll probably thank you for helping them care for the environment. I’ve found kids to be extremely supportive of clean-up activities. It’s their way to say “thank you” and it helps nurture their stewardship of the environment.
#5 Learn about the Ocean
To inspire simple steps to save the ocean, you need to care enough to do it. The more your kids know, the more they’ll be inclined to help protect the ocean. Organize a day out at your local aquarium or a special Discovery Channel evening on the ocean. Good family movies to start a discussion on the ocean include:
- Oceans – a Disney Nature documentary movie on the oceans
- Happy Feet – cool music and eco-friendly message with Antartica’s toe-tapping penguins
- Dolphin Tale – on the friendship between a boy and a dolphin
- Nim’s Island – a girl and her ocean friends on a tropical island
- Free Willy: Escape From Pirate’s Cove – a girl helps a baby orca return to her pod
- Finding Nemo – because we all love Nemo
- Saving the Ocean with Carl Safina – documentary series co-produced by PBS
Kids are the future of the ocean, not the other way round. That’s why they need to be in the loop as early as possible.
As Dr Wallace J Nichols says, live like you love the ocean. Live blue my friends.
What about you, what are ways you’ve found kids can help save the oceans?