Written by Teri Miller
December 2020

THE BOATING LIFESTYLE often extends beyond cruising and fishing. Kayaking, surfing, paddleboarding, snorkeling and diving are just a few of the activities frequented by boaters. As we diversify our enjoyment of the oceans and waterways, we can continue to be good caretakers of the planet. An eco-considerate/eco-friendly boating mindset is easy to apply if we keep an eye on who, where, how and why water sports impact the environment.

A Man Is Known by the Company He Keeps

Kayaking - marinalife

Whether you are booking a charter to dive or snorkel, joining a kayak or paddleboard tour, or just meeting up with friends, whom you participate with makes a big difference. Companies, tour groups, charters and clubs that actively work to reduce their impact on the environment are plentiful along the coasts and Caribbean.

Look for companies that provide environmental education and eco-friendly boating as part of their mission. It’s also a good idea to be aware of their participant to boat/guide ratio. Overcrowding vessels and failing to give proper oversight can lead to the destruction of the very aquatic habitats we seek to enjoy. Properly maintained gear, adequate supervision and support, and proper waste disposal are all positive indicators of eco-forward practices.

Plan your Stand

Physical contact with ecosystems may be unavoidable when launching your kayak, choosing your entry for surfing or paddleboarding, and diving or snorkeling in coral reefs. “Plan your stand” by making an environmentally thoughtful eco-friendly boating choice about where this will happen. When snorkeling in shallow waters, you may be tempted to simply stand up to get your bearings. Divers struggling with buoyancy may connect with coral structures unintentionally. When launching a kayak, surf or paddleboard, try to consider your shoreline options.

Kiteboarding - Eco friendly boating - marinalife
Kiteboarding from Session Sports

Seeking purchase on coral or seagrass beds is a common source of habitat destruction. Most coral grows at a rate of less than two inches a year, and small breaks leave lasting damage. Soft seagrass beds may seem like a better alternative to coral, but these beds are a vital nursery habitat for many species. Divers concerned about inflicting unintended damage should practice maintaining personal buoyancy over sandy areas to assure control. Be aware of nearby sandy patches and plan your rest stops, water entries and exits accordingly.

Wipe On, Wipe Off

As you grab your board, fins or paddle and head for the open water, you will at some point “wipe on” sun protection and “wipe off” your gear. How you protect your skin and equipment is important to protecting the environment.

Surfing - eco friendly boating - marinalife

Defending our skin from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays is imperative. Unfortunately, some protection has deadly consequences for reefs. Stony coral, the foundation for reef structures, are comprised of thin layers of calcium carbonate secreted by tiny living organisms called polyps. Zooxanthellae are the algae that coexist with the coral, providing nutrients through photosynthesis and giving coral their various colors.

Coral bleaching occurs when these symbiotic algae die, causing the coral to lose their color and the living polyps to die. Numerous sunscreen ingredients have been linked to harming this helpful algae. Studies show that oxybenzone and octinoxate, popular sunscreen components, are particularly harmful to coral, even in small amounts.

Concern for the impact of these chemicals propelled Hawaii and Key West, Florida, to ban the sale of sunscreens with these additives starting in January 2021. Researchers note that up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in the world’s oceans yearly. Before you wipe on that lotion, look for reef-safe ingredients or consider using UV protective clothing.

Most water sport enthusiasts know the value of gear maintenance. How you wipe off your equipment not only extends its life span, but it can also protect aquatic life. When changing locations for kayaking or boarding, be sure to clear your equipment of debris. Unintentionally introducing vegetation or waterborne organisms from site to site can disrupt or damage an ecosystem.

Stony Coral - eco friendly boating - marinalife
Stony Coral from Seascout

Gear cleaning plays an important role in protecting coral reefs. Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) is a lethal ailment that impacts more than 20 species of coral. First reported off the coast of Florida in 2014, it is now found throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Grand Bahamas. This rapidly spreading disease is thought to be caused by bacteria and transmitted to other coral by contact and water circulation. Failure to decontaminate gear as you move from site to site allows for transfer of these bacteria between coral reefs.

Remember your Why

Why do we surf, paddleboard, kayak, snorkel and dive? Perhaps it is for exercise, excitement, socialization, exploration, transportation or just plain fun. While these activities fit well into a boating lifestyle, they also allow us to appreciate our intimate relationship with the fragile, beautiful ecosystems sustained within the oceans and waterways. Remembering our “why” encourages us all to be fierce protectors of the environment we love.

Check out more Eco-Friendly Boating tips here!