Step 1: 8 Green Actions
Read up on the “8 Green Actions” that will make your charter operation more environmentally friendly.
1. Reef friendly sunscreen
Clothing is the safest and most eco-friendly way to protect from the sun. Before your guests arrive, remind them to pack rash guards, long sleeves, long pants, and big hats. As a second line of defense, recommend they bring mineral-based sunscreens, or provide it complimentary.
When choosing a sunscreen, guests and crew should check the “active ingredients” label for two things:
1) They should include only the minerals zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide
2) These minerals should be non-nano.
Sunscreen chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate have been widely studied and linked to coral damage, even in small concentrations. Some governments are even passing legislation to ban their sale. Chemicals like octocrylene, homosalate, and octisalate might also be harmful, but they need further studying. The National Parks Service notes, “While no sunscreen has been proven to be completely ‘reef-friendly,’ those with titanium oxide or zinc oxide, which are natural mineral ingredients, have not been found harmful to corals.” Know that the term “reef safe” isn’t federally regulated, so you can’t rely on that label as an indicator. Avoid that “greenwashing” trap.
It is estimated that 90% of snorkeling/diving tourists are concentrated on 10% of the world’s reefs, so our most popular reefs are exposed to the majority of sunscreens (see this mention of Trunk Bay). While climate change, marine pollutants, overfishing, boat groundings, and disease are, on a whole, much bigger factors to coral reef health, the highly visited reefs of the Virgin Islands are among those most vulnerable to the effects of sunscreens. We can help change that.
2. Nix plastic straws
Supply reusable or biodegradable straws for your guests.
Single-use plastics are a major ocean pollutant. The journal Science found that we humans generated 275 million metric tons of plastic waste in one year, of which 4.8 million to 12.7 million metric tons gets into the oceans, mostly washing into the sea from land and rivers. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade. It merely breaks down into microplastics which can be carcinogenic and also attract pollutants. They get consumed by wildlife, posing threats of toxicity and starvation. Fishing nets and soda rings can strangle, straws can impale. And the plastics work their way up the food chain and onto our plates.
Single-use plastics like bags and straws really became popular in the 1960s and ‘70s for their cheapness and convenience. But if usage trends continue, there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. Nixing straws won’t solve the problem. But it’s a gateway conversation and a starting point in the restructuring of our plastics usage.
3. Nix plastic bags
a) plastic grocery bags
b) plastic produce bags
Use reusable bags for groceries. Use smaller mesh bags for produce. If your shopping is done for you, communicate a game plan with your provisioner.
While the United States hasn’t joined the ranks of 59 countries who’ve banned plastic bags (hello neighbors Antigua and Barbuda, Haiti, Bahamas!), many American cities (plus Hawaii and California) have instituted local bans. Virgin Islands Clean Coasts is helping local businesses change their routines and break their reliance single-use plastics!
4. Return plastic bar cups
Those cute cups you get from Soggy Dollar Bar and Cooper Island Brewery…do they stack up in the corner then end up in the trash? You can return them for reuse, even if you haven't had the chance to clean them up.
Even better: Provide insulated tumblers for guests to use and bring ashore. And avoid single-use plastic cups.
5. Trash cigarette butts
Provide odor-resistant pocket ashtrays for smokers. And/or wind-resistant ashtrays.
Cigarette butts are the single most littered item in the world. The Ocean Conservancy has sponsored an annual beach cleanup for the last 32 years, and each year cigarette butts have been at the top of the list, amounting to 60 million butts. The wash into the oceans from storm drains, streams, and rivers, and are sometimes deposited directly onto beaches. Most are made of a form of plastic called cellulose acetate, and in studies they’ve shown up in 70 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of sea turtles.
Even if your vessel is non-smoking, this is a problem worth being informed about!
6. Use greener cleaners
a) Boat soap
b) Dish soap
c) Toilet bowl cleaner
Choose cleaners that are eco-friendly. If your interior or exterior cleaning is done for you, communicate with those individuals.
Of all the cleaners we use on board, these are the ones that end up down the drain and in the ocean. Many cleaning products contain ingredients that are harmful to aquatic life, water quality and the overall ecosystem. Some chemicals damage fish tissues, while others create nutrient imbalances leading to algal blooms.
What’s more, toxic cleaning products may be jeopardizing crew health. Ingredients with known health hazards (cancer, asthma) are surprisingly common. Children born to women who held cleaning jobs while pregnant have an elevated risk of birth defects, according to a 2010 study by the New York State Department of Health.
Although we aren’t getting into countertop cleaners or disinfectants here, it’s worth noting that bacteria and viruses are something to be taken seriously- especially in our line of work where we clean, cook, and find ourselves in bilges (or worse). Remember that cleaning must be done before sanitizing/disinfecting. And there is a time and a place for proper disinfectants in everyone’s routine.
7. Avoid plastic water bottles
Offer premium water from your vessel’s watermaker. Or order reusable jugs from the local RO (reverse osmosis) water plant. Communicate this to guests before their arrival.
Plastic water bottles create unnecessary trash and pollution. We understand that some guests will insist on brand name bottled water. But for the rest, encourage them to drink from your freshwater tank. Use a water filter and a countertop water dispenser to make your water delicious and convenient. If the freshwater tank is not an option, the local RO water plant offers a pick-up/refill/delivery service for their reusable 3-gal and 5-gal jugs.
8. Use greener toiletries
a) shampoo & conditioner
b) body soap
c) hand soap
Choose toiletries with simple, natural ingredients.
The products we use on our bodies wash off in the sink and shower or when we jump into the ocean. Harmful chemicals in these products can be deposited right onto the reefs where we moor, and the damage accumulates. Ask that guests bring eco-safe toiletries, or provide them complimentary. There are several local soap makers whose products are natural with no added chemicals products. Buying local reduces the carbon footprint, may be refillable to reduce packaging, and supports our local economy. Plus, the ingredients will probably be simple and easy to decipher.
For a great primer on ingredients, see the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database: Avoid sodium laureth/laurel sulfate (skin irritant), parabens (preservative linked to [breast] cancer), phthalates (linked to reproductive issues in men), triclosan (toxic to aquatic life), “fragrance” (allergen and can contain hormone disruptors), and choose surfactants that are plant-based (especially coconut oil or castile soap).