Most people associate the term ocean conservation with activists trying to save turtles and sharks and other vulnerable species. The truth is, ocean conservation is much more diverse and can be applied to all local communities. Hilton Head Island is unique in that we have marine mammals and sea turtles, generally healthy oceans, and so much marine life it is difficult to name all of our species.
The Mermaid of Hilton Head’s mission is to educate youth as well as adults about what ocean conservation is and how they can apply it to their own lives. One issue that is impacting every ocean is climate change. While some prefer to deny that climate change is even happening, it is real. If we do not address this major issue, it will continue to pick off our vulnerable species one by one and our marine biodiversity will be no longer.
One particular long term effect of climate change that we see in Hilton Head is called ocean acidification. As we produce more carbon in the air (from sources such as automobiles, electricity, and livestock), the atmosphere can only absorb so much of that carbon. Trees are without a doubt the most effective tool in carbon absorption, however as we continue to cut down trees and burn entire forests, the carbon absorption is left up to our oceans.
As our oceans are absorbing more and more carbon every year, the carbon is turning the ocean water acidic, which is how ocean acidification happens. How does this impact Hilton Head? Well, Hilton Head is well known for its oysters. Some people come to Hilton Head specifically for our oysters.
The oyster’s shells are being eroded by the unusually high levels of carbonic acid in our oceans and this is to what the term ocean acidification refers. Along with ocean acidification, our oceans are also facing habitat destruction.
Habitat destruction is often thought of as burning forests or urban development, however habitat destruction can be as simple as littering. Littering and plastic pollution is impacting the world’s ocean everywhere. Even the deep sea is falling victim to plastic pollution. It doesn’t take a marine biologist to know that litter and plastic pollution pose a huge long term threat to our oceans worldwide.
One conservation project that we have taken on here at the Mermaid of Hilton Head is that we have created artwork from plastic pollution to display as visuals to help people understand the impact of specific debris. We have made a sea turtle made entirely out of cigarette butts, named Smokey, and we have also made a dolphin made entirely out of plastic straws from one specific beach bar, appropriately named Bubbles. Smokey the Cigarette Sea Turtle can be found on display at Hilton Head Harbor Marina.
Another problem our oceans face everywhere and anywhere there are humans is chemical pollution derived from sunscreen. Our sunscreen has harmful chemicals that when they get in the water, can cause our coral reefs to bleach and eventually die.
This problem, however has a simple solution that if implemented by everyone, could keep coral reefs off of the endangered species list. The solution is reef friendly sunscreen. We recommend TropicSport, which doesn’t have any harmful chemicals for our coral reefs and it is also healthier for fish and the humans wearing it.
An additional issue facing Hilton Head and surrounding local communities is our rapid depletion of species. This problem is presenting itself primarily to our starfish and sand dollar populations. People do not understand that these are living animals and take them home by the buckets, which is fatal for them. This selfish behavior is not only illegal and punishable by up to a $1000 fine, but it is also killing off species are are so important to our ecosystems.
Education is key when tackling our species depletion because most people just don’t understand that they are murderers. You don’t know you’re killing something if you don’t know it’s alive. Our children’s book, Sammy the Sand Dollar, was created with the purpose of preventing these issues before they begin.
There are a few marine protected areas throughout the world that focus on marine biodiversity and the protection and rehabilitation of vulnerable species, endangered species, and other marine life, however there are not nearly enough of them for how large our oceans are which means it is up to us to make a difference.
You don’t have to be a marine biologist to help in your local communities. Attend a litter clean up, whether on the road or on the beach. Reduce your creation of long term plastic pollution by asking for no plastic straw at restaurants, eliminating balloons from your parties and celebrations, implementing the use of a reusable water bottle, and bringing reusable bags with you when you go grocery shopping.
Switch over to reef friendly sunscreen to help save our coral reefs and other vulnerable species of marine life. If you want to see a marine mammal, go out on a boat tour in the wild, and don’t buy a ticket to see them in captivity. Carpool when possible, plant trees, eat less meat, and switch to solar power and electric cars when feasible for you.
These are all things that you can do to help reduce ocean acidification and habitat destruction and help our turtles and sharks and other marine life even if you don’t live anywhere near the ocean.
If we work together and support each other we will see less vulnerable species, less endangered species, healthier coral reefs, and overall healthy oceans. If you are searching for more tips to help Hilton Head and surrounding local communities, check out our article in National Geographic so you can start a conservation project of your own. Let’s show others what ocean conservation is all about and let’s do it together!