We all try to be good citizens. At home, we keep our house neat, our kitchen clean and we don´t litter the streets. We spoil our pets, and sign online human or animal rights petitions to make a difference in this world. It’s second nature to us to wanting to be a good person and do our best on a daily basis at home, and that’s noble.
But while we behave exemplarily at home, most of us don’t realize how our little vacation habits can do a lot of harm to our planet and ultimately to us when we travel abroad. If you intend to travel to my beautiful home, Bocas del Toro in Panama, I would like to offer you some ideas to help you be a better guest during your stay.
If you are reading this article, chances are that you did not miss out on education since you are probably coming from a developed country in North America or Europe. Hence, the little tips I want to give you today are no rocket science to you. They are more about the little extra effort, common sense, and mainly about fighting your inner laziness. As an expert in laziness and procrastination, I know exactly what I am talking about.
So what can you do to be a better traveler?
1. For the love of God, Buddha, the Virgin Mary, or whatever you believe in, please don’t take starfish out of the water to take selfies. First of all selfies are…never mind, this article is not about the shallow nature of people. It is about ignorance. We know you love animals and don’t mean to harm them, so please be kind. Starfish can survive a little while outside of the water, but it’s not OK to make them suffer. How would you like to be held under water against your will? It’s the same thing. Always observe wildlife from a distance, respect the animals and do not touch them, ever! Starfish beach is already suffering the consequences of reckless behavior, and we are seeing less starfish every year – can you guess why? Because of travelers who wanted to take a quick selfie.
2. Everyone goes to the beach with a little snack or something to drink. Who wouldn’t? It’s hot out here, and the sun and salt water really make you thirsty. It also makes you generate lots of trash. Bags of chips, plastic bottles, cans, you name it. And what a sad sight it is to find someone’s leftovers under a coconut tree. Here’s what you can do. In addition to taking back your own trash (which I assume everyone is doing anyway….right?), please take an extra plastic bag to pick up the trash this horribly inconsiderate human being has left on that beautiful beach. Personally, the sight of trash gives me headaches, and I am very happy to do pick it up. I know it’s not MY trash, but it’s my planet, so I suck it up and do it anyway. Little side note – please take it to your hotel, as the few trash cans you see along the road usually never get picked up.
3. Say NO to plastic bags in grocery stores. I cannot stress this enough. Every time you buy something, you generate plastic waste. That plastic bag the nice lady at the cashier just gave you is very likely to end up in the ocean, just to be mistaken for a jelly fish by a sea turtle or a dolphin, who will subsequently choke on it and die. Sounds cruel? It is. Think about that next time you go grocery shopping. They make these cool cotton bags now that you can re-use. It’s magical.
4. When you buy a plastic bottle of water, please keep using it and refill! There are plenty of places in Bocas town where you can refill drinking water for a few cents. The Super Gourmet is one of these places. You should also pick your lodging option accordingly. Do your research and ask if they provide you with drinking water. Tap water is not safe to drink in Bocas, unless it’s filtered rainwater. Hostal Tungara is one of these awesome places that encourages their guests to refill water bottles, and offers free filtered rain water.
5. Don’t traumatize the dolphins! How would you do that you ask? Easy! By booking a boat tour to Dolphin Bay. You will basically pay very little money to chase these poor animals while they are having breakfast (literally), on a noisy motor boat, just so that you can take another great Instagram photo. What you don’t know, is that lots of dolphins suffer severe cuts on their fins from these 2 stroke motor boats, and are unable to mate or feed in peace, just because…Instagram. Please don’t worry!, there is an eco-friendly way to observe dolphins in Bocas del Toro. Book a tour on a sailboat instead. Sail boats don’t pollute, don’t make any noise, and don’t harm the animals, making everyone’s day so much more enjoyable. You will also sleep better at night! Check out Bocas Sailing for daily sailing tours to Dolphin Bay.
#sailwithdolphinsinpanamaPosted by Bocas del Toro Sailing on Monday, April 27, 2015
6. Avoid takeout meals! Unfortunately in Panama, most take-out containers are made of styrofoam, which is one of the most polluting materials there is. Did you know that styrofoam takes thousands of years to decompose? It’s also the principle component of marine debris, and detrimental to the wildlife ingesting it. If you don’t care about wildlife, you may care about your own health. Styrofoam is a carcinogen and poses serious health issues to humans as well. Now think about how many styrofoam cups you have disposed of, every time you’ve ordered your healthy smoothie. If you cannot avoid takeout, ask for a carton container or even better: Bring your own tupperware.
7. Don’t step on the reef and coral. If you are a surfer or snorkeler, this one’s especially for you. Reef is a living organism, and harbours an entire world of sea life. A misplaced footstep can do a great deal of damage, and hurt you as well. Some creatures are venomous to humans (stone fish) or hurt as hell (sea urchins), so please make an effort and respect our ocean and everything that lies beneath it.
If my article has depressed you a little or made you feel guilty, my mission is accomplished. I was standing exactly where you are now a few years back, but now I think about my personal impact on mother earth every day. It really takes some effort to live with a clean conscience, but if my lazy butt can do it, so can you =)
Written by Evelyne Meyer, Language Travel Consultant at Habla Ya Spanish Schools and in love with Bocas del Toro