January is a fresh start, and after a year-long rollercoaster of environmental news, I am feeling hopeful about what’s to come. 2018 was a year of awareness, and while it was painful to learn about the state of our oceans, we now have the power to fix it. 2019 is not only about becoming better sailors; it’s also about becoming better stewards of the ocean.
The average New Year’s resolution doesn’t make it past Valentine’s Day but I say we challenge ourselves to make some real changes this time. Find a “New Year, New Ocean” resolution that speaks to you and stick to it. Here are a few places you can get started.
Make a plan: Identify areas where you can do better.
How do you eat a whale? (You don’t; they are endangered!) The “one bite at a time” rule is a great way to approach the overwhelming problem of plastic.
The very first step I took toward using less plastic was to take inventory of the plastic I already had and used. Start rinsing and setting aside plastic packaging and products that you’d normally toss away (recycling as well as trash.) You’ll see how quickly it adds up and be able to point out products that are unnecessary. Start with those and work your way up!
What?! But recycling is so important! I know this is hard to believe, but recycling is not the answer to our plastic problem. In the United States less than 10% of plastic is actually recycled, even if it’s placed in the right bin. Focus on reduce-reuse-recycle in that order: reduce the plastic you bring in, reuse and repurpose what you have, and then when all else fails, recycle.
Accept inconvenience: Commit to refusing plastic.
When I first went plastic-free, there would be times when I would get caught out in a rush and really needed a cup of coffee to go. At first I would cave in and buy the single-use option (neither the top nor bottom is recyclable, FYI), but I’d feel guilty for breaking my own principles and the caffeine rush was hardly worth it. Eventually it felt much better to refuse. In 2019 allow yourself to be inconvenienced by the refusal of plastic. You’ll be surprised how quickly you adopt better habits and remember to be prepared.
Find a crew: Get involved locally.
Change starts at the grassroots level. Look at all the small towns and cities that have passed plastic bans in the last year. If you live by the coast, chances are there are at least a dozen organizations in your area that are involved with protecting the sea. Inland areas also have groups that defend groundwater, creeks, and other waterways that lead to our lakes and eventually to our oceans. There are international organizations that have an online network all over the world, so you can help from anywhere you are!
Start a conversation: Bring sailors together.
Can’t find a group making a difference near you? Start one of your own! If there is one thing I have learned about sailors so far, it’s that their sense of comradery is rivaled only by their love of cold beverages. Challenge yourself to be a leader among your sailing community: Share your knowledge and passion with other sailors in your circle by explaining practices that help the environment and improve the overall health of the ocean. Contact a local sailing school about helping with their local approach to environmental awareness.
Diversify: Plastic isn’t the ocean’s only problem.
Plastic is a very obvious ocean problem, but there are other threats to marine ecosystems that are hiding under the surface. Challenge yourself to consider what you take out of the ocean as well as what you put into it. When buying seafood for example, consider how it was caught. A shocking 40% of the plastic in the ocean comes from ghost nets and other abandoned fishing equipment. Is your meal doing more harm than you originally thought? Use the Seafood Watch App from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to help you make better choices when deciding on dinner. A healthy marine food chain requires responsible fishing, or better yet, less fishing! Check out these delicious plant-based, seafood-inspired recipes.
Let’s start this year with a sense of responsibility and hope. Change is hard, but if humans can harness the wind and currents to sail around the world, surely we can take it on ourselves to do a little better with the knowledge we have.