7 Ways Travellers Can Protect the Great Barrier Reef

Australia's greatest natural wonder is not a lost cause

Written by: Dave Owen

You might have heard that the Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s greatest natural wonders. And that it’s the largest living structure on the planet, visible from space. And that it’s one of the best diving spots in the world, home to thousands of marine species, like dolphins, sharks, and turtles.

And that, due to the devastating effects of climate change, it’s in critical condition.

Yup. That.

clown fish anemone coral

In the past thirty years, the Reef has lost half its coral cover, endured extensive coral bleaching, and many of its most vulnerable inhabitants are suffering the effects of waste plastic in the ocean. Yet, contrary to many reports, the Great Barrier Reef is not a lost cause.

By following a few simple steps to reduce your carbon footprint as you travel around the world, you can contribute to conserving the Great Barrier Reef.

No plastic bags

These days, many of us have got into the habit of re-using plastic bags or carrying a bag-for-life with us. Millions of seabirds and mammals are killed every year after ingesting or becoming tangled in plastic bags. Reducing how much you use them makes a massive difference.

When you’re travelling, it can be easy to fall out of the habit of re-using bags. Keep it in mind, and keep hold of your bags – they’ll always prove useful when you’re on the road.

And no plastic straws

Many pubs and bars around the world automatically stick a plastic straw in your drink, whether you ask for it or not. In the USA alone, some 500 million straws are used daily, their production releasing over 219 billion kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. Explicitly asking for no straw when you’re hitting the local nightlife means one less straw ending up in the ocean.

plastic pollution ocean

Use public transport

If you’re travelling independently (that is, not as part of a group tour), it can be tempting to hire a car for its convenience. Although sometimes there’s no other choice, many of the world’s most popular backpacking destinations have extensive transport infrastructure, providing plenty of bus and train options. This saves carbon emissions, and will usually save you a lot of money too!

Consider ground transport when moving between countries too – it’s significantly better for the environment than taking flights.

Share a car

If you really need to hire a car, try and find some fellow travellers who are in the same *ahem* boat. Instead of four people in four cars, you might be able to team up and use only one. This doesn’t just save emissions – you can split the cost of petrol and the burden of driving, and experience the world alongside new friends.

Man holding bottle mountains

Re-useable bottles and coffee cups

Your coffee habit won’t disappear when you travel, and if you visit hot countries it’s crucial to drink a lot of water. That can make it easy to run through a lot of plastic bottles and non-recyclable cups, many of which end up in the ocean. Re-useable bottles mean you can fill up with water for free before leaving your hostel, and most coffee places offer a discount for bringing a re-useable cup. That can add up to a serious saving over the course of your trip.

Don’t waste food

You’re probably already being thrifty with your food budget while you travel, but it’s surprising how much food can be wasted because you forgot it at the bottom of your bag, or cheap street food gave you eyes bigger than your stomach. Do your best to buy only what you need, and if you end up with any extra you can leave it in hostel common areas for your fellow hungry travellers to snaffle.

Join a Great Barrier Reef conservation project

Obviously this one is specific to the Great Barrier Reef, but if you really feel passionate about protecting the Reef there are a number of conservation projects that you can join as a volunteer to contribute to ongoing efforts.

You can find out more by visiting the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef.

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