At home, the ocean is still our responsibility
Whether you are in our program for 3 days or 3 months, you can see and experience the positive impact that we together are having on the reefs around Koh Tao. Many of our volunteers have commented that being a part of a community of like-minded individuals doing hands-on conservation every day is a fantastic experience, and one which inspires continued action in their everyday lives when they return home. You will surely continue to live by the ethos of marine conservation when you arrive home, but how do you continue to turn that into positive action?
Sometimes, divers in our program overlook the connections between the work here on Koh Tao and their lives back at home. But, our efforts are part of a larger global picture, one which we are all a part of no matter where we are in the world. Even if you do not live beside the ocean, there are many things that you can still be doing from home to help protect it:
Be an Educator
Spread the knowledge you have gained here. Tell your families and friends about the ocean, about its many ecosystems, and about the plight of those ecosystems under the stress of our planets more than 7 billion inhabitants. When people become more aware of the processes on a reef, or learn the names of the fish, invertebrates and corals, their eyes are opened to its intricacies and fragility. Many people are unaware of what a coral is, so may not treat it with the care it requires as a fragile organism. Most people, once made aware, will take care to protect the underwater environment. If you are part of a local dive club then encourage environmentally friendly diving practices, suggest or organize an underwater clean-up, make sure they only book trips to responsible resorts and dive businesses, and get them involved in GreenFins or other local conservation groups. If you’re unsure where to start, we have many learning resources on our website, which may be useful. If your school of town doesn’t have a dive club, how about starting one?
More and more studies have surfaced in recent years outlining how widespread the effect of plastic is on seabirds and marine life. It can be overwhelming to see the amount of plastic debris while visiting a beach and not being able to collect all of it. But some effort is better than none at all! Try taking three pieces of rubbish or spending just 2 minutes collecting rubbish whenever you visit a beach, park, or any other green space. If everyone were to do this, imagine the difference it would make! Organizing a rubbish clean-up with your local community is also a great way to make a difference, organize like-minded people, and raise awareness.
Refuse single-use plastics
Plastics and foam containers do not go away once we throw them in the bin. Even though some is recycled in developed countries, a large portion of it makes its way into our waterways and eventually our oceans. Once there, plastic particles do not go away, they are instead broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, which release toxic chemicals as they break down. There is currently no large-scale oceanic clean up in progress, so unless the plastic washes up on the beach and is collected, all of the plastic that is in the ocean is there to stay.
We wouldn’t have to do beach and underwater clean-ups if the plastic and foam wasn’t used in the first place! When out at restaurants or bars, ask for no straw. Eat at the restaurants instead of getting take away, or bring your own containers and get your own mug for coffee and drinks. When shopping, bring a reusable bag with you. It takes a bit of pre-planning sometimes, but a little extra thought on your part prevents magnitudes of damage to the environment. If you feel like really making a change, try cutting out plastic altogether; start with a month (http://www.plasticfreejuly.org/) and see if you can continue throughout the year. There are plenty of tips online that may give you some ideas on how to do this.
Eat less meat
It may come as a surprise to some, but alongside industrial pollution animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of ocean dead zones. Dead zones are large expanses of hypoxic ocean, which occur when algal blooms occurring due to excess nutrient run-off decompose and consume oxygen in the process. The lack of oxygen threatens all forms of marine life, and as more organisms die, they contribute to the cycle. As consumers, we can help encourage the reduction of animal agriculture by reducing or eliminating our meat consumption. Even though cutting out meat may seem daunting at first, like reducing plastic, start small. Try cutting out meat for 1 or two of your meals per day, try only cooking vegetarian/vegan meals at home, or eat meat only on weekends.
Stop eating Seafood
Some large conservation societies will advocate ‘sustainable seafood’, but the reality is that even though regulations are put in place in many nations, enforcement is extremely difficult and the cascading effects of species removal are far reaching in the ecosystem. Added to this are the difficulties of dealing with international interests and powers, increasing demand, and the volatility of ecosystems reacting to climate change. Fish farming is a promising way of reducing our dependence on wild-caught seafood, but it also has many inherent problems that are causing further depletion to our oceans. With more fishing fleets competing around the globe, and by-catch now largely going to feed fish and shrimp farms, our oceans are being completely stripped bare of life.
A metaphor which has been widely used when talking about trawling is that of the African Savannah. If we wanted to eat antelope, and so dragged a net across the whole Savannah, catching lions, elephants, giraffes and every other organism in its path, we would never allow it! But this is exactly what is happening in our oceans. Don’t support this practice – abstain from eating fish entirely. If you won’t, buy from local fishermen who adhere to the local fishing regulations.
Plus, after spending so many hours underwater hanging out with the fishes, do you really want to eat them? Fish are friends not food!
Vote for the environment
Be an active part of your democratic government at any level you can, and advocate for the protection of our planet. When you vote, take into account the environmental policies of the representative. Will they make choices that do right by our planet? Carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to climate change, sea level rise and ocean acidification, and are the most prevalent threat to our oceans today. Take this into consideration when choosing your leaders. And don’t forget, although elections years are few are far between, everyday you are deciding the future of the economy and industries in the ways you spend your money. Vote with your wallet wisely!
It is important to remember that our collective actions when back home are just as important as the work that we do here every day. Even though you are only in our program for a short time, you have made a difference for our island. And it is our hope that we have made a difference in your life, encouraging a mindset of environmental responsibility and enriching your life with the knowledge and skills needed to make positive action. Please take the ethos of marine conservation with you wherever you go next, and remember: it is Our Ocean, and Our Responsibility.