As the coronavirus continues to ravage the United States, health officials are pleading with people to continue social distancing, avoid groups, and limit trips to public areas as much as possible. While these efforts are essential steps in protecting people from the virus, they can also make it difficult to contribute to society in certain ways, like getting together to help clean the Earth.
But just because you have to stay 6 feet away from other people doesn't mean you have to give up on sustainability. There are ways you can help the ocean even while social distancing at home.
1. Conserve water
The CDC recommends frequently washing your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds to prevent exposure to bacteria and viruses, so it's understandable that water conservation might take a backseat to hygiene. But according to North Carolina State University, a person can waste up to six gallons a day by leaving the faucet running while washing their hands.
The easy way to solve this problem is by turning off the water while soaping up. The WHO suggests closing the tap with your hands, then using a tissue to open it up again since you last touched it with presumably dirty fingers. The same deal applies to brushing your teeth, too. Just be like Michael Phelps and turn the faucet off while you're brushing.
2. Avoid using chemicals in your garden
Many folks have turned to home gardens during the pandemic, using yards or apartment balconies to grow vegetables and flowers.
And while it's tempting to throw a bunch of fertilizer onto your tomatoes to try and raise some real monsters, consider letting them grow au naturel. Any fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides used on the plants can run off into bodies of water, which can contaminate or harm marine wildlife. Fertilizer that makes its way into the ocean can also cause nutrient pollution, spurring algae to overgrow and impact the aquatic creatures underwater.
Instead of using chemicals, consider learning techniques that can encourage plant health through natural means such as biological control — using ladybugs to eat aphids, for example — and choosing plants that are best suited for the local climate.
3. Reduce or recycle waste
The EPA says that trash frequently makes its way to our oceans because it's poorly managed or dumped, with a lot of litter consisting of items like candy wrappers and cigarette butts. All this trash can ruin aquatic life, contaminate the water with chemicals, threaten wildlife, and injure people on the beach.
4. Cut plastic out of your life
The impact of plastics on the ocean is so significant that it gets its own section away from the rest of the waste. The life of a plastic object increases greenhouse gases at nearly every stage, from its production to its disposal. The immense amount of plastic waste often makes its way to the ocean, where marine wildlife can eat or get trapped in it. Implementing bans on single-use plastic has been slow — or even delayed due to the pandemic — so consumers can continue reducing the demand for it by buying (or making) reusable alternatives.
Recycling plastic is great, but getting as much of it out of your life is even better. It's the coronavirus era, so look for replacements that can be washed and sanitized after each use: Fabric food storage bags; shopping tote bags; and silicone, steel, or glass containers can work well.
5. Use less energy and reduce that carbon footprint
As we burn fossil fuels for electricity, we add a bunch of CO2 into the atmosphere that can speed up climate change and its impact on our planet — including our oceans. Our waters can become warmer due to rising temperatures, increase in acidity as it absorbs carbon emissions, and alter lifestyles dependent on the ocean's resources.
Reducing how much energy we use can lower our carbon footprint as well, which will help lower the impact of climate change. Some suggestions include replacing old lightbulbs with energy-efficient ones, avoiding using indoor lights if there's plenty of sunlight in the room, and limiting your air conditioner use to hours with high temperatures instead of running it all day.
6. Look for sustainable seafood at the grocery
Poor fishing practices can harm the environment in a multitude of ways. While some can afford to go vegan, others may not have many that option, which is why supporting sustainable and well-managed fisheries is necessary.
NOAA Fisheries recommends looking for groceries that offer sustainable seafood options from sustainable fisheries or fish farms. One way to do this is by using consumer and fish-buying guides provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. Look up your favorite type of fish and check to see which sources are more environmentally friendly.
7. Don't buy coral, shark products, tortoiseshell
This may seem like a no-brainer, but please remember that, unless noted otherwise, coral jewelry actually comes from our diminishing coral, shark teeth necklaces actually come from sharks, and those hairpins made from tortoiseshell are actually from Hawksbill turtles, which are an endangered species.
The best way to save oceanic creatures like these is to stop buying the products made from them. Try to avoid them when you're shopping online for beads or accessories on Etsy.
8. Stay educated
Above all else, stay educated about the ocean. The NOAA is a constant resource of ocean conservation in the U.S., and organizations like National Geographic and Smithsonian Ocean can keep you up to date on how researchers are trying to preserve our waters.
Additionally, writing a letter to an elected official about your concerns for the ocean can go a long way as well; if you can use the power of the internet to gather a group of concerned friends together to write, even better!