Quietly gliding over azure waters and sailing past green islands or sleeping under the open skies while listening to the singing cicadas makes you think you’re in clean, unspoilt nature. But when you look closer or when you anchor your boat in a hidden cove, you notice battered old shoes and plastic bottles lying on the beach and there are many empty boarding houses and toppled trees all around. When, after a while, you also experience a raging storm, and the locals tell you that it wasn’t anything to worry about, you start thinking that there must be something wrong with the whole picture.
We can already improve the current situation by changing our behaviour when relaxing at the seaside. We can start with simple changes. The first one is to always buy ice cream in cones rather than cups, and the second one is to order your favourite drink without a straw. It’s important that you don’t use single-use plastic containers because your picnic ware might soon end up in the crystal-clear sea. People often go on a boat trip during their holidays, or even sleep on one. You can notice that during the night these boats are often moored and illuminate the sea floor underneath them until sunrise. During these boat trips we have to keep in mind that nothing should be thrown into the sea. If we take a banana peel, for example, it takes four weeks for it to decompose, while paper takes six weeks and leather shoes 45 years. Plastics are one of the major marine pollutants, and for a reason. A plastic bag takes 20 years to decompose, while a plastic bottle takes 450, and single-use plastic cutlery 1000 years. If you thought a message in a bottle was an exception, you should think again. A glass bottle takes a thousand years to break down and it might not even reach anyone during that time. Today, plastic presents 80 per cent of all marine waste. Most of it sinks to the ocean floor. The problem of plastic in the ocean is that it poses a direct threat to marine animals. Researchers constantly find plastics in animals’ digestive systems and it causes or contributes to their death. Microplastics are especially dangerous and their negative impacts also extend to swimmers and people who eat seafood, though these impacts haven’t been fully researched yet. When on the beach, you have to keep your eye on your litter, so it doesn’t get washed away by big waves or blown away by strong wind. If you notice litter on the beach, simply pick it up and throw it in the bin, and when you anchor not far off the coast, you either row to the beach or use your paddle board. It’s important to realise that even a simple activity, such as diving, contributes to the degradation of the ocean floor and subsequently the destruction of the habitat of numerous animal and plant species, therefore you should always learn about how to minimise those impacts beforehand. You should also never smash or in any way destroy the rocks, just so you could get to those few seashells.
Your holiday destination is also important, so it’s always best to stay in a hostel, a camp or a family suite, rather than on a cruise ship. Large hotel complexes with an all-inclusive offer, which can be found along the coasts all over the world, from Dominican Republic to Turkey, also present a problem. They have a negative impact on the environment and the local community’s quality of life. Experts have calculated that more than 80 per cent of the money a tourist spends in the Caribbean ends up outside the destination country, which means that while tourists have fun on private beaches, indulging in large quantities of food and drinks, the locals struggle in bad working conditions for a small income. Tourists also use up a large amount of water and energy. The quantity of water a hundred tourists use up in fifty-five days could be used in fifteen villages to produce rice for fifteen years. In countries, where the energy supply for the locals is often disrupted, tourists can enjoy an undisturbed supply of energy. They even attend the so-called authentic performances that are put on by the locals, which have nothing in common with the current culture of the area. It’s much better to experience a real, genuine culture with the help of a local tourist agency.
Environmental awareness has been growing all over the world in recent years, as demonstrated by an increasing number of environmental organisations. In practice, this means that there’s a chance at your holiday destination that you’ll discover tips for more sustainable travel issued by these organisations. On the small island of Lastovo, for example, all visitors to Lastovo Nature Park receive instructions on how to become a sustainable tourist. These instructions encompass everything from nature conservation to recommendations on buying from the local farmers and artisans. Before you leave home, do some research on trustworthy organisations of your holiday destination. The Croatian portion of the Adriatic coastline, where many Europeans spend their holidays, is covered by Sunce, which provides the latest news on discoveries related to sustainability in the Croatian coastal area. This year, the island of Zlarin near Šibenik made headlines as the first Croatian plastic-free island. Chances are, there are also litter picking events taking place at your holiday destination and the least you can do is participate.
Maritime and coastal tourism is a unique blend of the sea, the sun, a rich biodiversity and relaxation. As tourists, we can do much to help keep it that way.