6 Ways Families Can Protect the Marine Environment—and Why They Should

The ocean is important for mankind. Here's how experts say families can make a difference in caring for the marine world.

A girl uses bright red garbage bags to clean up the beach
Photo: Helen Rushbrook/Stocksy

Many nights out of the year, Lemuel Pemberton walks along Lover's Beach on the Caribbean island of Nevis looking for nesting turtles. "When they come to nest, we measure them and tag them if they are not tagged," says Pemberton, founder of the Nevis Turtle Group, which pioneers sea turtle conservation across the island. "We have tagged probably somewhere between 500 and 1000 turtles so far in the region since 2003."

It's one of three main beaches on the island where turtles nest, which occurs at different times throughout the year, depending on the species of turtle. It takes 60 days on average for the eggs to hatch after they've been laid, but that's only if they get the chance. Whether it's due to coastal erosion, human-driven habitat destruction, or other harmful human behavior, many sea turtles will never hatch and make their way into the ocean.

Pemberton says sea turtles, which are an indicator species helping to diagnose the health of the ecosystem, are a great way to get families to care about the marine world. "Everybody loves the turtles," says Pemberton, pointing out that it's easy to engage with them since they are one of few marine animals to come on land, and they are also gentle. And getting families all over the world to care about the marine ecosystem, says Pemberton and other experts, is important in protecting ocean life.

Why do the oceans matter so much? Oceans not only regulate the climate, but scientists also estimate that up to 80% of oxygen production comes from them. The ocean also provides food and sustenance for people all over the globe. "The protection of the marine environment is very much a link to our own survival—that's one of the reasons why marine conservation in general is so important," says David Godfrey, executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy, a Gainesville, Florida-based organization founded in 1959.

That's why it's critical for parents to start teaching their kids from a young age to protect the marine world. Here are simple ways experts say they can do that together as family.

Don't Litter at the Beach

Littering anywhere is a bad idea, but be extra cautious while near water. The simple act of cleaning up after your family on the beach can prevent garbage from getting into the water and hurting sea creatures. "Whatever garbage you have, take it back with you, no matter what it is," advises Pemberton.

Take a Family Conservation Trip

"As a parent myself, having raised a child in the world today, I think exposing them to the natural world as much as you can, letting them see that we're not alone and the world is full of other types of animals that have their own lives, that use habitat in different ways than we do [is important]," says Godfrey.

There are various conservation vacation destinations across the world that families can travel to, and hotels that participate in conservation efforts. For example, the Sea Turtle Conservancy has been working with the Four Seasons Resort Nevis to protect sea turtles in the region, and families can participate in the annual Sea Turtle Summer Camp package to learn all about the animals through marine-themed activities. Programs like these help kids build a love and care for the marine world that they will carry with them as they grow.

Engage With Ocean Life Right at Home

Experiencing marine adventures firsthand is great, but it's not feasible for every family to take a trip to the beach each year. The good news is there are ways to engage kids at home. You can pick up marine books to read together or have a movie night. "A lot of kids first learn about the ocean through fiction; I'd be shocked to find anyone under the age of 10 who doesn't love either SpongeBob SquarePants, Finding Nemo, or The Little Mermaid. Help build on this love by teaching them about the real sea life behind their favorite flicks," says Britta Baechler, Ph.D., senior manager of ocean plastics research at the Ocean Conservancy. "Nature documentaries like Blue Planet II are also great ways to see beloved cartoon characters in a whole new light, and maybe meet some new ocean friends, too."

Keep Up With Conservation Groups

Families can donate to marine conservation groups around the world and also engage with their efforts. The Sea Turtle Conservancy, for example, has developed a research program that involves using satellite tracking to track specific turtles as they swim through the ocean for scientific purposes, as well as for conservation and education. The organization encourages families to join in on the fun by following the journey of the turtles for free online through a program called Tour de Turtles Marathon. "Whichever of the turtles travels the furthest in the course of three months will be the winner," says Godfrey. And each turtle races to raise awareness for a cause, including problematic lighting on shore that is bothersome to marine life, plastic in the environment, and commercial fishing.

Participate in a Local Coastal Cleanup

Regardless of whether you live on the coast or hundreds of miles inland, every piece of garbage you collect can make a difference, says Dr. Baechler. The Ocean Conservancy runs the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), a beach and waterway cleanup effort. "Teach your kids about the importance of caring for our ocean and make joining a cleanup an annual tradition," she adds. Families can visit SignUpToCleanup.org to learn more about cleanups in their area.

A few more pluses? Volunteering has been found to increase empathy, improve mental health, and enhance teamwork and leadership skills.

Reduce Your Family's Use of Plastics

"So much of the plastic we use ends up in the water," says Godfrey. "It ends up in rivers, in streams, and those flow to the coast and so it all ends up in the ocean." Currents take those plastics and tend to accumulate them in specific areas where they break down into smaller pieces and then marine animals mistake them for food.

Families can make choices together to reduce their use of plastics at home and opt for recyclable items or alternative ones. "Plastic is almost like a gateway lesson," says Godfrey. "You learn about plastics and learn about how your use of them affects the natural world and that kind of opens up kids' minds to ask themselves, 'Well, what else do I do that affects the natural world?'" That can get them thinking about being conscious of other issues that affect the planet like water use and driving.

"Every family isn't going to sit around and solve climate change," adds Godfrey. "But you can sit around as a family and you can decide to make your footprint on the world a little less harmful to the natural world."

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