Your carefree beach days are numbered

Your carefree beach days are numbered
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The carefree days of summer have begun. It’s time to grab the sunscreen, pack the cooler and head down to the beach. Or maybe you’re planning to fly to more exotic coasts in Hawaii or the Caribbean. Whatever your destination, there’s no greater simple pleasure than basking on the sand and watching the tide roll in.

But life looks a little different below those waves, where our oceans are reeling from the effects of pollution and climate change. That’s why we need to be aware of our impacts and support solutions to reduce threats to marine life and clean seas.

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There’s a pretty good chance you’ll encounter plastic litter or plastic pellets on the beach — junk that’s adding to the growing mass of plastic pollution in our oceans. And unfortunately the sunscreen you’re slathering on your body might contain two common chemicals, oxybenzone and octinoxate, that kill coral reefs.

 

“Hey!” you say. “Stop being such a downer. Can’t I just enjoy a relaxing day at the beach?”

No one’s trying to spoil your fun. But if we want a future full of carefree summer days, it’s time our leaders step up to halt our problems under the sea. There are common-sense reforms and protections that will safeguard our health, the coastal areas we love and the habitat of wonderful marine wildlife.

Let’s start with regulating plastic pollution. This is a new problem that has overwhelmed our waste-industry and water-treatment facilities. The companies making plastics should be regulated to ensure their products don’t end up choking seabirds, warming sea turtle nesting beaches, and accumulating in the bellies of whales.

The Trump administration is also trying to expand offshore oil drilling into every U.S. ocean, which would unleash decades of increased oil spills, toxic fracking chemicals, harmful seismic exploration and industrialization of our coastlines. Rather than deepening our dependence on offshore oil, we need forward-looking policies that transition us away from fossil fuels.

Coral reefs have been decimated by ocean warming associated with climate change. The only real long-term solution is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But there’s much we can do right now to protect these reefs, which are the biologically rich rainforests of the sea relied on by coastal communities around the world.

Hawaii just enacted a ban on sunscreens that contain two coral-killing chemicals. The personal-care industry is complaining about the legislation, noting that 70 percent of sunscreens contain oxybenzone or octinoxate.  

So why doesn’t the industry just increase production of sunscreens that don’t kill coral? There are many good alternatives that are safe for people and coral reefs. That’s why we’ve petitioned the federal Food and Drug Administration to ban those harmful chemicals in sunscreens and create a uniform national standard for safe sunscreens.

As we all pour out onto our beaches, let’s remember that these oceans are our natural heritage. Polluters shouldn’t have a right to spoil our day at the beach or habitat for sea turtles, whales and dolphins.

But that means supporting policies and politicians that will protect our oceans. As a society we can’t bury our heads in the sand and assume that our oceans and beach will be OK. We need to protect those carefree days at the beach by standing up to the polluting industries that could wreck our summer fun and so many other things we love.  

Miyoko Sakashita is the oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.