How to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Your Travels
As the world rapidly awakens to the looming climate and ecological crisis, our shared understanding of the challenges ahead and our impact on the world increases. In this blog former Blue Ventures Field Scientist Rachel Knowles talks us through ways prospective volunteers can minimise environmental impact whilst on a Blue Ventures marine conservation expedition in Madagascar.
Before your expedition
Beg, borrow, steal!
You read through your packing list, it has a number of things you already own, some new things you’ve heard of and maybe a few you haven’t! You realise you’re going to need to do a lot of shopping to hunt it all down, but remember that buying new isn’t the only way. Second-hand dive gear is readily available, can cost much less, and with the right research can be as good as new.
If you already know divers that have all the gear – talk to them! Lots of people have equipment stored away in their homes not being used. Chances are you’ll be able to borrow half the gear you might need in return for some duty-free airport chocolate.
Be conscious of what you buy
Inevitably you will still need and want to buy new items, but think carefully about what you bring with you and look for quality that can be re-used for several years. For your everyday items, try to avoid anything that will produce a lot of plastic waste (e.g. disposable razors, plastic tampon applicators, daily contact lenses). Ladies, periods don’t need to involve lots of single-use items – look into period pants, reusable pads and menstrual cups.
Waste management in Andavadoaka (the village in southern Madagascar where our dive camp is based) mostly consists of burning rubbish inland or on the beach. However if the tide comes in before everything has been burnt, it will end up in the ocean. Even if it is all burnt, CO2 and a concoction of harmful carcinogenic chemicals such as hydrochloric acid, dioxins, sulphur dioxide and heavy metals are released into the atmosphere, harming people’s health and the planet. It’s a depressing thought that a disposable razor might continue to live on in Andavadoaka hundreds of years after you go home.
With a lack of a local water treatment system, it’s crucial to use toiletries that are made from natural ingredients. Shampoo/conditioner bars are great as they also reduce the need for plastic bottles, I recommend the Lush ones highly! Reef safe sunscreen can seem a bit pricey, but with recent research finding links between the chemical oxybenzone and coral bleaching incidences, it really is a crucial buy. Ultimately, covering up is still the most environmentally friendly sun protection.
One of my absolute favourite items I brought to Madagascar was my filtering water bottle; it removes viruses, bacteria and parasites from water with a hollow fiber membrane that traps contaminants larger than 0.2 microns in size. This means I was able to avoid buying countless plastic water bottles on the journey to site, as I could simply drink tap water in airports and hotels without getting sick from any new types of bacteria.
En Route to Andavadoaka
Travelling can sometimes feel like a constant battle of trying to dodge single-use plastic, especially whilst on a plane or when buying food out. A few simple ways to avoid this are to bring your own water bottle, food container box, and cutlery. On the plane ask for your bottle to be filled with water (or wine) instead of using a cup every time. Carrying a food container box is a double whammy for the environment, as it reduces food waste and plastic usage.
During your expedition
Ecobricks are old plastic bottles filled densely with plastic waste, they are being made by people all over the world in an attempt to reduce the amount of plastic entering the natural environment/ocean and transform plastic waste into a resource.
The idea is that once you have enough of them, you can use Ecobricks as a building resource, reducing the need to use as much cement – a highly polluting material. Just be sure to fill them with dry and food free plastic, and use something to compact the inside so it is so dense that you can stand on one without it changing shape much. You can also pick up any thin plastic you see on the beach or in the ocean and squash it in an Ecobrick, the turtles will thank you for it.
Our love for buying new clothes is having devastating environmental impacts. Worldwide we purchase 80 billion new pieces of clothes each year, resulting in huge amounts of water consumption, pollution, pesticide and toxic chemical use. In Andavadoaka you will find piles of unsold charity shop clothes from all over the world dotted along the main street. Have a rummage and I promise you will find some absolute gold dust! Not only does this breathe life back into old clothes, but it injects money directly into the community.
Firstly, never touch corals as this removes their protective mucus coating, and may introduce and spread harmful bacteria or viruses. Be aware of your body position and especially your fins, work on fine-tuning your buoyancy skills to ensure you never break coral. Avoid kicking up sediment, as this will smother and may eventually kill corals. If you see any fishing net tangled in coral, carefully remove it. If you find any plastic or rubbish in the water and it’s safe enough to remove then try securing in your buoyancy control device (BCD) to bring up with you at the end of your dive.
Arguably the most environmentally damaging part of your expedition will be associated with any flights you take to get there and back. Planes release 85 kg of CO2 for every kilometre travelled, so you quickly rack up a rather large carbon footprint. There are a few organisations (e.g. Climatecare.org) that will carbon offset any flights you take, investing your money into projects around the globe that are working to reduce CO2 emissions.
Spread the word
Continue to learn about sustainability. There are so many inspiring and informative environmental documentaries, so why not invite some friends round or watch them with your family? Get involved with a local climate group, put pressure on the government and companies to take more environmental responsibility, vote with your cash and support sustainability-focused businesses, do a beach clean up, and stand up for the planet in any way you can.
It doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom, making any small step towards living a more environmentally friendly life is a win, and don’t be too harsh on yourself if you slip up sometimes.