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There are so many ways we enjoy the ocean, aren’t there? Diving, snorkeling, boating, just sitting on the beach… For those of us who feel that magnetic pull, it’s easy to want to spend as much time as possible in, on or under the water.

One of the things we should always keep in mind is that whenever we interact with the ocean, we have the potential to impact the water, reef and marine life. We need to always balance our enjoyment with responsibility.

We’ve put together 6 ways you can lessen your, and your family’s, impact:

1. If you’re out playing: choose a sunscreen that isn’t as harmful to fish and coral.

It’s no secret that sunscreen is having a hefty impact on our reefs. The good news is it’s pretty easy to be conscious about what sort of sunscreen you choose to use, as well as how you’re using it.

PLEASE avoid aerosol sprays: you end up using way more than you actually need and there’s a lot of waste.  Not to mention, there’s minimal research behind what damage we might be doing by inhaling those sunscreen particles and dispersants.

Read ingredient labels, even if the sunscreen claims to be ocean friendly or reef safe. Avoid buying sunscreen that uses benzophenone-2, oxybenzone, octinoxate and parabens—as well as coatings used on zinc oxide to reduce whitening. These are proven to be highly toxic to corals and marine life.

Also avoid any sunscreens that contain mineral oil (petroleum) which has a low solubility rate in water, is slow to biodegrade and is known to be harmful or fatal to some aquatic life and birds.

2. If you’re out diving: fine-tune your diving practices.

Diving is a practice that we work at every time we get in the water. There’s always something to learn, a skill to polish up. If you’re out there enjoying the reef in an up-close-and-personal way, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re limiting your impact:

Make sure you’ve got your buoyancy under control. Bumping along the coral is not acceptable in any environment. Do a proper weight check before you descend to avoid an uncomfortable dive.  If this is challenging (as it is to MANY new and experienced divers), consider taking a buoyancy clinic with a good instructor.

Be aware of your body and where your dive gear is at all times. Make sure your dive gear is streamlined and that you’re not accidentally dragging a gauge or a fin tip along the coral, which could break it off or open it up to infection.

3. If you’re out boating: know the waters and know your options.

Be sure to brush up on local knowledge of the waters you’ll be boating in. Things like currents, depths, tides, reef locations and possible uncharted debris could make or break a good time; we see prop marks across seagrass beds and coral all the time—which is simply due to a boater’s carelessness or lack of awareness.

Also, whenever possible, use a mooring line instead of anchoring—but if you have to anchor, do so in a nice, wide sandy area. Be sure that your anchor is secure, and you’re not dragging it along.

4. If you’re out fishing: adopt sustainable practices.

When it comes to fishing, you want to apply the What, Where, How x 2 Rule. This means know what you’re fishing, and whether the fish is listed as sustainable in the area, where you’re taking it from because you don’t want to break law by fishing in a protected area, how you’re fishing to ensure no other marine life is inadvertently hurt in the process and how much you’re taking—because you only really need enough to eat for dinner.

5. Get involved.

A great way to lessen your impact on the reef is to get involved in any of the great programs that help with ocean conservation. A few of our favorites:

Coral Restoration: Volunteer with the Coral Restoration Foundation to learn how they’re restoring our reefs and take part in outplanting elkhorn and staghorn coral yourself. Learn more at www.coralrestoration.org

Turtle Rehabilitation: Did you know that many of the turtles who end up at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon present with tumors caused from human pollution entering our ocean? Visit their center and learn how you can help: www.turtlehospital.org

Be AWARE: Find out if there are any Project AWARE initiatives taking place in your local area, and get involved with what you can—including water clean up events. Learn more by visiting www.projectaware.org

6. Spread the word.

One of the biggest ways you can help minimize the impact we have on our reefs is to educate others on these easy, simple tips. If you’re an ocean lover, share this post with your fellow ocean-loving friends. If you’re a dive shop, brainstorm ways you can educate your divers and staff on these simple steps, like working it into your dive boat briefing or becoming a Blue Star Operator.

Big changes can happen, but it starts with making the choice to be better for our planet’s waters and it starts with you. We CAN do better!

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