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Take Only Photos, Leave Only Footprints – The Leave No Trace Mindset

What is Leave No Trace?

Simply put, Leave No Trace means that you leave no evidence that you have been somewhere…no lasting evidence, that is. Footprints will quickly fade as the wind blows and the tide swells. Damaging or taking flora or fauna will take longer for an ecosystem to recover from. And, leaving garbage may take hundreds of years to break down.

As Earth’s population grows, whether you are kayaking, hiking, or camping, or just having a day at the beach, the park, or living your everyday life, it’s never been more important to be conscious of your impact on the natural world. Seemingly insignificant actions quickly become major disruptions to the environment when multiplied by the 8 billion people scrambling to live their best life.

Cleaning up Litter is Still Important

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still important to not leave litter behind. In 2022 alone, Keep Florida Beautiful initiatives collected 2,055,718 pounds of trash! That’s no small amount. Garbage is a huge problem, both for beaches and in general. Plastics make up most of the litter found, approximately 80-85% according to Diane Buhler of Friends of Palm Beach, which collected over 40,000 pounds of trash in 2022. There are numerous types of plastics, and depending on the exact make up of a particular piece, it can take between 20 and 500 years for a piece of plastic trash to decompose! Imagine how much would accumulate over 500 years if people just left their plastic rubbish lying around and no one picked it up.

Another small, but pervasive, offender are cigarette butts. It’s so easy to flick the butt away and think that because it looks like cotton wrapped in paper that it will just break down and go away, but that isn’t the case. Sarasota County reports, “Every year, clean up efforts collect massive quantities of refuse. In 2020, in Florida alone, 460,532 items were picked up, including 52,646 cigarette butts – the most prevalent type of litter collected worldwide. Once left as litter, cigarette butts continue to pollute. Over 5,000 compounds are found in cigarettes, and at least 150 of those are considered to be highly toxic, due to their carcinogenic and mutagenic potential.” Additionally, cigarette butts are not cotton, but are actually made of cellulose acetate, which is a man-made plastic material that can take up to 10 years to fully decompose. Earth Day Organization tells us that, “It is not uncommon for field researchers to find cigarette butts inside of dead sea birds, sea turtles, fish and dolphins,” and that the chemicals released from cigarettes can be deadly fish and marine life.

Take Only Photos, Leave Only Footprints

The Leave No Trace mindset seeks to leave nature just as you found it, so that it can be preserved for years and generations to come. Take nothing from nature, and leave nothing behind. Do not change or damage the plants, animals, or even the ground.

Even eco-conscious people might have behaviors or habits that inadvertently change an area. Picking flowers off a plant can reduce it’s ability to reproduce and grow again the next season. Breaking or cutting limbs can damage plants and expose them to disease. Digging holes and leaving sand castles at the beach can deter or even injure adult sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs or their hatchlings trying to reach the water. Just last weekend, 4 baby sea turtles became trapped in a hole beachgoers had dug and left. Fortunately, the hatchlings were found in time to get them safely to sea, but that isn’t always the case. Seemingly innocuous behaviors like the current trend of stacking rocks can be detrimental to an ecosystem by removing stones that insects and small freshwater critters depend on to live under and eat the moss & bacteria that grows on them, the effects of which can be seen all the way up the food chain.

Being environmentally friendly doesn’t have to be complicated. Scott and I live our lives by two simple rules that can apply to every situation, really. Treat everyone (and everything) the way you want to be treated, and leave everything (and everyone) better than you found it. When in nature, that means leave no trace.

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