Sometimes our actions can have disastrous impacts on our environment. In our pursuit of fun and recreation, we become unaware of our role not because we don’t care, but because we aren’t paying close enough attention.
I remember when I was little; I shook a small apple tree branch and knocked out a tiny nest of hatchlings. Nothing could be done for the small birds, their eyes were closed, but their translucent chests were still fluttering as they struggled to stay alive. I felt terrible.
But had I continued to shake the tree and not glanced at the ground, I wouldn’t have noticed how my actions, intentional or not, could send out ripples of environmental consequences.
Yesterday I read about the upcoming lobster season in the Florida Keys, and I imagine from an ecological perspective, there’s no worse event that could be planned and take place on that tiny island chain. Thousands of people are descending upon the islands bringing boats they seldom use, cruising through seagrass beds, dropping anchors into coral reefs and then turning over rocks and corals in hopes of catching the elusive crustaceans. Since hotels fill up quickly, visitors will camp out or live in their cars or trucks for the two-day season, leaving litter and who-knows-what-else on the glorious seashores.
Though some of these actions are due to laziness (there is no justification for not cleaning up your own trash), there are damages that we fail to recognize if we don’t slow down. When you discover and bear witness to the damage sunscreens and personal care products are causing to our oceans when they flush through even the best, most state-of-the-art wastewater systems, the magnitude of ripple effects are harrowing.
Some of these chemicals are so toxic to coral reefs that the state of Hawaii and the island of Bonaire have made them illegal to sell.
Part-time Key Largo resident Autumn Blum was among the first manufacturers to recognize the dangers of some sunscreen ingredients – not just the oxybenzone that cause coral bleaching at concentrations as low as 62 parts per trillion (about a drop in 6.5 Olympic swimming pools) but other ingredients in personal care products as well.
“I formulated our first shampoo using only ‘safe’ ingredients included in the EcoCert ™ natural standards– and killed a whole tank full of fish. I learned the hard way that what’s safe for humans isn’t necessarily safe in marine ecosystems,” she says.
Since then, she has founded Stream2Sea and formulated many products– including sunscreens, lotion, shampoo, leave-in conditioner and lip balm – which have been third-party tested to ensure that they are safe for fish and coral reefs.
“I’m adamantly opposed to animal testing but there are no in vitro tests that check for aquatic safety. I’d rather prove safety on a tank full of fish than release more toxins into our beautiful oceans.”
Autumn has done her part to realize that recognizing the bigger picture before taking steps forward is important. So, be mindful in your pursuit of a good time this summer, and if you’re heading toward the Florida Keys, slow down and take care of your surroundings. Your actions have consequences, and recreating in harmony with the environment around you helps ensure these consequences aren’t negative.
And look for Stream2Sea products, which are available at most dive centers and health food stores including Diver’s Direct.