Recent statistics show that over 45 million international visitors now come to Mexico every year, many to enjoy the beautiful marine life found here. Whilst this is great for the local economy, these tourists also take their toll on the marine environment. Ocean Nomads are careful to educate their students on steps to enjoy their time here without inflicting the adverse effects that many visitors are not even aware of. So here are some steps for any tourist to consider.
Step 1. Reef safe sun cream. It is of course very important to protect your skin from the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. However many people are not aware that most sun creams contain ingredients that are damaging to corals. When looking to buy your sun cream, look for labels that say “reef safe”, or similar, and always check the ingredients. Avoid the UV filtering ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate, as these have been linked to coral bleaching, and may increase the presence of viruses which also affect corals. Look for mineral based sun creams containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, or ingredients that are “non-nano” as these are not linked to coral bleaching. Or even better, try alternative sun protection such as wearing a hat and long sleeve rash guard when you can instead of relying on sun cream.
Step 2. Reef removal. Tourists naturally want a souvenir to take home with them to remember their time exploring these beautiful reefs, but some take to removing shells and pieces of coral. This is not sustainable! It takes just a second to snap off a piece of coral that has taken hundreds of years to grow. As coral reefs are already under threat from coral bleaching, this further damage should always be avoided. Also, what may appear as an empty discarded shell is a potential home for marine life, so do not remove them. This also includes buying shells and pieces of coral from street vendors. Taking one shell may not seem like a big deal, but if a few thousand people also just take one shell, it makes a big difference.
Step 3. Reef destruction for divers. It is important as a diver to be in control of your buoyancy. This means having precise control over your position in the water. It only takes a misplaced kick with a fin or a flailing unbalanced arm to knock and break a piece of coral. All divers taking this underwater photography course therefore start by practicing their buoyancy on a simple shore dive. This ensures that everyone has good control and is comfortable in the water and with their equipment before adding the complication of operating a camera. Following on from this, we also take care to not chase or harass the marine animals as this causes them unnecessary stress.
Step 4. Reduce, re-use, recycle. Always take care to dispose of your litter correctly. Many shops allow you to return glass bottles to be reused and recycled so make use of this. Hopefully you already do this, but be sure to avoid single use plastics such as plastic water bottles, straws or cutlery. Ocean Nomads provide each student with their own personalized water bottle, so students can fill up their bottle and take it with them. Re-usable water bottles are especially important in areas such as this where you cannot drink the tap water, to avoid buying lots of bottles. Instead we get larger containers of water to fill our bottles from, which are then returned to be filled again. Plastic is a huge and growing problem for oceans across the world, no matter where you live, so this step should be followed beyond your holiday.
Step 5. Avoid supporting activities that damage reefs. Where ever you visit, there are often many tourist activities on offer. However these money making enterprises do not always have the reefs best interests at heart. It is always best to investigate for yourself the true effects of an activity before choosing to support that company. Many do operate good practises, but some have unseen consequences. For example, swimming with dolphins in the Dolphin Discovery complex may seem like a fun family activity, but there are many environmental issues here as well as the inhumane practise of keeping dolphins in captivity. The dolphin waste from this facility causes nutrient pollution of the surrounding water. This excess phosphorus and other nutrients causes increased algal blooms and has adverse effects on corals. Waste from the always increasing number of cruise ships in the area has been shown to have similar effects. So in general, always do your research and try to support the companies that operate sustainable practices.
See, being a responsible tourist is easy when you know how. And remember, leave nothing but footprints, and take nothing but photographs, with Ocean Nomads!