Sailing and The Responsibility of the Sailor to the Environment

As ASA does its job of being an advocate for the world’s oceans we asked our resident Marine Conservationist Lauren Coiro about how sailors can make an impact on the environment that they take so much from, the Ocean. Her advice sheds light on the bigger picture of environmental sustainability as well as the simple fact that each and every one of us can make a difference.

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ASA: What are some of the problems that are facing our oceans today?
Lauren Coiro
Lauren Coiro: It’s pretty overwhelming when you spell it all out: we have warming ocean temperatures, which increases the ocean’s acidity, depleted fisheries, plastic pollution moving up the food chain and killing wildlife, toxic runoff from agriculture and industry… the list is not short. I always ask people to research a solution every time they learn about a problem, just to keep a mental balance.
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ASA: What impacts do sailors have on marine life and our oceans as a whole?
Lauren Coiro
Lauren Coiro: Sailing can actually be a great low-impact way to enjoy and explore the ocean. The main influences sailors have are through their motors, how much waste they generate (and how they dispose of it), and how they interact with wildlife. (PLEASE don’t leave your fishing nets and lines behind!)
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ASA: What can sailors do to mitigate these risks?
Lauren Coiro
Lauren Coiro: I’m seeing more and more about electric motors and solar-powered boating, which is fantastic. On the waste side, all it takes is a little preparation to avoid single-use products and to dispose of waste properly. (Start saving every plastic bag, ziploc, cup, et cetera you use for the next week, and you’ll realize just how many we throw away.) Taking some trash out of the ocean whenever you see it is always helpful.

When it comes to wildlife, keeping a safe distance and not disturbing them is always a good policy, even when it’s tempting to connect with a sea creature. If you’re going to fish, take extra care to collect all fishing line and netting as this is one of the biggest polluters in the ocean.

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ASA: What responsibility do boaters have to protect the oceans they sail on?
Lauren Coiro
Lauren Coiro: With no water, what use is a boat?
Boaters use the ocean as everything from their home and playground, to a source of income and food, and for relaxation and peace. Boaters in their essence are stewards of the ocean.

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ASA: Does sailing serve to educate people on the state of our oceans?
Lauren Coiro
Lauren Coiro: Sailing teaches people to pay attention to nature more than the average boating experience- a sailboat relies on the elements like wind, currents, and observance of weather patterns to get where it’s going. There is so much potential to use sailing as an educational platform to connect people to nature.
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ASA: Should sailing be used as an educational resource?
Lauren Coiro
Lauren Coiro: In my opinion, a sailboat is a perfect setting to educate people about our connectedness to the ocean. It’s also a perfect setting to demonstrate low-impact living: the boating lifestyle is innately minimalist and resource-conservative because of your limitations of space and access to resources.
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ASA: How do we best inform ourselves of the impact we have on our oceans?
Lauren Coiro
Lauren Coiro: There is a ton of information out there right now about what’s going on with our oceans. If you’re on social media, following marine conservation organizations is a great way to receive updates. There are also a number of books and documentaries out there about ocean issues, a simple Google search is all it takes.
Almost every coastal community has a nonprofit or government organization fighting to protect the water. I highly recommend getting involved locally.
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ASA: Obviously, avoiding everything that might negatively impact marine ecosystems is impractical if not completely impossible. What steps can boaters (and people in general) take to lessen their impact on the environment?
Lauren Coiro
Lauren Coiro: It all starts with awareness. Once you start educating yourself about these problems, you connect your own behavior to it. Once you’ve made that connection, you start paying attention to your behavior. And that’s how change happens for most people, one step at a time. Can we all drop everything and start growing our own food and avoiding all ocean-unfriendly practices? Absolutely not. But we can all get into the mindset that we can do better, and improve as we learn.

The other most important thing is for this to become an ongoing conversation- talk to other boaters, your friends, your family about these issues. Every time I get someone to start speaking for the ocean too, I’ve just doubled my voice. That’s the most powerful feeling of all.

5 Things Sailors Can Do To Help The Environment

  1. Be a trash picker.
    See some trash floating by? Scoop it out of the water because every little bit helps.
  2. Keep a safe distance from wildlife.
    It may appear like that whale wants to get to know you but it’s best to steer clear of the sea lions, dolphins, turtles, manatees…you get the point.
  3. Going fishing?
    Keep track of your fishing line and netting, this is a common polluter and poses a danger to wildlife.
  4. Pump, Don’t Dump.
    Use a pump out station to empty your tanks instead of dumping your waste into the ocean or even worse, the marina.
  5. Use your voice!
    Get involved on the local level with a nonprofit or government agency that is fighting to protect the oceans.
Meet Lauren Lauren Coiro

Lauren is a marine conservationist, writer, and advocate for ocean-friendly living. She’s spent her entire life in the water, snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking, and has traveled to various parts of the world to study the ocean’s biodiversity and explore coastal communities. Lauren realized that the very best way to experience and appreciate the marine world is to get out there and start sailing!

With her ASA certifications Lauren hopes to make sailing a permanent part of her life and to connect with like-minded people who share her love of the sea. She admires the hard work and simplicity that can come with the nautical lifestyle and is eager to share how her ASA experience raises questions, challenges, and new opportunities along the way.

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