Planning a road trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina this year? Great – we’d love to have you! Locally known as OBX, the Outer Banks are a beautiful collection of barrier islands along the eastern and southern coast of the state of North Carolina. Ever year, the OBX is host to hundreds of thousands of beach goers who will leave a mark (either good or bad) on the local environment. In an effort to keep your negative impacts to a minimum, there are small changes you can make to your beach routine. We’ve provided 10 tips for an eco-friendly Outer Banks vacation below. For the most part, these tips apply to any beach vacation destination, so be sure to save these for future reference!
Skip the Straw (or Bring a Reusable One)
Many beach businesses have started to make the move towards banning plastic straws. And for good reason! If you haven’t seen it yet, this [graphic] video will show you what can happen to those single use plastic straws we use for our daquiris (or rum and cokes) and then throw away! By BYOS (bringing your own straw) and/or requesting your beverage come without one, you are ensuring one less straw finds it’s way out to sea.
Use Reusable Containers
Be it a reusable drinking vessel, reusable food storage bag, or reusable grocery bag/beach tote, you’ll be glad you brought them! They are handy to have around and you can feel better about saving the environment as you use them! A really great step towards an eco-friendly Outer Banks vacation!
Leave Only Footprints
Carry out what you carry in! When preparing to leave the beach, be sure to do a second sweep of the space you were using to make sure you aren’t leaving ANYTHING behind. It’s amazing how much debris can be found along the beach after a busy beach day. Whether you take your trash home with you or dispose of it in the trash bins on the beach, you’re doing the environment a huge favour by doing it!
Properly dispose of Fishing Line
If you’re coming to the Outer Banks to fish, awesome! Be sure to pick up a license here. While you’re fishing, it’s a natural part of the process to get your line tangled. If the line gets tangled so badly that you need to throw it away, be sure to dispose of it in the proper receptacle (pictured below). Loose, unwanted [monofilament] lines can be a serious threat to wildlife, pets, and even humans, as they can become easily entangled and the material isn’t quick to breakdown.
Be Mindful of Sea Turtles
Every year, hundreds of sea turtles come ashore to nest in North Carolina, between the months of May and September. The Outer Banks is no stranger to nesting sea turtles and can host up to a few dozen nests per year. These nests can contain over 100 eggs per clutch! Volunteers will scour the beaches daily for evidence of nests and chord off any confirmed nests. You’ll see signage (pictured above) with photos and tips which serve as a reminder to beach patrons to share the beach. Most importantly, if you sea a sea turtle, DO NOT APPROACH IT! You can call the local Network for Endangered Sea Turtles at 252.441.8622. Learn more about our local sea turtle program N.E.S.T. and be respectful of these incredible creatures.
Switch up your Sunscreen
One of the biggest health concerns for anyone visiting the beach is getting sunburned, of course. Every year, millions of people lather themselves up with sunscreen to prevent those dangerous rays from burning their skin. Next they are jumping into the ocean to cool off, in search of reprieve from the heat. Upon entering the water, the chemicals that they’ve spread all over their bodies, slowly seep into the surrounding waters. On a per person basis, this can be a small amount sure, but when you consider the compounding effects of the millions of beach goers that entertain a dip in the ocean every year, it adds up!
This handy infograph, provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (a US Government organization), outlines the science behind how sunscreen gets into and affects the ocean. Consider the impacts your sunscreen choice is having on the following:
- Green Algae: Can impair growth and photosynthesis.
- Coral: Accumulates in tissues. Can induce bleaching, damage DNA, deform young, and even kill.
- Mussels: Can induce defects in young.
- Sea Urchins: Can damage immune and reproductive systems, and deform young.
- Fish: Can decrease fertility and reproduction, and cause female characteristics in male fish.
- Dolphins: Can accumulate in tissue and be transferred to young.
Consider reef-safe sunscreen alternatives like this all natural option, sporting light weight longs sleeves and pants, minimizing sun exposure from 10am – 2pm by seeking out shade.
Ride a Bicycle
Another great step towards an eco-friendly Outer Banks vacation is to load the bikes up for your trip if you can! There are paths all along the barrier islands which make cycling the perfect outdoor activity for all ages. To be extra safe, don’t forget a helmet and a lock!
Don’t Feed the Sea Gulls
This is a great pointer for several reasons… Not only will your new found friends likely stick around after you’ve fed them , they’ll have more friends show up! And they’ll continue to pester you, and everyone around you (which may cause you to lose some friends). Realistically, we shouldn’t feed any wildlife. By doing so, we risk the species becoming dependent on humans to supply them with food. So where will they eat when the humans disappear for the season? Wild animals need to learn to forage for themselves. Plus more gulls around leads to more potential to get pooped on, and nobody wants any part of that. Regardless of the old myth that it’s good luck
Leave the Plastic Toys at Home
This one is definitely going to be one of the tougher habits to change, especially if you are traveling with kids. But if you look around, there are actually some really great alternatives out there. Like these yard dice or these dolls. Some companies (like Lego) have even started developing plant based plastic toys to also consider. Plastic getting into the environment has now been a long seated concern. It’s fine to go to the beach with the intention of leaving with all the toys you arrived with. That being said, consider that sometimes children can be forgetful or misplace a toy that may ultimately get washed out to sea.
If you can’t help yourself and really need to head to the beach with a frisbee, consider toys made from recycled waste. More and more companies are developing everyday items from recycled plastic, like this frisbee made (in the US!) from old fishing nets. And don’t forget, the beach itself is a toy – you can build sand castles and sand creatures to your imagination’s delight!
No [Cigarette] Butts About It!
If you haven’t made the switch to an e-cigarette, maybe consider it solely for your beach visit. Especially if you aren’t in the habit of properly disposing of your butts. Speaking of plastic waste, did you know cigarette butts are the number one type of plastic litter in the world? Just sayin’.
We hope we have inspired you to make some positive changes to your beach routine this year. Have you previously adapted any of these modifications? Did we miss any tips for an eco-friendly Outer Banks vacation? We’d love to hear them!
Looking for some fun ideas for your trip to the OBX this summer? Check out our OBX Scavenger Hunt!