With phrases like “climate change,” “carbon footprint,” and “sustainability” on the tip of everyone’s tongues these days, engaging the younger generation in treating our oceans with respect and care has never been so critical; yet many avenues of power are closed to them until they reach their age of majority. As the saying goes, though, it’s a mistake to do nothing because you can do only a little—and fortunately, there are plenty of little ways in which even the youngest among us can contribute to the health of our oceans.
The More You Know
One of the easiest steps you and your children can take toward become defenders of our seas is to broaden your knowledge. Documentary series like the BBC’s The Blue Planet help hook kids on the wonders of the underwater world. Check out books like I Am Not a Plastic Bag, a story told through gorgeous illustrations about the Pacific Garbage Patch by Rachel Hope Allison, or World Without Fish, Mark Kurlansky’s nonfictional narrative account of the interconnected forces that shape our oceans’ futures. Indoor aquariums and outdoor refuges and preserves with interpretive stations teem with opportunities for hands-on learning that are sure to capture kids’ interest and imaginations.
Volunteer for a Beach Cleanup
Trash on our beaches and in our waterways is a huge stinkin’ issue, and by no means need you wait for an officially sponsored event to pick up garbage at your favorite beach site. If you’d like the solidarity of working in concert with other volunteers, though, check around for opportunities to volunteer for cleanups. Ocean Conservancy has a map of affiliated International Coastal Cleanup operations, and local chapters of other conservation organizations may sponsor more. If you don’t see one in your area, consider planning one—and give kids a taste of advocacy and organization by asking for their assistance with recruitment and advertising.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Families can reduce the amount of waste we create—especially plastic waste, which accounts for 50–80% of marine debris—by switching to reusable items. Think reusable shopping bags instead of single-use plastic bags, and reusable food storage containers for everything from lunch boxes to take-out and leftovers instead of plastic sandwich bags and styrofoam boxes. Trade in plastic water bottles and disposable coffee cups in favor of reusable tumblers with lids. And even if it isn’t mandatory where you live, make the effort to sort out your recyclables—it benefits the environment in a number of ways, including preventing pollution incurred in the collection of new raw materials and conserving those materials.
And here, “blue” means “green”! Boaters have an especial responsibility to stewardship of the marine environments that offer them so many opportunities for recreation and rejuvenation. And while kids probably don’t own their own boats, there’s no such thing as too young to begin modeling responsible seamanship. Sailors for the Sea has got an excellent, thorough Green Boating Guide that details several areas in which boaters can reduce their impact and maximize their enjoyment of our waterways, including information on maintenance, pollution prevention, eco-friendly products, and wildlife and habitat protection.
Respect Marine Life
Many recreational activities on the water bring humans into close contact with marine wildlife, so it’s important to teach little ones how to respect wildlife great and small. Don’t touch them, harass them, or feed them—let the wildlife stay wild!—and take care not to disturb nesting sites.
Overfishing has severely depleted global fishing stock, which means that there aren’t, in fact, plenty of fish in the sea. Enter sustainable seafood: a movement that addresses our relationship with the ecosystems that provide the tasty, tasty fish we eat and ensures good management of those environments into the future. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch offers state-by-state Consumer Guides, and for information that moves with you and your family, of course there’s an app for that.