Last week was amazing.
I already miss the beach. The soothing salt water, the prodigious wildlife, the fresh-caught seafood. But I’m not here to complain about missing St. Pete Beach, I’m here to talk about sustainable beach vacations.
To be honest, when I think of sustainable vacations, beach getaways don’t jump to mind. Too many resorts and hotels proliferate in overdeveloped areas, and too many are built without respecting the environment.
Fortunately, there are ways to make your next beach trip more sustainable! While I didn’t follow all of these tips on my own trip (sorry, camping), I know they’ll help “green” your next beach vacation!
#1 Go Camping
Most state parks/national seashores/etc. only allow tent camping, which has a much lower carbon footprint than staying in a hotel. The only way to ensure that your camping trip is sustainable is by following the rules set out by each area. Like any camping site, make sure you leave no trace. Your beach vacation won’t be sustainable if you leave your trash and waste all over the pristine sand.
#2 Choose Non-Motorized Activities
Plenty of water activities require fuel: jetskiing, parasailing, riding on a banana boat, etc. But just as many don’t! If you want to go on a boat ride, that’s fine—you can take a sailboat tour. Or even consider kayaking. (I tried it last week, and it was super fun!) Stand-up paddleboards give you a very different perspective of the sea. Depending where you are surfing, boogie-boarding, windsurfing, or skimboarding could be options.
Watersports aren’t your only options!
Build a sandcastle. Play beach volleyball. Toss a Frisbee in the shallows. You’ll be amazed at how seemingly mundane activities really come alive just by being at the beach. And you can never go wrong just lying on the beach catching up on your reading. (Don’t forget your sunscreen and sunglasses though!)
#3 Investigate Your Seafood
When choosing which seafood to ravenously devour on your vacation, it’s important to know which species are local. In St. Pete Beach, grouper and snapper were local, fresh options at every restaurant. Once you identify the local species, it’s important to figure out which of those is sustainably caught. I’ve mentioned the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app before, because I love it so. According to the Seafood Watch, grouper is a “good alternative” while a lot of snapper fished in the Gulf of Mexico is a “best choice.” Always try to eat “best choice” first, “good alternative” if there are no “best choice” options available; and never eat anything of the “avoid” list.
Shellfish like shrimp and crab can be all over the place, and often not local to the destination. Ask where the seafood comes from so you can make a more informed decision.
#4 Conserve Water
We Americans are incredibly fortunate to (for the most part) have easy access to fresh water whenever we want it. We turn on a tap and bam! our thirst is quenched. Part of this is due to our developed infrastructure, and part is due to easily accessible freshwater sources. In landlocked Kentucky, all water sources are fresh water.
Some of the most popular and beautiful beaches are part of small Caribbean islands that don’t have simple access to fresh water. A lot of the water is desalinated ocean water, and desalinization isn’t as easy (or cheap) as simply collecting water from a stream. Fresh water is not only crucial to have a good vacation, but more crucial for the locals’ lives. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine, but people live at the places we visit. We have the privilege to vacation there, but the responsibility to do no harm. So please conserve water on your beach vacation.
There are lots of ways you can conserve water: take shorter showers, don’t let the faucet run while you brush your teeth or wash your face. On my vacation I saw a family building a sandcastle with fresh water meant to wash off sand and salt water off people. Don’t do that; ocean water works just as well as fresh water when building a sandcastle.
#5 Don’t Be Greedy
I have talked about sustainable souvenirs before, but I feel the beach deserves special scrutiny. When I was little I loved collecting shells. But as I got a bit older, my grandmother gifted me shells she had collected decades ago. I’m talking full-sized sand dollars, massive conchs—I had never seen such large, intact shells. And then my mom told me that shells like that had been all over the place when she was younger. So why weren’t there any when I was a child?
Because too many people took shells from the beach.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t take any shells from the beach--collecting shells is certainly a better alternative to buying harvested starfish and sand dollars. But you don’t need all the shells, I promise. Aim to bring back only one small shell from your trip. And please make sure it’s uninhabited—the animals living in them don’t want to go home with you.
And speaking of which, don’t bring back any living things. Don’t support the hermit crab industry (even though I get it—I had hermit crabs when I was little). And definitely do not take an animal out of the ocean to become your pet. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but it’s been known to happen. Yes, conchs are adorable, but they need to live in the ocean, not in your aquarium.
Bonus #6 Avoid Sand Dunes
Sand dunes are coastline’s first and best defense against storm surge and erosion. If you want your favorite beach spot to be where it is year after year, you’ll leave the sand dunes alone. Don’t step on them, take sand from then, or take plants from them. Take pictures of them (because they’re gorgeous!) but that’s all!
These are only a few of the ways you can make your beach vacation sustainable, certainly not all the ways. If you have other tips, please share them in the comments so we can all benefit from your knowledge!
Now get out there and go!