Don't let BP sink us: Eight Easy Ways Consumers Can Spare Our Seas

As the author of an optimistic green book who's admittedly felt somewhat challenged since the BP spill, I've been invited to speak to a Surfrider Foundation Hawaii chapter about simple ways we can help protect the seas in our daily lives. Why should individuals bother when villains like BP do damage beyond measure in one fell blow? The answer: We can't afford to despair. Our collective consumer muscle, which represents 70% of the U.S. economy, matters more than ever now.

The oceans are a vast interconnected ecosystem, as shown by the far-flung migrations of endangered whales, bluefin tuna and great white sharks. Coral reefs worldwide are threatened by acidification and bleaching due to global warming. A lot of ocean pollution, from plastic trash to toxic chemicals, starts out on land. Wherever you live or travel, here are some things you can do this summer to help spare our wounded seas.

1 Say no to new plastics, and reuse/recycle old ones.

Not only are plastics made from fossil fuels and likely to release unhealthy chemicals such as Bisphenol-A and phthalates into our water, food and air, but they make their way from landfills out to sea, where they strangle turtles and birds and collect in floating continents of trash. For a list of safer reusable plastics, click here.

2 Eat sustainably sourced fish.

Seventy-five percent of fisheries worldwide are on the brink of collapse due to overfishing and habitat destruction (like BP's). Make healthy green choices with the Monterey Bay Aquarium's newly updated fish & seafood lists at

3 Use compost and organic, not synthetic, fertilizers in your garden.

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, made from fossil fuels, overload the soil with nutrients, which run off into waterways and out to sea, stimulating the growth of algae and causing oxygen-depleted dead zones. For organic options, click here

For the same reason, choose USDA certified organic food, which is required to be produced without synthetic fertilizers.

4 Eat certified sustainably produced animal products.

In addition to their cruelty, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) result in runoff of nitrogen-rich manure. CAFOS splling into the Mississippi River have produced one of the largest dead zones on the planet--in the Gulf of Mexico, where algae that feed off spilled petroleum may cause yet more hypoxia.

Choose meat and dairy that's certified humane, organic, biodynamic, or Animal Welfare or Food Alliance approved. "Free range" is a meaningless claim!

5 Use green cleaning and personal care products.

Many conventional detergents, liquid soaps and shampoos contain chemicals, such as alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) and nonylphenols (NPEs), that harm reproductive development in marine life--and may impact human hormones, too. Happily, many cleaning and cosmetic brands steer clear of these and other toxic tongue-twisters. Purer shampoos include Aubrey Organics, Burt's Bees, Dr.Bronner's. and Nature's Gate Organics.

6 Reduce runoff.

Keep soapy, greasy water out of storm drains, which carry it out to sea, by collecting "grey" water to irrigate plants, and using porous materials like gravel and pebbles for terraces, driveways, and paths. Catch rainwater in barrels, and don't wash cars on slopes. Conserve clean water by taking shorter showers, turning tap off while sudsing, shaving or brushing teeth, and using water-efficient faucet aerators, shower heads and appliances. See for more tips.

7 Use a nontoxic sunblock.

A widely used sunscreen chemical, benzophenone-3 (BP-3), also known as oxybenzone, has been implicated in the feminization of male fish and viral infections in coral. BP-3, rated a high hazard by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), is also a suspected human hormone disrupter that's been found in 97 percent of Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control. Enough, already!

Here's a short list of mineral-based sunblocks that are free of BP-3 and other problematic synthetic chemicals, and rated highly protective in EWG's comprehensive guide.

While you're at it, never step on coral!

8 Reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and curb your global warming emissions, with more efficient transportation and home energy choices. More tips can be found in my book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.