10 Ways Tourists Can Protect the Reef

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This article is reposted with permission from The Reef-World Foundation, a UK registered charity with its roots founded on bringing basic marine ecology to fishing villages and local communities in Thailand.In line with our 2020 theme ‘Partnerships for Tomorrow’, PATA proudly supports discussions around the topic of sustainability through the Sustainability Matters initiative.

As the fastest growing industry worldwide, travel is something most of us are fortunate enough to enjoy – whether that’s to the beach a few towns away or 10,000 miles across the planet.

This boom of globe-trotting, however, can come at a price – and we need to be wary of the potential environmental damage from overtourism. With the additional impacts of climate change threatening reefs and related ecosystems, it’s more important than ever to protect the destinations we visit when we travel. As holidaymakers, travel brings an opporunity for each and every one of us to take care of the places we visit; ideally, leaving them in a better condition than we found them.

Working together is key in maintaining the beauty of the planet and all its wonders. So, what can you do to help? Keep reading for our top ten tips:


When planning a trip, it can be easy to want to head to the most far-flung island you can get to. But, where possible, consider if you absolutely have to fly. Is there an alternative way to access your destination – by a ferry or bus for example? It’s also tempting to book journeys with multiple layovers when they cost a fraction of the price, but these routes often have higher CO2 emissions, so try to fly direct whenever possible.

If flying is unavoidable, it is a good idea to make a habit of offsetting your emissions. This means supporting clean energy projects as a way to to give back for your production of greenhouse gases. Some airlines allow you to do this when booking flights, but you may find http://www.carbonfootprint.com a more flexible option as you can choose where your money goes.

Try to be mindful of how individual airlines are working to do their part for the planet – whether that’s trying to reduce noise pollution or plastic waste.


As the international co-ordinators of UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative, Reef-World recommends booking with a Green Fins member where possible  – and try to educate others around you about the best diving practices. Find the programme’s Top 10 members globally, or search for a dive destination by country on the website. Furthermore, the resources are free to download and use, including the Green Fins Code of Conduct and the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ for divers and dive operators. Share them with your dive/snorkel buddies and the centres you visit, and help teach them about how sustainable diving practices can protect coral reefs. Snorkellers and divers often have a strong appreciation and love for ocean life so, naturally, it is in our best interests to want to preserve this stunning facet of nature.


It may seem like just a shell or a bottle of sand, but the ocean has a way of naturally recycling all forms of life. Taking these things will still contribute to an ecological imbalance and, over time, with millions of tourists doing this the impacts are profound. Remember, voting with your money makes all the difference – if there’s no longer demand for something, supply will fall, leaving marine life in the ocean where it belongs.


If you’re eating seafood, ensure it’s sustainably sourced and not an endangered species. As this tends to be quite area specific, do your research on which fish populations are in decline in the destination you’ll be travelling to, and speak to travel agents or guides about local behaviours and laws. Fish caught through dynamite fishing, bottom trawling or muro-ami should be avoided, as these methods directly destroy coral reefs. A good rule is not to eat anything you’ve just seen on your dive (such as parrot fish or grouper) and if you’re still unsure, you can opt for the vegetarian or vegan choice.


Try out travel minimalism – bringing only essentials and buying little. Packing smart will not only feel lighter and make it quicker to find things but also save you from purchasing unnecessary extras when abroad. If you are shopping for yourself or others, try to do your research on whether items have been sourced sustainably, are not unnecessarily packaged and made locally rather than imported. It can be exciting to support the local economy by immersing yourself in the vibrant markets, but think about what you’re purchasing: so you only take home things you really love, hope to use for a long time, and have been responsibly sourced and packaged.


Don’t partake in any activities that involve direct contact with marine life. This includes holding turtles or sea stars, feeding sharks and fish and, of course, visiting aquariums or zoos with dolphin shows or similar activities. On the surface, activities like this may seem harmless and feel like a more immersive experience than simply observing. But, marine life is delicate and captivity and human interaction is distressing to wildlife, causing behavioural changes and even reducing life spans. If you see an animal in the wild that may require help, please seek the urgent assistance of the relevant authorities.


Avoid using unnecessary plastic and single-use items in general. Bring your own reusable bags, bottles and cutlery where possible…including on the flight! Pack a water filter or a bottle that does it for you, such as a LifeStraw. No matter how tempting, avoid the plastic freebies and think long-term. You can also bring your own shampoo and soap bars to avoid using the tiny plastic bottles often provided by hotels. At the spa, wear your own underwear or bikini rather than using the disposable pair provided. It can also be tempting to accept flip flops from hotels, and wet wipes from restaurants, but be mindful about where they might end up after your stay.


A productive way to spend the day at the beach or park is to start collecting any rubbish that doesn’t belong in the environment and disposing of it correctly. Take pride in nature and leave places in a better state for the next visitors to enjoy, whether that’s tomorrow or in 10 years’ time. According to a 2006 report, Greenpeace discovered around 80% of marine debris originates from land sources. Try to do what you can to reduce this and have a positive impact. Others may see you acting responsibly and may even join you – what a great way to make friends whilst spreading environmental awareness.


Lately, sunscreen has hit the news with early-stage lab-based research indicating some chemical components found in sunscreen could be damaging to coral reefs.

Try to steer clear of ingredients including titanium dioxide, oxybenzone, octinoxate and petrolatum (also known as mineral oil). Many high-street and drugstore sunscreens are not currently reef-safe so you may need to dig a bit deeper. There are lots of brands out there, such as Caudalie, Raw Love, New Layer and Alba Botanica and many more.

Remember, the best form of sun protection is covering up, so buying a long sleeve rash-guard may be worthwhile and reduce your need for so much sunscreen. Upcycled swimwear made from ECONYL – a regenerated nylon made from post-consumer waste including fishing nets and carpets – has been a growing trend. Fourth Element’s Ocean Positive range of wetsuits, rashguards and swimwear are made from ECONYL and Stay Wild Swim use this material when they handmake make their swimsuits in London.


If something feels wrong, it may well be so. Use ethical behaviour to do the right thing even when under pressure to do the opposite. You could also help spread the word by posting on social media about what you see and how you try to be a sustainable traveller.

Don’t be afraid to start the conversation. If you can think of a more sustainable way that something can be done, why not plant that seed? Attract people to your way of thinking and do so in a positive way. Many people might be less aware of the plastic problem than you think and countries don’t always have the facilities to efficiently manage waste – so always educate and help to offer your solutions before criticising! There may also be new things you could learn, too.

Don’t underestimate the power of your actions, they can create a snowball effect, and your considerate ways can encourage other tourists (and locals) to think twice too.