Visiting the beach for a family vacation is a no-brainer: Research published in Scientific Reports found that visits to lakes, rivers, and the ocean are associated with positive well-being, and beaches always appear on best-of lists for family travel. But the shore isn’t just a hot spot to lay down a towel—it’s a unique ecosystem with endemic plants and animals.
“A lot more life lives on a beach’s surface and just below the sand than people are aware of,” coastal ecologist Kyle Emery says. Observing crabs, clams, beetles, and fish can help kids connect with their wild side—and inspire them to protect the habitat. Here’s how your family can have an eco-friendly beach day.
Screen your sunscreen. Some chemicals in sunscreens can hurt marine animals, so bring sunblock that’s labeled “reef safe” and doesn’t include ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate. (You might also consider packing UV-blocking clothing on your family trip to use a lot less of the stuff.) “Sunscreen can actually prevent the corals from getting food from the sun through photosynthesis,” says George Leonard, chief scientist for the Ocean Conservancy. These ingredients can also cause inflammation in loggerhead sea turtles and build up in dolphins’ livers.