By Nicole Rivard

It’s hard to admit, but I’d never thought of coral as a living, breathing animal, until my eyes brimmed with tears while I was watching Chasing Corral, the documentary that puts a spotlight on coral bleaching—the mass ocean epidemic where coral polyps release too much of their algae and starve themselves.

Seeing their brilliant colorful polyps and tentacles moving around, and teeming with life—1/4 of all ocean species depend on coral for food and shelter—turn ghostlike from bleaching was unnerving.

The film’s goal is to educate the masses why coral bleaching happens—our oceans are warming as they are forced to absorb massive, harmful amounts of carbon that humans release into the atmosphere.

During a Q&A after the film, I learned that in addition to climate change, other stress factors include pollutions from urban and agricultural pesticide runoff and sedimentation from undersea activities like dredging. Compounding the problem even more, according to a new study published in the journal Science, is the 11.1 billion plastic items that entangle the Asian Pacific’s coral reefs.

But all is not lost. The biggest takeaway for me was that whether you live near a coral reef or not, you can prevent stress factors and plastic pollution in your local waterways, some of which empty into the sea, and that’s empowering.

Because in doing so, you will be keeping an untold number of marine animals out of harm’s way.

Inspired by the film, I rounded up the best tips from Soundwaters, NY/NJBaykeeper, and the Environmental Protection Agency for anyone wanting to lighten their impact on the aquatic ecosystems in their own backyard this summer.

Use reusable cloth carry-out bags

Each person uses on average more than 700 plastic bags a year, according to Sandra Meola of NY/NJBaykeeper. Whether it’s single-use or thicker plastic bags, or even paper bags, all of them end up as waste. Interestingly, single-use plastic grocery bags were not introduced into the U.S. until 1979 and didn’t become mainstream until 1985, according to “How Plastic Became So Popular,” an article published The Atlantic magazine in 2014. Society can survive without them! Some reusable cloth and mesh produce bags we found that can be purchased online are: Ecobags;;;;

Carry a reusable water bottle

Each week Americans buy enough plastic water bottles to circle the earth five times, according to the EPA. Reusable glass or stainless steel bottles are better for our waterways. There are plenty of water filtration systems to ensure water from your tap is healthy and taste great. And since a lot of places have refillable water stations now, you can save money too. Friends of Animals reusable water bottle is available at

Skip the straw

Americans use 500 million plastic straws per day. Give a Sip ad say, “no straw please” when ordering a drink at a restaurant. Contact the manager of your frequented food service establishments and ask them if they would be willing to only provide straws upon request. You can even carry your own reusable straws available at Glass dharma; Simply Straws and reuseit.

Pack a waste-free lunch.

Do away with throw-away lunch packaging. Each child who brings a brown bag lunch to school every day generates 67 pounds of waste each year. Replace juice cartons with a thermos. Friends of Animals Insulated lunch bag with Velcro closure and a handle to carry is just $7.

Bring your own to-go mug with you to the coffee shop, smoothie shop or restaurant. It’s a great way to reduce lids and plastic cups.

Bag the plastic bags by asking your community to support a single-use plastic carry-out bag ban or plastic foam container ban. Greenwich Connecticut, a town right in FoA’s backyard, became the second Connecticut municipality (Westport was the first) to ban single-use plastic carry-out bags. Jurisdictions that have instituted similar bans have seen significant changes. A year after Los Angeles County implemented its single-use plastic carry-out bag ban, there was a 95% reduction in the distribution of all single-use bags, including a 30% reduction in paper bags. San Jose has seen an 89% reduction of plastic bag litter in storm drains, a 60% reduction in creeks, and a 59% reduction in city streets.

Rid your school of Styrofoam trays

In 2013, NYC eliminated 860,000 foam trays used per day in all 1,800 public schools. Since 2015, NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Orlando, and Dallas eliminated half a billion Styrofoam trays per year from landfills. Take the first step to rid your school of Styrofoam by starting a Cafeteria Ranger program. Get started here.

Check labels on personal care products and non-prescription drugs. This July, microbeads will be phased out under a measure signed by President Obama called the Microbead Free Waters Act. Until then, avoid products that say polyethylene and polypropylene on the ingredient label. Check out NY/NJ Baykeeper’s plastic free product database:

Participate in the next International Coastal Cleanup, which will be Sept. 21, 2019, or start one of your own.

Every year during Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, hundreds of thousands of volunteers comb lakes, rivers and beaches around the world for trash. For over three decades, more than 12 million volunteers have collected over 220 million pounds of trash. Visit for more information. Surfrider Foundation Chapters often hold cleanups monthly or more frequently. Visit

Nicole Rivard is editor of Friends of Animal’s quarterly magazine Action Line. She brings 18 years of journalism experience to the front lines, protesting and documenting atrocities against animals.