By Kimani Wiseman

Too much of work and no play makes jack a dull boy. Hence, a little travelling is good. Travelling helps you to explore other countries and learn about their culture, meet new people, site see, and, most importantly, you get to spend some time away from your job to relief some stress. However, that vacation can turn into a nightmare for the environment.

Tourism is the backbone of many countries around the globe. The heavy influx of tourists the Caribbean receives each year can be destructive to the environment if measures are not put in place. The Caribbean has some of the most pristine beaches in the world, which attracts a lot of tourists. When tourists arrive at these beaches, a lot of sunscreen is used. Sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate are harmful to coral reefs. 

A study by Haerecticus Environmental Laboratory, a non profit scientific organisation, found that the chemicals in these two sunscreens cause bleaching, deformities, DNA damage, and ultimately death in coral reefs when they are washed off beachgoers or discharged into waste water treatment plants and deposited into bodies of water. These chemicals seep into young corals and contribute to “coral bleaching”. About 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen enters the world’s reefs each year, according to a 2015 paper published in the Journal Archieves of Environmental contamination and toxicology.

Smoking at the beach and discarding cigarette butts on the beach is dangerous for marine animals. The filters in cigarettes are made of tiny plastic particles that take decades to decompose. Marine animals mistake the plastic particles found in cigarettes are mistaken for food. When marine animals consume these plastics, they blocks their digestive system, resulting in death.

The harmful chemicals leached from discarded cigarette butts, which include nicotine, arsenic, and heavy metals, can also be toxic to marine animals. According to the Ocean Conservancy, the number one item collected at beach cleanups globally is cigarette butts. Ocean Conservancy’s 2018 international coastal cleanup report stated that 2,412,151 cigarette butts were collected worldwide in 2017. This is an increase from the 1,863,838 cigarette butts collected around the world in 2016.

In addition to cigarette butts, single use plastics such as plastic bottles, plastic straws, plastic cups, plastic bags, etc., left on the beach are also harmful to marine animals and makes the beach “unsightly”. Tourism puts a lot of pressure on water resources.

For example, the construction of five star hotels usually come with golf courses and a lot of water is used on the lawn of these golf courses. Some cruise ships pollute the ocean. On Aug. 26, 2018, a cruise ship spilled 7,000 litres of liquid food waste in the Great Barrier Reef. The owners had to pay a fine of 2.1 million Australian dollars before the authorities release the vessel. 

Tourism can also lead to the introduction of new species in a country, which can cause native species to go extinct. New species being introduced to a country can be “predators” to other species.

Here are some tips for mitigating the effects of tourism on the environment:

  • Oxybenzone and octinoxate sunscreens should be banned and use environmentally-freidly sunscreens such as: Kokua Hawaian SPF 50, Think sport, Badger sport zinc oxide, Raw elements non- nano zinc oxide, All Good non nano, Babo Botanicals clear zinc, Sun Bum, Blue lizard Titanium and zinc oxide, Mama Kuleana, Surf Durt original, Amavara Mineral, Manda organic, Klar SPF 30, Tru kid, Stream 2 sea. Hawaii has already pass legislation that would ban the sale or distribution of oxybenzone and octinoxate on Jan. 1, 2021.
  • Smokers need to be more responsible and discard their cigarette butts properly. Some countries are already contemplating banning smoking at the beach.
  • Hotels that have golf courses can use tanks to catch rain water and use the water on the lawn of the golf course.
  • More persons should get involved in beach cleanup activities at least twice a year. This would help to remove a lot of the garbage at the various beaches and also garbage bins should be placed at the popular beaches.
  • Immigration officers and custom officers need to be very vigilant for persons who might be trying to smuggle in other species in their country.
  • Cruise ships that are caught illegally disposing their waste in the ocean should be made to pay a heavy fine.

In the Caribbean, tourism contributes significantly to the gross domestic product (GDP). Tehrefore, a lot of the problems that come with this important industry can be overlooked for the “tourism dollar”. Sustainable tourism is required which would alleviate a lot of these issues.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.