For most North Americans, including us here at the snowy Swim Guide headquarters in Toronto, a mid-winter seaside vacation is irresistible.

Taking a trip to somewhere warm and salty is very popular, especially with people from temperate countries (Travel Weekly reported that in 2013 alone, the Caribbean welcomed more than 25 million visitors). It should come as no surprise that tourism makes up a huge percentage of the economies in tropical areas.

But how do we help ensure that our vacations do not result in significant and irreversible damage to the swimmable, drinkable, fishable water at our vacation spot? Local populations need clean water to drink, to swim, and to fish. As guests it is important we understand local water concerns and minimize our negative impact on the marine environment.

Photo by Caitlin Stewart

According to the Canadian Tourism Research Institute 2013 study, 45 percent of Canadians plan on taking a winter trip to a sunny, sandy, beachy destination. About 43% of Americans will do the same. So how do we help keep these places swimmable for both vacationers and locals?

Don’t relieve yourself in the water, and absolutely no swimming with diarrhea

Urine and feces, your body’s biowaste, belong in the toilet. There is no wiggle room here. And never, ever go swimming if you have diarrhea. That is an absolute rule.

Diarrhea is extremely contagious and is the leading cause of illness among swimmers. If you have diarrhea and go in the water you can give diarrhea to others, including your travel companions. The people you will most likely infect with your diarrhea include: babies, toddlers, children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and the other vacationers as they have the most vulnerable immune systems.

Keep garbage out of the water

You can never take a vacation from cleaning up after yourself. The trash and other pollutants you leave on the beach grossly impact the environment by contaminating the water and endangering sea life.

Besides, nothing is worse than stepping on glass and trash during your sunset stroll down the beach, or getting hit in the face with plastic wrappers as you plunge into the sea. DO YOUR PART. Take a trash bag with you to the beach and make sure to dispose of your garbage properly (not just piled up neatly under your beach chair). If there are no trash bins on the beach, take your trash with you.

Photo by Susan White for U.S. Fish and Widlife Service Headquarters

Want to take your trash-free beach visit to the next level? Do a mini beach cleanup with your own two hands.

Your personal care products pollute the water

Everything you rub or spray onto your body will wash off in the water. Scientists are discovering that there is an environmental impact to the organic and inorganic chemicals bathers world wide are introducing into the water with their sunscreen. The evidence is mounting that our lotions can reek havoc on marine environments, for example killing or damaging coral or causing toxicity in marine organisms. Commercial sunscreens are also full of nutrients, like phosphates, that are known to negatively alter the ecosystem and promote algae growth.

Photo by Christine Rondeau

What can you do?

Always remember that the countries hosting us are not a destination, but a home. We are guests. Be aware of your impact and help keep your favourite vacation spots swimmable for everyone.

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