How to visit beaches responsibly: five ways you can help

A record number of heatwaves has seen vast numbers of us flocking to our nearest beach for much-needed relief — but it’s also put them under some strain. We explore some of the ways we can help to keep our beaches healthy.

The Dorset coastline, nearby Lulworth Cove and Worbarrow Bay.

Photograph by Getty Images
By Tamsin Wressell
Published 21 Sept 2022, 06:03 BST

1. Join a beach clean-up

There are countless beach clean-ups run by conservation charities and local community groups throughout the UK. Each has a focus on socialising, connecting with nature and making a tangible difference to the local environment. Research the area you’re in to see if there’s a clean-up or programme in place to get involved with — Google, MeetUp and Facebook are good places to start.

Pier2Pier is a supergroup of women that’s established a recurring beach clean in Brighton, and its members collaborate to help save the city’s beaches and oceans from harmful waste. Each month, up to 200 people join a silent disco beach clean on a Saturday morning, complete with fancy dress. More widespread is the Marine Conservation Society, which lists cleans around the country and offers support to help you set up your own. The National Trust lists nationwide cleans, too.

If you're taking up a water sport, consider activities like canoeing, kayaking, standup paddleboarding and surfing, ...

If you're taking up a water sport, consider activities like canoeing, kayaking, standup paddleboarding and surfing, which don’t rely on fossil fuels or damaging equipment. 

Photograph by Getty Images

2. Choose a low-impact watersport

Watersports offer an immersive way for travellers to get to know every nook of the coastline. Though, some do come with a carbon footprint. Water-skiing and jet-skiing, for example, rely on fuel-powered engines that lead to emissions, and also contain oil, which can lead to leaks. Instead, think about switching to low-impact activities like canoeing, kayaking, standup paddleboarding and surfing. The added bonus is that the activity’s slower allows you to interact more intimately with your surroundings.

Materials are an important consideration, too. If you’re taking up a board sport, for example, then breakable polystyrene boards have been responsible for plastic pollution in the sea. This year, Dick Pearce Bellyboards has teamed up with the charity Surfers Against Sewage to provide free wooden surf hire in 30 locations around the UK to encourage more sustainable seaside activities. The Surf Wood for Good project is set to run for the rest of the year.

3. Shop for more sustainable products

It’s a good idea to double-check the contents of your beach bag, and to read up on products’ eco-credentials. Microfibre towels, for example, are made out of plastic, which leads to microplastic pollution and means that they’re often non-recyclable — so choose one made of natural materials instead. Many sunscreens can have a toxic effect on the environment as well, as they contain harmful chemicals that wash off in the ocean on beach trips — like oxybenzone, which bleaches young coral. The good news is that there’s a rising number of brands offering sunscreen clearly labelled as ‘reef-safe’.

The growing quantity of ocean plastic is a crippling issue around the world.

The growing quantity of ocean plastic is a crippling issue around the world.

Photograph by Getty Images

4. Leave nature untouched

Taking a shell from your favourite beach home with you is a nostalgic nicety, but it’s important to bear in mind that they’re important to the health of the beach. Shells provide nutrients as well as shelter to small insects and animals, and are even used by marine birds to build their nests. You can still take a memorable souvenir, though. Shop around the coastline for handmade items from locals — not only does this protect the beach’s environment, but it supports the local economy and community.

If you come across a turtle or a seal that’s stranded or appears injured, it’s important not to disturb them. The best advice is to call a local conservation society or vet to avoid causing further distress. The Wildlife Trusts has more information on what to do when you find a stranded marine animal.

5. Help out from home

You can help keep beaches cleaner by intercepting waste before it gets to the ocean. Consider how you’re using plastic at home — recycle, reuse, avoid single-use plastic and buy sustainably and locally as much as possible. You can also take time to learn about the wider issues out there relating to beaches. For example, the traffic-clogging that causes disruption to local communities — you can help with this by visiting beaches that are reachable by bike or public transport instead of taking a car. The UK has some beautiful beaches that are accessible by train — like Cornwall’s Fistral Beach, the Isle of Harris’ Luskentyre Beach or Bournemouth and Brighton’s main beaches.

There are plenty of campaign groups out there helping to protect our coastlines, beaches and sea, like Surfers Against Sewage and the Ocean Conservation Trust. While joining local beach clean-ups is a great start, donating money to these causes from home can lead to better equipment and resources to help on a larger scale.

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