How do my actions affect habitat for fish and other marine life?
We are all connected. Everything we do adds to the actions of all the other people living in a region. So when even a small action gets multiplied daily by millions of people, it can become harmful to the plants and animals living in coastal habitats.
Because fish live in water, they ingest every chemical and dissolved particle that we add to it. They also eat small pieces of plastic and other unnatural materials that become part of the food chain.
Even if you live far from the ocean, your habits can still affect it. The Mississippi River demonstrates how pollution from across the center of the United States eventually finds its way to the coast. A huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is caused by excess nutrients flowing thousands of miles down the Mississippi River from shorelines and tributaries upstream. As the saying goes, all rivers run to the sea. So choices for cleaning supplies, food, and housing have effects far away.
How can I help protect coastal habitat?
- Reduce, reuse, and recycle household items and waste. Pick up all litter and dispose of it in appropriate trash containers. Recycle what you can. Keep surface areas that wash into storm drains clean of pet waste, toxic chemicals, fertilizers, and motor oil. These can all eventually reach and impair our wetlands and coastal waters. Learn about marine debris and how you can reduce your pollution footprint.
- Use phosphate-free laundry and dishwasher detergents (check labels for compounds with phosphorus). Phosphates encourage algae growth, which can suffocate aquatic life. Use paper and recycled products made from unbleached paper (bleached paper contains toxic chemicals). Even better, use compostable or reusable products.
- Use non-toxic, nature-based products for household cleaning, lawn, and garden care. Never spray lawn or garden chemicals on a windy or rainy day, as they will wash into the waterways. Plant only native species of trees, shrubs, and flowers to preserve the ecological balance of local habitats, such as wetlands.
- If you live near the waterfront, use “living shoreline” techniques, instead of hard materials like concrete or rocks, to stabilize soil and prevent erosion. Determine sources of run-off and find methods to minimize it. Avoid wetlands if you are expanding your home or even installing a shed. To learn about best practices for your particular area, contact your state’s cooperative extension service.
Where can I look for opportunities to volunteer?
Opportunities abound for you to participate in habitat protection activities such as coastal clean-ups, plantings of native species, and programs that conserve wetlands. Search for habitat conservation, restoration, and protection volunteer projects in your county, state, and region. Or connect with a national group and consider starting a local chapter in your area.
How can I report illegal activity and other problems affecting fish habitat?
Report any illegal activity to NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Law Enforcement and its hotline: (800) 853-1964. Other agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, address issues such as filling, clearing, or dumping in wetlands. Local agencies for fish, game, and wildlife may also offer support for problems in your region.