Unlike lots of people working in marine conservation, I didn't grow up by the ocean. I wasn't a water baby. And when I got the opportunity to learn how to scuba dive, I wasn't hugely fussed and had to be talked into it. Thank goodness I was as getting my Open Water diving license back when I was at university changed the course of my life and my career. Our first dive in the sea was a game changer. There's a whole other world down there - what had I been missing out on for all these years?!
Since then, I took as many opportunities as I could to go diving. I gradually worked my way up to Rescue Diver (although I'm still teetering on the brink of doing my Dive Master!). I also started writing about scuba diving and marine conservation as part of my career. And I take part in beach cleanups when I can. And I trained as a marine mammal medic so I can help if any injured or stranded marine animals are spotted in my local area.
But you don't need to be an ocean nut like me to help the ocean. In fact, there are lots of ways you can help the ocean without even being based by the coast! I had a request on LinkedIn a while back from someone who wanted some tips on how everyone could help the ocean. So here goes - I hope these inspire you to do your part in protecting our beautiful ocean, whether you live by the sea or not.
Become a citizen scientist
Isn't technology amazing?! Thanks to tech innovations, we can now help the ocean while sitting at our laptops. Citizen science has become an increasing trend over the years. But what is it? Citizen science is when members of the general public (who aren't necessarily scientists) get involved in helping research projects.
This can be through providing or sorting data, such as inputting photo IDs of marine species into global databases to help scientists crowdsource much more data to inform their research and conservation efforts.
For example, if you've seen a whale shark or manta ray on holiday, sharing your photos can help conservationists identify individuals and better protect the species. You can even share information about any mermaids purses (shark and ray egg cases) you find washed up on the beach as part of the Shark Trust's Great Eggcase Hunt. You could record and share your observations of plants and animals. Or you can become a 'walrus detective' and help WWF search through its database of satellite images to spot where walrus are hauled out on land. There are so many options and anyone can take part!
If there's an issue you care about, spread the word. Using our voice is an important way that we can all help the ocean. This could be through sharing ways people can help on social media, spreading the word about exciting new conservation innovations, writing to your MP, signing petitions or taking part in protests. The great thing is: speaking up is not just an impactful way of helping the ocean, it's also totally free.
If you can spare some cash, donating to charities that are working to protect the ocean is another great way to help. My current chosen charity is Project Seagrass and I donate 1% of my income to them every month. But there's a huge range of charities you can support with one-off or regular donations. I also recommend joining the Madagascar Whale Shark Project's Patreon from just £3 a month, adopting a manta ray through the Marine Megafauna Foundation or helping the BDMLR continue their important volunteer-led work to rescue stranded marine animals around the UK.
If you aren't able to give money, can you give your time? Volunteering or providing pro bono support to causes you care about is a great way to have an impact. Lots of people think that they need to be a marine biologist to make a difference but I believe everyone can help. NGOs, like other organisations, need people skilled in communications, copywriting, social media, graphic design, web development, accountancy and more. Think about the skills you have and how you could use them to support causes that help the ocean. Or you could organise or take part in a beach clean-up or fundraising event.
I've donated my time to support the Madagascar Whale Shark Project, Marine Megafauna Foundation and others but there are so many brilliant charities who also help the ocean. Could you learn how to conduct an Ocean Health Check for MARINElife or get involved in Project Seagrass' action programmes?
Remember the five Rs
Whether or not you're based by the ocean, your day-to-day choices do have an impact on marine animals and the habitats they live in. This is particularly true when it comes to plastic as so much waste, sadly, ends up in the sea. So, help reduce the amount of trash that ends up in the ocean by remembering the five Rs:
- Refuse any plastics you don't need. For example, say no to that plastic bag and bring your own reusable bag. And remember your reusable coffee cup so you can say no to that single-use cup
- Reduce your use of single-use items and be considerate of your usage. For example, do you really need to print that email? And, if so, can you print double sided? etc.
- Reuse what you can. Lots of items we throw in the bin can be used again - for example, as storage containers - so think before you drop it in the trash!
- Repurpose items by turning them into something else. There are lots of options if you get creative and a quick internet search might give you some inspiration too.
- Recycle! People often think about recycling as the main action they can take but there's a reason why it's last on this list. Recycling should be the last option once you've exhausted the other steps - refuse, reduce, reuse and repurpose. And make sure you recycle properly by checking the labels and using the right bins. Because recycling alone isn't the solution. We need to address the issue of how much single-use waste is created in the first place.
Say no to unsustainable seafood
The seafood we eat can have a significant impact on the ocean. Many species are being overfished and populations aren't able to recover from the huge amounts we're taking out of the ocean. Plus, fishing methods such as bottom trawling, dynamite fishing and longline fishing can be devastating for ocean habitats and bycatch. So changing the way you consume seafood is an important way to help the ocean. You don't need to cut seafood out of your diet entirely (although that's a great way to reduce your impact!). The Good Fish Guide is a great tool to help you make sustainable choices.
What will you do to help the ocean this year?
I hope this has given you some useful tips when it comes to ways you can help the ocean. Remember, every change - even a small one - helps to have a positive impact. And talking about what you're doing with friends and family helps you spread the word even further. I'd love to hear which steps you're taking to help the ocean!