How do your leisure activities impact the oceans?

With more than 85% of Aussies living within 50km of the coast, it’s no wonder that spending time on or in the water is almost a national past time for us.

Swimming, fishing and boating — they’re all fun activities and certainly take advantage of the wonderful summer weather we’re fortunate to have.

But did you ever stop to consider that your fun in the sun may be harming the natural habitat?

What’s in your sunscreen?

If you’ve grown up in Australia, you know what Slip Slop Slap (and more recently Slide and Seek) means. In a bid to curb skin cancer rates — Australia has one of the highest rates in the world — we’ve all been encouraged to wear sunscreen to block out those cancer-causing rays.

However, it’s now been discovered that certain chemicals in sunscreen have been responsible for doing grave harm to the world’s coral reefs and have caused coral bleaching. Say what?

Sunscreens contain many ingredients, including organic and inorganic chemical filters that absorb the UV radiation to prevent it penetrating your skin. However, it has now been found that some of these UV filters are greatly damaging the environment.

Studies have found that UV filters used in sunscreens such as oxybenzone, octocrylene, octinoxate, and ethylhexyl salicylate are present in almost all water sources around the world. To make things worse, these filters are not easily removed by common wastewater treatment plant techniques. Furthermore, oxybenzone has been implicated specifically as a possible contributor to coral reef bleaching.

Marine life is also impacted by these chemicals, with UV filters such as 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and octinoxate having been found in various species of fish worldwide, causing harmful consequences for the food chain.

It’s not just oceans that are being affected either. Rivers and lakes and even drinking water have been found to have traces of toxic chemicals as a result of people washing off sunscreen in the shower.

In 2018, Hawaii became the first US state to ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate due to the negative impact they have on the environment. It’s estimated that 6,000 to 14,000 tons of sunscreen go into coral reef areas every year. WOW!

Here in Australia, however, authorities and health bodies aren’t as enthusiastic to follow suit, given our high risk of developing skin cancer.

“It’s still a matter of balancing our planet health with human health when we know that two out of three Australians will develop skin cancer in their lifetime,” says Cancer Council Australia CEO Sanchia Aranda.

Still, Cancer Council products no longer contain oxybenzone which is related to allergies, and is phasing out octinoxate. However, other brands of sunscreen may still contain these ingredients.

What you can do: It’s extremely important to make sure you protect yourself from the risk of skin cancer, so keep Slipping, Slopping and Slapping. However, make an effort to look for sunscreens that offer protection from the sun’s rays, without the nasty chemicals that deplete our planet.

Time to re-think that cruise?

The global cruise industry is growing at an incredible rate. In fact, it’s the fastest-growing category in the leisure travel market. Demand for cruising increased by 62% between 2005 and 2015. Last year, over 27 million passengers were expected to set sail on a cruise of some kind.

While cruises are becoming more popular, their popularity in the environmental stakes is sinking — rapidly.

The cruise industry would have you believe that holidaying on a floating city is a beautiful experience; an affordable luxury for everyone to enjoy. However, behind the glitz and glamour is a murky world of pollution, carbon emissions and destruction of the environment that just can’t be ignored, nor enjoyed.

Every year, the cruise industry consumes millions of tonnes of fossil fuels and spews sulfur dioxide out into the air. When sulfur is mixed with water and air it forms sulfuric acid – the main component of acid rain, which causes deforestation and destroys aquatic life. A recent investigation found that just one ship can emit the same particulate matter in one day as one million cars. Woah!

If that’s not enough, cruise ships are also guilty of dumping waste, including untreated greywater, into the ocean. In 2016, Princess Cruises was fined $40 million for polluting the ocean by dumping 4,227 gallons of ‘oily waste’ off the coast of Britain. In September 2018, two more liners were charged with ‘unauthorised discharge of untreated greywater’. This is also known as sewage, which comes from everywhere by the toilet. Eeeew!

Pollution isn’t just limited to chemical pollution or air pollution. Noise pollution is another big problem which can disrupt marine animals.

All up, it’s been found that every passenger’s carbon footprint while on board a ship is roughly three times what it would be on land. Gulp!

What you can do: The obvious answer here is to avoid cruising! However, if you’re set on sailing into the sunset on your next holiday, choose a cruise liner that has a commitment to protecting the environment. As there is no official rating system for the sustainability of cruises, your best bet is to contact the cruise line or visit their website to find out how they are reducing their impact on the environment.

Better boating

While taking your boat out on the weekend may not have the same impact as going onboard a cruise ship, it can still harm the surrounding environment.

Studies on heavily trafficked waterways show that boats have significant impact on water quality and clarity. In particular, the presence of leisure craft increases the growth of algae and disturbs sediments, which can obstruct sunlight and spoil the water, impacting all life under the surface. Water chemistry can also be changed, either becoming too acidic or too alkaline, thereby reducing the water quality for aquatic plants and animals.

Wildlife are also impacted by oil and fuel spills, disposal of untreated greywater, and the emissions from boat fuel.

And the smaller, less obvious, aspects of boats such as detergents, paints, batteries and metals can have disastrous effects on wildlife’s ability to survive and thrive. They may cause cancer, mutations, birth defects, and death. Oh no!

What you can do: If your boat is old, consider replacing it with a newer one, as they are more fuel-efficient and less prone to leaks and degradation that can impact aquatic ecosystems. Being vigilant with your boat maintenance is also important, however take care that you do so in an environmentally safe manner. Finally, know what to do if you accidentally spill oil or fuel in the water, as it can make a huge difference to how this will impact water quality and local flora and fauna.

We’re all for fun and enjoyment, however entertainment should never be at the expense of the planet and our future. If we’re all a little more environmentally cautious when we’re out and about on the water, Mother Nature will thank us for it.


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Nerissa Bentley

Nerissa Bentley is a Melbourne-based health writer and blogger. As a mum of 2 (a teenager and a pre-teen), she understands the challenges involved in raising children, balancing work, and making time for yourself. Through her writing, she aims to inspire and empower families to live happy, healthy, fulfilling lives. Nerissa is also working on her first novel. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her reading, drinking coffee, lifting weights, or enjoying the odd sneaky red wine.

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