Tips for a Sustainable Beach Trip

Now that summer’s here, many of us will be planning a few trips to the beach. While we only spend the day there, relaxing in the sun, many animals and plants call this environment home, so it’s important that we take care of it. Luckily, it’s easy to take your green lifestyle with you when you visit the beach. Here are six handy tips to help you plan a sustainable beach trip this summer. 

Be kind to biodiversity 

Get the most out of your beach visit by learning about its wildlife. Learn about your local birds and have a look at who calls the rock pools home, but remember – look don’t touch! You not only share the beach with other people but plants and animals as well, and our actions can have a negative impact on them. If your beach has dunes, there are often signs and clear paths to stick to. Climbing and walking in the dunes might sound like fun, but by doing this you can damage delicate ecosystems and lead to beach erosion.

Also remember it’s not okay to feed the wildlife. They already have their own food. Feeding them your lunch can lead to digestive problems, illness, and an imbalance in the food web. 

Take only photos, leave only footprints 

It is so important that you leave no trace of your visit. Or better yet, aim to leave the beach tidier than you found it. About 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and it takes between 80-200 years for plastic to break down in the ocean. But plastic doesn’t decompose, it quite literally just breaks down into smaller pieces called microplastics. Microplastics then get eaten by plankton, then fish eat the plankton, then we eat the fish. The larger bits of rubbish floating around also wreak havoc on the oceans. Wildlife can easily get caught in or hurt by ocean plastics. 

Say no to plastic 

If you’re planning a beach picnic, it is very tempting to choose food and drinks that are in single-use packaging to avoid dirty dishes at the end of the day. But to be eco-friendly, the best thing to do is keep plastic off the beach. Sandwich bags or cling film seem small and insignificant,  but it all contributes to a larger problem. By avoiding these products to start with, you can help make that problem a little smaller. Here are some ways to reduce plastic at the beach and make it a more sustainable trip: 

  • Bring your own water bottle and refill it. Keep an eye out for water fountains and download the RefillNZ app to find all the free refill stations in your area. You can also look out for the RefillNZ sticker in store windows. 
  • Bring your own food and use beeswax wraps instead of cling film 
  • Say no to straws and lids!  

Pick up rubbish (even if it’s not yours) 

Good practice for a sustainable beach trip is to always pick up your own rubbish, and any other rubbish you see. If everybody picked up three pieces of rubbish every time they were at the beach (or lake, waterway, or anywhere outdoors!) it would make a huge difference. You don’t have to clean up the whole beach, but if everyone did their part we could take a positive step toward a cleaner environment. Once you’ve collected your rubbish, be sure to dispose of it appropriately. 

Slip, slop, slap and wrap 

We’ve all heard this saying! ‘Slip’ into the shade or a long sleeve shirt, ‘slop’ on some sunscreen, ‘slap’ on a hat, and ‘wrap’ your eyes with some sunglasses. But as you protect yourself from the sun, have you ever stopped to consider the ingredients inside your sunscreen?  

Many common sunscreen brands contain chemicals that can be detrimental to oceans and corals. Oxybenzone is the main offender, as studies show it can disturb coral reproduction and growth cycles and lead to coral bleaching. Around 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen each year finds its way into the ocean. Even if you don’t wear sunscreen when swimming, it can still wash down the drain from the shower. Aerosol cans can leave a large amount of the product in the sand, which in turn gets washed into the ocean.  

Some other countries have already banned sunscreens that are not ‘reef safe’. Here in New Zealand, we don’t have coral reefs, but we do have corals. Even though there are no banned sunscreens here, you should still choose your sunscreen carefully so it’s safe for your skin and the water. 

When shopping for sunscreen, keep in mind the following: 

  • Look for sunscreens that say “reef-friendly” 
  • Adopt a sunscreen based on mineral filters, without nanoparticles 
  • Avoid the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which trigger a stress reaction in corals 
  • Avoid titanium dioxide, which can produce hydrogen peroxide in the ocean, and endanger coral and other animals 
  • Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide can also be eaten by sea life, and cause damage to their gills or internal systems 
  • Avoid mineral oil (or petroleum products), which is harmful to seabirds and other marine life 

Perhaps the safest and most environmentally-friendly option is to ‘slip’ more than you ‘slop’ – wearing clothing or swimwear (like a rash shirt) that contain UV protection to minimise the amount of sunscreen needed. 

Reduce your carbon footprint 

When planning a day at the beach, try to get there on foot or by bike if you can. If the beach is a bit further away, opt for public transport instead wherever possible. This helps you limit your carbon footprint by not using your car to get to your destination.  

It’s important to be mindful about your stay at the beach. As you become more eco-friendly by following these tips, you can make a huge difference in the health of your local beach and the rest of the ocean! 

– Briar Inwood, Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari First Mate


Bhattacharya, A. (2010, February 15). Waste that matters: Plastics in the Pacific Ocean – A growing cause for concern. Science in the News. Retrieved November 25, 2021, from  

Zachos, E., & Rosen, E. (2019, May 22). What sunscreens are best for you—and the planet? National Geographic Travel. Retrieved November 25, 2021, from