Travelers Against Plastic (TAP) Will Help You Travel  More Sustainably

TAP Encourages Travelers to Ditch Single-Use Plastic to Help Save Sea Turtles

Nowadays it seems there’s a story about the enormous problem of plastic pollution in the news almost every day. Stories like this: Plastic-production emissions could triple to one-fifth of Earth’s carbon budget – report; or this: There are 21,000 pieces of plastic in the ocean for each person on Earth. Yes, we know, it’s horrifying.

Plastic pollution is harmful to every creature and ecosystem on Earth. But it’s the plight of the much-beloved sea turtle, like the little guy pictured above, that seems to arouse the most sympathy. As Brad Nahill, president of our partner organization, Travelers Against Plastic (TAP), puts it, “If there is a poster species for the worldwide epidemic of plastic pollution, it’s sea turtles. The mothers swim through islands of plastic on their migrations and crawl through plastic to find their spots to nest on beaches. Nests are impacted by toxic microplastic particles and hatchlings crawl back through macroplastic on their way to the water. They confuse plastic bags and balloons for their favorite food, jellyfish. Straws can get stuck in their noses and plastic spoons stuck in their throat. They get caught in six-pack rings and ghost fishing gear. It’s inescapable.” And horrifying.

It wasn’t always this way. “For more than 100 million years sea turtles have covered vast distances across the world’s oceans, filling a vital role in the balance of marine habitats. Over the last 200 years, human activities have tipped the scales against the survival of these ancient mariners. Slaughtered for their eggs, meat, skin, and shells, sea turtles suffer from poaching and over-exploitation. They also face habitat destruction and accidental capture—known as bycatch—in fishing gear. Climate change has an impact on turtle nesting sites: it alters sand temperatures, which then affects the sex of hatchlings. Nearly all species of sea turtle are now classified as endangered, with three of the seven existing species being critically endangered.”

It’s an inconvenient truth for those of us who love to travel that the travel industry and we as individual travelers are major contributors to the plastics problem. The arrival of single-use plastic in the 1950s and '60s was a boon for the travel industry, which soon found disposable, hygienic, and lightweight cutlery, cups, and mini-toiletry items indispensable. This, in addition to the widespread adoption of plastic bags, packaging, and bottles in the wider world during the last 50 years led to the environmental disaster we now face: 8 million additional tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans annually, where it is responsible for the deaths of up to one million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals, marine turtles and countless fish. The problem is worst during tourist season each year. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), marine plastic pollution in the Mediterranean spikes by 40% during tourist season thanks to the 200 million people who visit the area during that time.



Fish and other marine life often get trapped in plastic in ocean garbage patches. Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unsplash.

Nahill and TAP are working hard to change all this.“We believe the long-term solution is ending single-use plastic,” he says. “But even if all plastic production was to stop today, millions of tons would still be floating in the ocean, impacting sea turtles, other ocean wildlife, and humans.” So expect efforts to clean up the 150 million metric tons that are already in the ocean to continue for a long time.

TAP had originally been run by Crooked Trails, a tour operator that no longer had the resources to manage it. Nahill had co-founded SEE Turtles in 2008 as the world’s first effort to protect sea turtles through ecotourism. That year SEE Turtles was starting a new program focusing on plastics pollution. The two organizations—one devoted to saving sea turtles and the other to ending plastic pollution endangering sea turtles—had obvious synergy. SEE Turtles and Crooked Trails agreed to the transition and TAP has been a part of SEE Turtles since.

SEE Turtles remains dedicated primarily to conservation. It raises funds for and undertakes conservation projects to save sea turtles from the many threats they face. Through its programs like Billion Baby Turtles and Too Rare To Wear SEE Turtles provides support for important turtle nesting beaches around the world and educates the public about pollution’s harm to the environment and humans. The organization has generated more than $1 million for turtle conservation and local communities, saved more than 10 million turtle hatchlings at more than 50 nesting beaches around the world, and reached more than 10,000 students with its educational programs.


Educating the public about how to decrease single-use plastic is a core part of TAP’s mission. Graphic courtesy of TAP.

TAP does not engage in conservation per se but instead provides grants to help coastal communities around the world remove plastic waste from sea turtle habitats. It undertakes education programs about the threat of plastic pollution in coastal communities and provides money and training for the communities to recycle the collected waste and turn it into useful products.

The communities build recycling equipment using open-source software from preciousplastic.com, “a global community initiative aimed at reducing plastic waste by promoting plastic recycling and reusability.” As an illustration, he tells me that in one community, “they are creating fence posts out of the recycled plastic that the community has collected, making a fine circle out of that formerly useless plastic while contributing to conserving the species.” As opposed to wood, which breaks down quickly in the salt and sea air, says Nahill, these posts are “ going to last 10 years.”

TAP has provided 38 grants totaling more than $100,000 to 32 organizations in 15 countries. This includes 15 grants to help communities recycle plastic waste and 23 beach cleanup grants. So far the projects have collected 250,000 lbs. of plastic from the ocean and recycled 35,000 lbs. of it.  To see the full list of TAP recycling projects, go here. All the projects have multiple goals: saving the sea turtles; cleaning up their habitat; and providing more support for local communities. 

For those who want to actively participate in conservation, SEE Turtles offers conservation-focused trips across Latin America. The trips provide hands-on work with local conservationists and scientists as well as opportunities to interact with local communities and cultures. Profits from every trip save at least 500 hatchlings for every participant through the Billion Baby Turtles program. To see the available trips, visit the site. 

We heartily support the work of TAP as part of our commitment to sustainable travel. So when we had the opportunity to sponsor a SEE Turtle sea turtle trip to Costa Rica, we jumped. The trip was bought at auction and is scheduled for June. To see the itinerary go here.

Remember, we can customize any trip for you based on your preferences. Contact us at travel@globalbasecamps.com.



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Gorilla Trekking in Uganda and Rwanda

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Tags: Sustainable Travel, Costa Rica, Latin America, plastic pollution