Protecting Sea Life and Our Oceans: Why We Need To Sail Sustainably
Protecting sea life by sustainable sailing on your yacht or superyacht is vital to promoting marine biodiversity. We explore why we need to.
Sailing is increasingly becoming a popular activity as more and more people turn to an alternate way of holidaying in privacy, safety, and comfort post-pandemic. The superyacht market is booming and is forecast to grow steadily as more elites become aware of the promise of unrestricted travel in luxurious comfort, while fully connected to the world of commerce through modern digital technology.
According to recent studies, yachting has a significant impact on the marine environment, especially in areas such as the Balearic Islands and Palma, the Mediterranean coastlines of Italy, the Atlantic coastlines of Portugal and the UK, and the Caribbean, where there is overcrowding in the high season. Damage to their ecosystems leads to biodiversity loss, so the yachting community should adopt sustainable behaviour at sea.
Inland waterway ecosystems, such as lakes, rivers, and canals can be even more sensitive due to their often being closed environments with less opportunity for chemicals in the water to disperse and boaters being more densely bunched together,
Why Protecting Aquatic Life and Biodiversity Matters
There are around 300 000 known marine species, both plants, and animals, from microscopic phytoplankton that photosynthesise sunlight at the base of the food web to the large predatory sharks, sea lions, and whales that feed at the top. This variety of life is marine biodiversity, and its value is in the sheer abundance of species, which feed on each other from the bottom up in the food chain. Food chains are intricately linked with one another, creating the vast oceanic food web.
Losing a single species, especially on the top predator level of the web, affects the overall biodiversity balance and may even result in ocean death. The UN has predicted that by 2050, there will not be enough land to provide for an additional 2.5 billion people and that the solution must come from conserving and farming our oceans.
Marine biodiversity is the immense variety of living creatures found in our seas, which support all life. The ocean itself is thought to be responsible for at least 50 - 80% of all the oxygen on the planet created by an intricate web of plant and animal systems and in particular - abundantly microscopic plankton. Together they absorb 30 - 50% of all the climate change-causing carbon emissions created through the burning of fossil fuels and in turn create much of the oxygen on the planet. Protecting aquatic life by yachting in a sea safe manner ensures that we are proactively helping to create a sustainable future by reducing the chances of global warming, ensuring we have oxygen to breath, securing global food security in turn helping to reduce world poverty and prolonging a healthy earth.
The most biodiverse ecosystems, such as mangroves, kelp forests, seagrass beds, and coral reefs. They harbour a plethora of species that act as oceanic ‘seed banks’ that replenish depleted, nutrient-poor, or damaged areas.
Protecting Aquatic Life in Cradles of Biodiversity
Some marine ecosystems are nurseries for reef and pelagic fish and marine mammals, and each of these areas has specific sensitivities. Many of these valuable regions of diversity are dedicated Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), where sailing or fishing is not allowed without a permit, and visitor numbers are regulated, protecting aquatic life. Navigate these areas with respect for their resident plant and animal species.
Mangroves are tropical trees that thrive in salty coastal waters in 118 countries and store vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere in their leaves. The underwater root systems are critical nurseries for thousands of fish species and are habitats for crabs, turtles, snails, jellyfish, turtles, tree frogs, water snakes, and feeding birds.
Thickets of mangroves protect coastal regions from tempestuous seas by binding the soil with their roots - while the upper branches slow down the flow of water, accumulating sediment, which builds an effective breakwater against cyclones and tsunamis.
Mangroves are so critical for biodiversity that many countries have declared whole swathes of these forests as MPAs, incorporating projects to restore, rejuvenate and replant them along unprotected shorelines. Because this ecosystem is particularly vulnerable to pollution from diesel and petrol fuel, attempt to limit outboard engine use, reduce engine speed, and be careful that no leakage or spillage from your engine, greywater, or bilgewater occurs in their vicinity.
Kelp is a cold-water seaweed that can grow up to 30m in length in nutrient-rich waters and can grow at depths of up to 200 meters - and, under certain conditions, forms large clusters. The plant attaches to a rocky substrate while its stem and fronds can reach the surface as floating canopies. Smaller kelp species have heads that sway in mid-water or closer to the sea bed, creating vertical layers of the underwater forest, each home to unique species.
A range of invertebrates like anemones, brittle stars, prawns, snails, crabs, and jellyfish live on the kelp, feeding on the algae that use it as a substrate. Blue, black, and kelp rockfish, which sea lions and seals love to hunt, are also part of the forest ecosystem.
Sea otters hide from predators like sharks in these dark undersea forests- and they consume a predatory red anemone that, if left unchecked, would otherwise destroy the entire kelp forest. Gray whales are known to hide in kelp to avoid orcas and feast on the plentiful crustaceans they find there.
Kelp is found in the deep or shallow waters globally including Portugal, the UK, and nutrient-rich areas of the Caribbean. It is a critical nursery and breeding ground for benthic (sea-floor dwelling) and pelagic (free-swimming) organisms and provides essential food and shelter for thousands of species worldwide.
Always sail around kelp forests, which you can see above water as dark clusters, either on the shore side of the beds or on the seaside, but never aim straight through it - it will clog your engine’s water intake system and jam up your propellor. As the forests can stretch for miles along a coastline, patience could be a virtue in this scenario.
Corals are the hugest biological structures on earth and pre-date the demise of the dinosaurs. Reefs take thousands of years to grow and only cover one percent of the ocean, yet they shelter a quarter of all marine biodiversity.
Corals are microscopic animals that live together with a plant-like alga that provides nutrition pulled from sunlight. Corals need clear, warm, and nutrient-depleted waters to grow and are incredibly sensitive to temperature and pH changes.
Commercial sunscreens containing nano-particles, or oxybenzone and octinoxate, are toxic to corals and cause them to die. Using a sea-safe sunscreen is essential when you enter tropical waters.
Recent experiments with biorock technology have shown we can regrow corals by running electricity through an underwater structure, which rapidly forms a reef but projects take time to initiate and need financial backing. Releasing any greywater near coral reefs will have a harmful effect - so we advise to cache it and dispose of it in port to a treatment facility.
Posidonia seagrass meadows are essential nursery grounds for fish, crustaceans, and invertebrates, providing nutrients, protection from currents, and vital oxygen. Posidonia is the oldest living species on earth, and a single plant is capable of living for up to 200 000 years, which is as long as we have been around as humans.
Posidonia is more closely related to ginger and lilies than terrestrial grass and works symbiotically with tiny marine animals called bryozoa to filter seawater. This ancient team produces clear turquoise water in sailing locations like Palma, the Balearics, France, Italy, and the Caribbean. A single plant can become a meadow stretching for up to 10 miles covering thousands of acres and acting as a sink, absorbing excess carbon from the atmosphere and preventing climate change.
Turtles, fish, oysters, squid, seahorses, crabs, and countless other species depend on the seagrass meadows for survival. Save Our Seabed advises not to anchor on the beds and to use fixed moorings instead, and also to avoid stirring up sediment, preventing their ability to photosynthesise. Click on their site for more valuable tips on navigating and anchoring near seagrass beds.
Quick Tips For Protecting Oceans and Sea Life with Ecoworks Marine
Ecoworks Marine products are made from renewable and sustainably sourced raw materials and use a clever mixture of friendly bacteria and enzymes instead of toxic chemicals to eat up grime, grease, bacteria, organic materials, and dirt.
All our products are phosphate and palm-oil free, pH-balanced, and never tested on animals. They exceed the MARPOL Annex 5 (check the numbers) criteria and are therefore eco-friendly and reef-safe.
When it comes to cleaning products consider the below.
Read Labels & Do Background Checks
Ecoworks Marine strongly advises reading the labels on cleaning products before purchase to identify harmful ingredients that may be present. There are no official governmental certifications for marine cleaning products, so be sure to follow up by checking green certificates, safety data sheets, and product-testing results, which should be available on the company website or provided on request.
Handle Greywater Safely
Greywater is one of the prime culprits of pollution while sailing. The larger the vessel, the more greywater it will generate, including harmful ingredients in common laundry liquids, fabric cleaners, dishwashing soaps, wood and bilge cleaners, and all-surface yacht cleaning agents.
Greywater is just as toxic to marine life as raw sewerage because it contains live pathogens from food and the human body that cause diseases like cholera, salmonella, and dysentery. It also contains microorganisms that cause fevers, coughs, pink eye, and sore throats, which humans pick up while swimming or eating shellfish. Nutrients in greywater such as phosphates can trigger algal blooms that prevent sunlight from penetrating the water, block fish gills, and create toxic conditions which lead to eventual oxygen deprivation and die-off.
Ecoworks Marine offers a complete range of eco-friendly boat cleaning products for the interior, exterior, and engine, including a fully prepped spring cleaning package. These products are made with ingredients not known to be harmful to ocean life and are designed to biodegrade and leave no trace. This includes when it is flushed out of the greywater tank.
You can also use Ecoworks Marine FOG- buster drain cleaner and greywater additive to dose your drain water pipes and wastewater holding tanks to reduce fats, oils, and grease and break down the emulsified sludge building up in them over time. This will help reduce build ups that can cause blockages and higher maintenance costs if left.
Bilgewater is just as filthy as greywater and contains hydrocarbon oils from the engine, organic waste, grease, and grime - it can be treated with our powerfully effective non-toxic green bilge cleaner, leaving your bilge clean and fresh. The bilge cleaner will help break down the oils, grease and grime making them less harmful to the marine environment if they are released into the ocean. Nonetheless, always ensure your greywater and bilgewater are cached safely for release at a marina to a treatment plant - or at least 3 miles out to sea.
You can read more tips for sailing sustainably at our blog here.
Adopting a Sustainable Life Practice Supports Biodiversity Preserving Our Oceans
In conclusion, sustainable yachting matters. The main principles of sustainable sailing apply to our lives on land as well as at sea: respect wild animals and plants, and their habitats, and leave no visible trace for future generations. Always use sea-safe cleaning products and other sustainable equipment where possible, never litter, and cache your wastewater for treatment to reduce any harmful impact upon the unique biodiversity you enjoy from your yacht or superyacht.
By doing this you can ensure that you are contributing to preserving the oceans and thus the planet for generations to come. Furthermore you’ll be preserving your favourite cruising spots for future visits and for others to enjoy.