The internet is all about life hacks nowadays. Simple solutions to everyday nuisances that simply make your life easier. During my travels, these prove to be very handy. From saving space in my bag by stuffing shoes with underwear and (sun)glasses, rolling clothes instead of folding, wrapping my soapbar in the box of playing cards and using MapsMe so that I never can get lost. You can literally find any lifehack online.
But I also learned some very handy tips and tricks to become a responsible traveler. For example, I realized after two months that there were some pieces of clothing I had hardly worn. I simply gave it away to a fellow traveler or any second-hand market was happy to take it from me. That way they can make some extra money and I am travelling lighter and get extra space for all those new t-shirts I am getting for being a volunteer.
Another thing I discovered during my journey and participating in marine conservation projects is that I easily stopped eating fish. Learning about the destructive fishing practices that destroy the corals and marine habitat, but also the overfishing that leads to extinction of many species, I simply couldn’t eat it anymore.
But I know for many that have not shared this experience, it is not that easy to give it up. Well, if you do wish to contribute something, consider giving up shrimp, tuna and shark fin soup. Now why is the consumption of these particular species so bad? Most fishing gear is not selective. This means that as well as the ‘target’ species of fish it catches (such as shrimp and tuna), any number of non-target species may also be hauled in. This incidental catch of other species is referred to as ‘bycatch’. Globally, it’s estimated that a quarter of what is caught is wasted – thrown back into the sea dead because it has no commercial value!
The fisheries with the highest levels of bycatch are shrimp fisheries – often over 80 per cent of a catch comprises marine species other than shrimp. All types of marine life including whales, dolphins, porpoises, fur seals, albatrosses and turtles are killed as bycatch. Even feared predators like sharks are killed in their millions each year. Tuna fisheries, which in the past had high dolphin bycatch levels, are still responsible for the deaths of an estimated one million sharks annually. But also, many environmental groups such as the Pew Charitable Trust warn that the Pacific bluefin tuna are at risk of extinction unless a two-year ban on commercial fishing is put in place. As this is unlikely to happen in the short term, you can already reduce your personal tuna consumption to help avoid this. In addition, do you know the Shark Fin Soup you can order at the local Chinese restaurant? This actually causes dead to 23-73 million sharks per year. The removal and retention of fins happens onboard a fishing vessel whilst the body of the shark is discarded, an extremely wasteful practice as less than 10% of the shark is used! The most sustainable seafood would be Octopus or Calamari as they are caught at night with light, so this is not disturbing the seabed or doesn’t lead to any bycatch. Want to know more about sustainable seafood? Download the useful the Good Fish Guide app and stay up to date with the Fish of the month!
Now what about meat? I am aware of the abuses going on in the slaughterhouses and the detrimental impact of livestock and agriculture on deforestation and climate change. But I must admit giving up meat proves to be more difficult as it is more integrated in my traditional diet, (and I must admit I simply love a good hamburger once in a while). Where I come from, every Thursday people join ‘Veggieday’. You can step it up by joining the annual 40 days without meet challenge. A first small step that has a big impact. At Marine Conservation Philippines, we would only eat meat on Tuesdays and Saturdays. And we are continuing that tradition now in Panglao. The vegetarian options in Asia are absolutely delicious and great in variety. So why not try it out? Plus it saves money as extra incentive.
# Refill, no Landfill
Unavoidable when travelling in Asia is you will be confronted with an immense waste problem. People just love plastic for no apparent reason. Only the other day when I went for groceries, they will put every wet object in a separate plastic bag. Butter? In a plastic bag! Vegetables? Oww another plastic bag! Frozen? That deserves another plastic bag. And all that goes in two three other plastic bags. Knowing 8 million tonnes of plastic per year finds its way into the ocean, I am looking for ways to minimise my plastic footprint. Learning to say no to plastic bags is a habit that after a couple of days I mastered easily by taking a backpack with me. Another lifehack and my personal best investment ever was a reusable drink bottle. Since I started my projects four months ago, I have bought four plastic water bottles! All the other times I was perfectly able to find a shop that could refill my bottle – very often for free. Imagine all the water you need to drink to stay hydrated in this climate and all these bottles ending up in a landfill as recycling is not a common practice here. By just refilling your bottle you have tremendous impact on reducing landfill. You need takeaway? Take your lunchbox or ask a cardboard box instead of plastic! And learn to say no to straws. It looks like people have forgotten how to drink from their glass as they need straws for everything, juice, soda, iced latte, cocktail,… just sip it as in the good old days. And if you really cannot do without a straw, consider investing in a reusable bamboo straw. They look cool and you’ll steal the show inspiring potentially one or two other people. Go check out the Clean Seas Campaign for more information and easy ways to minimize your plastic footprint. And by adopting these small changes, you can truly make a difference. And as the Dalai Lama puts it “If you think you are too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room!”