There's no reason to leave your environmental ethic behind when you go to the beach. There are simple ways to take care of the sand and surf that don't require a lot of work. If you need some help thinking about what you can do before you go, while you're there and when you're heading out, here are some suggestions:
Find eco-friendly accommodations. Green hotels and B&Bs will do things such as recycle, collect rainwater, use low-flow toilets and alternative energy and use recycled materials in their decorations and uniforms. Here are two sites that can help you find such a place: environmentallyfriendlyhotels.com; bnbfinder.com/ecofriendly.
Commit to carrying a reusable cooler and refillable pitcher or bottle. There are billions of disposable plastic bottles sold every year but only a third are recycled, according to some estimates. That means the rest become trash. Nevermind plastic is made from petroleum. Instead, Sigg (mysigg.com) makes durable metal water bottles that are BPA-free and the company gives 1 percent of sales to environmental causes. And instead of Styrofoam, how about a hands-free backpack cooler from REI (rei.com)?
Drive the family's smallest car to get better mileage and emit fewer pollutants on the way. You can rent chairs, and umbrellas once you get there. You can also pay to offset the drive. This is a bit controversial because some of the companies are for-profit and some methods of offsetting carbon emissions have been questioned. But carefully choosing a company could help. Most charge up to $18 to offset a ton of carbon, which is about equal to a cross-country flight. A list of companies, their project types and accreditation can be found at ecobusinesslinks.com under consumer services. Or, just ride the bus to the beach.
Check out pollution levels before you go. The Natural Resources Defense Council ranks the beaches; the local ones, including Ocean City, rank well. To see the rankings, go to nrdc.org and click on "How Clean Is Your Beach?"
Do not to use the beach as a personal ashtray or toilet or litter box. You would think that people do not have to be told this, but they do. The Ocean Conservancy reports that cigarette butts are among the most common type of waste collected during its annual International Coastal Cleanup -- some 2 million butts in 2007, and that's just the tip of the tobacco heap. As for pet waste left behind, it washes into the water, uses up oxygen, promotes algae growth and spreads disease. It has become a common source of water pollution.
Swim, bike, take a walk, but skip the Jet Ski. While you're on vacation, why drive at all? Rent a bike or walk to restaurants, local markets and attractions. In Ocean City, go to atlanticbreezes.com and click on "Bicycle Shops" for a list of places to rent. In Rehoboth, try biketogo.com or atlanticcycles.net. Or, take the public bus. The resorts have good ones. Speaking of recreation, try windsurfing instead of highly polluting Jet Skiing.
Use biodegradable sunscreen. Some 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen wash off swimmers every year and the chemicals are killing the world's coral reefs. Some stuff in sunscreen isn't so great for people, either. The Environmental Working Group advises sunbathers to choose sunscreen with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as active ingredients. They reflect UVA and UVB rays, while petrochemicals absorb them. You probably don't need the waterproof sunscreen because it probably isn't so waterproof anyway. Water washes most of it away. Also, try shading yourself with a hat or cover with an SPF rating.
Dry wet gear in the sun. Once you're done in the water, hang your wet bathing suit and towel up to dry outside in the ocean air instead of putting them in the energy-hogging dryer.
"Take only pictures, leave only footprints." Remember that maxim, which means leave behind the shells. They once, and perhaps still do, belong to the mollusks that live at the beach. If you do need to do some collecting, pick up the litter you see along the way.
Buy local. If you've been persuaded to "buy local" at home, why stop just because the locality has changed? There are plenty of farm stands on the Eastern Shore and local markets that sell the season's best produce. Stop on the way or walk to a local market in town.
Eat from the menu. Speaking of eating, make sure your seafood dinner is sustainable. The New England Aquarium, among other places, offers a list of ocean-friendly fish that includes wild-caught Atlantic mackerel, Atlantic salmon, Pacific halibut and mahi-mahi. The list of sustainable farm-raised fish includes arctic char, clams, oysters, bay scallops and tilapia. Go to neaq.org for the whole list. Or for more information, go to the federal government's fishwatch.noaa.gov.
Recycle. When you're all done having fun in the sun, be sure to recycle all the glass, plastic, cans, aluminum, newspaper and cardboard you do use. Ocean City has a recycle center at 65th Street. Rehoboth Beach has a center behind the fire company on Rehoboth Avenue. It even accepts old batteries. Bethany Beach operates the Omar Collection Station at 33086 Burton Farm Road and the Indian River Inlet station at 39415 Inlet Road. They take magazines and plastic bags, too. Dewey Beach's center is at 18941 John J Williams Highway.