Whether you backstroke, dog paddle, or belly flop, there’s no escape from a scorching day like a long, cool swim. And whatever your preferred body of water — lake, ocean, or backyard pool — the current sweltering summertime heat makes it the perfect time to dip, dive, or plunge for a bit of relief. Of course, it makes sense that if you’re enjoying the spoils of nature, you should want to help safeguard it. So, before you break out the swimsuits, sunscreen, and shades, here are some ways to make your next big splash as sustainable as it is refreshing.
Look for a sustainable beach
If a trip to a nearby beach — or at least one within driving distance — isn’t ambitious enough, seek out ones that have shown they care about sustainability. (Not coincidentally, they will also be among the most pristine locations.) One way to tell this is if a beach has received a Blue Flag Beach designation from the Foundation for Environmental Education. It's a global non-profit that assesses spots according to environmental standards. It shouldn’t be hard to track one down. There are more than 4,000 Blue Flag beaches around the globe.
Bring eco-friendly gear
Once you have settled on a beach — even one not as exotic as a remote stretch of sand on a far-flung sliver of the planet — make sure to eco-proof all your usual gear. What does that mean? Leave the plastic at home if you’re bringing children — and their toys. Toys get lost, so at least biodegradable ones will do less damage when they are swept out to sea or buried in the sand. If you really want to demonstrate your eco-cred, instead of plastic beach chairs, bring ones made from recycled plastic or natural materials. Similarly, buy beach towels that are one hundred percent GOTS certified organic cotton, sunglasses produced with plant-based plastics or reclaimed wood, and hats stitched together from such natural materials as palm leaf.
Wear sustainable swimwear
If your swimwear is virgin nylon and polyester, that means plastic. Instead, look for brands that produce their products with recycled fishnets and plastic bottles. This way, you will not be adding to the islands of plastic trash currently polluting the oceans. In addition to recycled nylon and polyester, you can look for suits constructed from such natural materials as hemp and GOTS-certified organic cotton.
Slather on non-toxic sunscreen
Nobody wants you to burn. However, traditional sunscreens contain chemicals that can harm you and the marine life you may encounter. Oxybenzone and octinoxate — two chemicals that Hawaii banned in 2018 — cause severe, even lethal, damage to coral. Other ingredients to watch out for in sunscreens are para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), triclosan, and parabens. While there are “reef-safe” options, it's always best to make sure whatever sunscreen you’re using has been approved by such organizations as the Environmental Working Group.
Pick up after yourself — and others
If you enjoy a lake or beach, why would you leave it in worse condition than you found it? Yet plenty of people go without picking up after themselves. So, consider sweeping up the litter left behind by less-considerate visitors. A little work will make your spot lovelier for humans to enjoy and safer for the animals who call it home.
Put that seashell down from your ear
Shells are not there for you to take home as a souvenir. They’re a critical part of the local ecosystem, providing animal shelter and safety. Additionally, they limit erosion. Removing them isn’t just thoughtless — it’s harmful.
Leave the wildlife alone
Whether at a lake or the ocean, respect the local inhabitants. As a rule, beachgoers should stay about 100 yards away from marine mammals when possible. And if you bring a dog, make sure to leash them to prevent any unnecessary — and potentially disastrous — cross-species encounters.
Knock down your sandcastles
Build all the sandcastles you want, but when the day ends, flatten them. Why? Because baby turtles can get trapped in them — or at the very least struggle to crawl past them. When it’s time to head home, take a picture of your fine work if you need to commemorate it —then demolish it.
Take precautions before boating
Boating is not the most eco-friendly of activities, but if you are going out on the water, you can take a few precautions to limit the impact on the local environment. Among them:
- Maintain your engine to prevent leaks.
- Avoid spills when changing the oil or refueling.
- Use non-toxic paints.
- Get rid of batteries, antifreeze, paints, and other toxic materials at a proper hazardous waste site.
Eco-proof your pool
If your watery oasis is the pool in your yard, you can take a few steps to mitigate the environmental impact. First, invest in a pool cover. Not only will it keep the water cleaner, but it will cut down on evaporation. Likewise, so will a windbreaker wall. When it comes to the pump, look for an energy-efficient model. (Pumps are notorious consumers of energy.) In recent years, pool owners have been turning to saltwater instead of chlorine, but natural pools are also gaining popularity. These pools use aquatic plants — local to the area — to clean the water.