Giving Back

Small Changes, Big Impact

How can we keep the Islands clean and pristine?
By Kelly Currington

The tropical sun beams down on the shimmering turquoise water surrounding the Turks & Caicos Islands to produce a scene that cannot be described in words. For many travelers, there is no seascape more beautiful in the world. The ebb and flow of ocean and sun create so many variations of blue, emerald, and turquoise that you will think you are looking at a jewel. And you are—the most precious this planet has.

Walking along world-famous Grace Bay Beach and slipping into the refreshing water kissing the sand’s edge is a coveted experience. Free of trash and debris, the view is unmatched by few places. It is the responsibility of every person who sets foot on these pristine beaches to keep it that way.

When people come to the beach for a day of fun, their intentions are not to cause damage, but sadly, the outcome is often just that. The day has been planned in great detail. Cooler packed with snacks and drinks, bags filled with sunscreen, hats, and beach toys, and the mood carefree. All have the best time frolicking in the clear turquoise ocean, building sand castles in the powder white sand, working on their tans, and keeping cool with whatever drink suits them. Who could ask for a better day?

Nobody likes to see trash, especially water bottles and other beverage containers, littering the TCI’s beautiful beaches.

Somewhere along the way, society has adopted a “disposable” mindset. A lot of this has grown from necessity as work days became longer and time a luxury, so disposable was easy. But now it seems to be an accepted way of life rather than a necessity. Think about it—everything is produced, packaged, and advertised based on ease and convenience, which often means everyday items are made of plastic and often wrapped in plastic, polystyrene, or a multitude of other non-biodegradable products. These tragically end up causing unfathomable damage to our planet—specifically the oceans, affecting all marine life and ultimately, the ecosystems. 

A lone jogger is out for a morning run along the beach, enjoying the smell of the salty air, the warmth of the morning sun, and a view that would calm the most electrically charged soul. His eyes are drawn to the evidence of the “fun day at the beach.” Strewn around are juice boxes with straws, a plastic shovel sticking out of the sand, an inflatable raft wedged under a lounge chair, clear plastic snack wrappers tumbling about in the gentle breeze, adult beverage containers half buried, and the popular red “Solo” cups protruding from the sand, buried by the high tide, waiting to be washed into the sea.

This leftover mayhem is seldom intentional, but rather a byproduct of society’s “disposable” attitude. I think we have all come to realize that there are very few things that are truly disposable—everything ends up in a landfill, the ozone layer, or the ocean, causing colossal harm to the planet. The good news is that public awareness and concern have shifted in a positive direction, with focus directed toward living a more eco-friendly life.

This means we can all work together by making small adjustments in our daily lives to start reducing the amount of waste we produce and leave behind. Small changes we can all make in our lives will reduce our residual footprint, and improve our lives as well. Let’s start with one of the most obvious: Always clean up after yourself and make sure all trash is disposed of properly and never left behind. 

By taking care, making small changes, and cleaning up after ourselves, we can all help keep the beaches clean and pristine.

Something we use every day are cups, so instead of disposable cups, buy a reusable cup like a YETI or water bottle and always have it with you. These cups and bottles seal, you can choose the size to fit your habits, and most importantly, they leave no trash behind. You can have them personalized with your favorite animal, sports team, logo, name, or other design to make you smile every time you use it.

Plastic straws should be removed from our lives completely. I know they are convenient, and most of us have been raised using them, but it’s time to change the habit. If you prefer to drink from a straw, just change to reusable metal or bamboo straws. They work perfectly with your reusable cup! Always keep one with you so even when you go out to eat, you won’t be tempted to use a plastic straw dispensed by the restaurant. When the demand stops, so will production!

Another change we can make when going out to eat, especially at any of the amazing restaurants in the Turks & Caicos, is planning ahead and bringing a reusable container to bring home any leftovers. This way you get to bring your delicious food home without contributing to Styrofoam use and you’re less likely to bring single-use containers to the beach.

If you bring inflatable rafts, rings, or toys to the beach, ensure they are secured when not in use and that they leave the beach with you at the end of the day. This prevents any chance they will get swept up by the wind or tide and carried away. Even better, forego the inflatables, as the salinity of the water in the Turks & Caicos allows you to naturally float so you won’t miss them!

In addition to managing your own impact on the beaches and ocean, there are little things we can do to minimize the footprints left by others. Every time you go to the beach, or even walk down the street, pick up at least 10 pieces of trash and properly dispose of it. If more people did this, the beaches and streets would stay clean. Reusable mesh bags are a great item you can keep with you to collect trash and then dump it in a receptacle.

Protecting your skin from the intense tropical sun is important; equally important is protecting coral reefs. Many of the sunscreens on the market can have detrimental effects on the marine environment. Most sunscreens contain ingredients that are destructive to coral reefs. If your sunscreen has Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Methylbenzylidene camphor, Benzylidene, or Octocrylene, please do not wear it in the ocean. These products cause a whole range of problems for reefs and their substrates. They can be toxic to coral larvae, cause DNA deformities, and contribute to coral bleaching.

There are several reef-safe sunscreens on the market, so reach for one after double-checking the ingredients to make sure they don’t include any of the harmful toxins listed above. (Some of these toxins are in makeup as well, so it’s best to flaunt your natural beauty at the beach.) Another way to further minimize sunscreen usage is to cover exposed areas of your skin with UV-protective clothing. You protect your body and the ocean at the same time!

If you are a snorkeler or diver, carry a mesh bag with you to remove harmful items, like this plastic bag, from contaminating the beautiful and fragile coral reefs.

If you are an underwater adventurer, there is nothing more heart-wrenching for a diver than to see trash littering the reef and threatening the marine life. Just like on land, you can carry a mesh bag and cutting device to help remove any harmful items you find on a dive. It’s crucial to check that there are no marine animals caught up in the trash before removing it. Always be gentle with the corals while removing debris, especially fishing line that gets wrapped around and tangled on hard corals and in soft corals.

Something that most people don’t think about being harmful is taking shells from the sea. Most often this is done because the person wants to have a piece of the beauty that shells represent, but this disrupts the natural cycle of the ecosystem. When you take an empty shell from the sea, you have just removed a potential home  or hide-out for a creature that might otherwise be left vulnerable to predators, including small fish and shrimp. Creatures like hermit crabs constantly move to larger shells as they grow. Although you may think one shell won’t make a difference, consider if a million visitors take just one shell each—that’s a million homes removed from the ecosystem. A better way to preserve and remember the beauty of any natural landscape is to leave with photos and a heart full of happiness.

These small and relatively simple changes can make a HUGE impact on the health of our planet. Just think:  If you make one change, and this encourages ten people around you to make one change, and ten people for each of those ten people make one change, the domino sequence continues and the size of the positive impact on the oceans and ecosystems would be immeasurable! Our commitment and actions can and WILL make a difference in keeping the Turks & Caicos Islands “Beautiful by Nature.”



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Aysha Stephen is Grand Turk’s newest artistic sensation, renowned for her iconic “Cool Donkeys” paintings. Her creations are quite the hit with visitors to TDB Fine Arts Gallery. It recently opened within the Turks & Caicos National Museum on Grand Turk and is dedicated to showcasing art “Made in TCI.

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