How reef safe is your sunscreen?

Summer is coming! Who else is as excited as a 5 year old on Christmas Eve?

For me, summer means longer days, shorter skirts, long nights on “terrasse” drinking wine with some friends but also and that’s probably my favorite part, THE BEACH.

To say that I’m an ocean lover would be an understatement. Going to the seaside, wherever in the world, is one of my favorite thing to do in the whole world, even more lately since I’ve become a certified diver and I can now go see what’s going on under the surface.

And one of the first thing I found out while learning about the underwater world is that our summer habits such as putting sunscreen to avoid looking like a lobster are not entirely harmless to our friends below the water. Yep, we've been told for decades that we should apply sunscreen thoroughlyto avoid getting cancer and other skin problems but we've never been told about the impacts that those chemicals are having on biodiversity. But hey, here are a few explanations and tips on what you can do to prevent that (I promise it doesn’t include looking like a tomato for the rest of your holidays)!

Oxybenzone and other chemical stuff

Oxy-what? you’re probably thinking. Oxybenzone is a chemical used in many sunscreen brands to protect our skin from the damages of UV light. Such as skin cancer Pretty useful right? Well, not so much for the ocean.

The chemical has been found to poison corals in several ways:

·      Increases bleaching (a phenomenon during which coral reject symbiotic organisms and lose their color)

·      Has the same effect on coral DNA as gasoline

·      Disrupts reproduction and growth

·      Causes deformities and growth anomalies

If that’s not sad enough, studies have found that every effect above can take place with very low doses of the chemicals : the equivalent of one drop of water in 6,5 Olympic pools! How crazy?

The product enters the water when people go swimming or when when they spray themselves with aerosols as the spray mostly falls on the sand and then gets washed into the sea when tide is high or falls into sea turtle nests.

Now you’re probably thinking, “ Of course I don’t want to hurt the corals or baby turtles but if I still want to go to the beach and get a tan, what are my options?”. I got you covered, keep reading.

Biodegradable and mineral filters

If you want to favor sunscreens that are not harmful to the marine biodiversity, the first advice is to READ THE LABEL. Indeed, sunscreens made with zinc oxide or titanium oxide are biodegradable which means it will wash off during your swimming or scuba diving without harming the local ecosystem. Moreover, these are mineral physical filters meaning they create a physical barrier between the sun and your skin rather than a chemical one.

Overall, the chemicals you really want to stay away from are PABA, oxtinoxate, oxybenzone (you again!), 4-methylbenzylidene, camphor and butylparaben as they are the most known to cause damage to the reefs. Also, if possible avoid spray-on sunscreens as the risk of it dropping on the sand is higher than with a cream.

My personal favorite is the cream from Acorelle, a french organic brand from the South West that ensures that its products are reef safe.

But if you’re not in France or Europe, here are a few brands I found to be respectful of our environment.

And most importantly, don't forget to PUT IT ON GENEROUSLY! Nobody ever thought lobsters were sexy ;)

 

4 indispensables to pack when traveling green

Most of us like (if not love) to travel. Call it wanderlust, curiosity, love of exoticism or whatever you want really, there is something about emerging yourself if a new culture that it truly exhilarating. For me it already starts when I pack my bag. However, if you’re a greenie at home, it can sometimes be hard to keep the good eco-friendly habits while away and it’s even easier to create bad ones.

 

So here are my 3 indispensables to pack when traveling that will make your journey greener.

1. A water bottle.

Marine litter is such a problem that some experts are saying that in 2050, the ocean will have more plastic than fish.  So cutting on disposable plastic when possible is an excellent way to contribute to keeping litter OUT of marine areas . While traveling, chances are the most plastic you’ll consume will be the one from water bottles as instead of at home where you may drink tap water or use a filter, you won’t have that at hand.

Hence, a transportable water bottle! Usually used by athletes or while hiking, it’s an excellent solution to avoid buying couple of plastic bottles a day and contributing to global pollution! Indeed, if you’re in a country or a place where water is drinkable, all you have to do is fill it whenever you have the chance and there, you’re all set. If the destination however, does not have clean water available, you can either use purifying pills such as iodine that chemically sterilizes the water (can be found in pharmacies and purify any kind of water) or boil it and let it cool down. Moreover, in some hostels and hotels they sometimes have water fountain available for free or a small amount which allows you to fill your bottle just like you would from the tap.

Here are a few brands that sell super stylish bottles while giving back, totally worth a check!

  • Soma: a certified B Corporation, the brand offers super stylish bottles from post consumer waste and recycled materials that and a portion of every filter purchased provides water to people in need.
  • EarthLust: The stainless bottles are made from high quality food-grade steel and BPA-free polypropylene and coated with non-toxic paint! And the designs are absolutely gorgeous!
  • Yuhme: Made from sugarcane, each purchase gives 6 months of clean water to a person in Central African Republic!

2. A solar charging station

Not only is thisas eco friendly as possible (using the energy of the sun to charge your electronic devices? Thank you nature at its best!) it’s also super useful, if, like me, you keep forgetting to charge your phone/camera/computer (delete as appropriate) before leaving the hostel and find yourself at an amazing location, unable to capture any of it because your device is dead (speaking from experience).

Sounds complicated to use? Not at all. Chances are, unless you’re in Belgium in January or Honk Kong during a fog crisis, you’ll be able to get some luminosity and charge, even if not fully and fast, what you’re trying to charge.

Many brands are selling these little electronic revolutions and most are travel size fit (let me know how soon they become your traveling best buds!)

3.  A container to put your junk in

Now you’re thinking: “does she want me to carry a bin around while traveling?”.  Well… just kidding! A plastic jar or a cotton bag or anything really that is small enough to fit in your bag/suitcase but big enough to hold waste such as bottles cap, cigarettes butt if you smoke, sandwich wraps will do the trick. The goal is double.

Photo from the queen of Zero Waste lifestyle @Lauren Singer

Photo from the queen of Zero Waste lifestyle @Lauren Singer

First, in many countries, outside capitals and big cities, the concepts of bins and public recollection of waste is very poor to nonexistent. Which means either carrying your junk around in your bag until you can dispose it or throwing it away in the streets or even worst nature. If the second option sounds horrific to you and you don’t want your bag to smell weird or be full of waste after only a few days, a small container is an excellent way to take care of your junk until you can dispose of it safely and appropriately.

It’s also a great way to realize how much we throw away! Actually gathering it at the same place and seeing it pile up as your trip goes by is a true wake up call to the issue of waste disposal and over consumption. If you have to empty the “recipient” each time you come across a bin, then, chances are you may be over consuming or this trip! In any case, it’s a great indicator and an easy way to challenge yourself to consume less next trip (fill half of the jar during the same period or empty the bag every two weeks instead of one etc.

4. Eco friendly cosmetics

I know, entering intimacy here. Plus, what does “eco friendly cosmetics” even mean: organic? Natural? Vegan?  All of it? All of these labels or callings are better than conventional cosmetics. But when traveling, especially to places where nature is still pristine and highly fragile, the ideal is biodegradable cosmetics that are made of mineral or natural components rather than chemicals. The idea is that if you’re washing your hair in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle or brushing your teeth in the African bush, what will be washed away by water does not containanything than could harm the nearby environment and further away that could be washed down in the ocean.

Sounds a bit extreme to you?  I’ve been to some places in Central America where they require you to only bring biodegradable products onto the property in order to protect the local environment. They explained that regular a regular use of products made of chemicals has the potential to weaken the soil and therefore the organic agriculture that grows on it as it more fragile than conventional farming, poison the local water sources and therefore the animals both pets and wildlife that depend on it and in the longer term put the  global ecosystem balance at risk. This really makes you think twice when buying your traveling products! (tip, check the components to see if they're mineral or chemical based and if they are biodegradable)

Moreover, I’ll talk about this more in detail in an upcoming post but chemicals based sun creams can have  disastrous effects on marine life and coral reefs causing extremely fast bleaching to corals all around the world.

7 ways to survive (and even thrive) as a vegan in Central America

If you're a vegan and planning for a trip to central america, you're probably thinking "what the hell am I going to eat"? Well you're not entirely wrong. Meat and eventually fish if you're around the coast is very present in the Central American diet. And when I mean very present, I mean it's pretty much everywhere.

At this point you're probably thinking that it's going to be tricky. But hey, no worries (as our friends from down under would say)! Here are a few tips on how to survive (and even thrive) as a vegan (and therefore a vegetarian) in Central America.

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