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7 Tips on How to be a Responsible San Juan Island Visitor

Last year for Earth Day, my Sweetie and I treated ourselves to a voluntourism weekend on San Juan Island. We participated along with the amazing Bird Rock staff (Hi Kasey and Emily!) in the annual Great Island Beach Clean-up and learned so much about the many ways that garbage finds its way onto island beaches and what impact especially microplastics and Styrofoam have on local wildlife. While it was heartbreaking to find any trash on these beautiful beaches, it felt exhilarating to be on the beach with people everywhere, laughing and picking up litter in the sunshine. The experience had a lasting impact on me. I now pick up trash every time I go hiking and even frequently along city sidewalks. It also made me rethink the entire concept of what impact my behavior has on the planet and how we Westerners have the means and power to do better.

Earth Day Beach Clean-up on San Juan Island
Earth Day Beach Clean-up on San Juan Island

Being a respectful and responsible visitor to San Juan Island is so easy, mainly because San Juan Islanders lead with such a great example. Styrofoam take-out containers were banned in 2010, single-use plastic bags in 2017 and a third of Friday Harbor’s eateries have voluntarily pledged to use compostable straws and take-out utensils. The San Juan County Landbank and the San Juan Preservation Trust tirelessly work to preserve land for continued farming, wildlife habitat and to avoid development. There are so many more powerful efforts to keep the island, the water and the air pristine, so that our kids’ kids get to enjoy this little slice of paradise just as much as we do.

I would like to share these 7 easy tips on how to be a respectful island visitor that I learned from the Bird Rock staff, park rangers and the helpful folks at the San Juan Islands Visitor’s Bureau. Please join me in following them.

  1. Leave it better than you found it

Most litter on San Juan Island’s beaches doesn’t come from careless folks leaving their trash behind. It’s mostly plastic bottles, floats and candy wrappers falling off boats and washing up on beaches. Plastic and Styrofoam floats deteriorate into tiny pieces which then get mistaken by birds and fish for food. Always have a bag with you to collect those items before they find their way into the food chain. And of course hike out your own trash.

  1. Keep the wild things wild

Always keep a distance of at least 75 feet from wildlife and never touch or feed wild animals. Take photographs with a zoom lens as opposed to approaching, no matter how cute the baby foxes on the prairie of American Camp are. Never touch a baby seal laying on the beach. They are simply waiting for their parents to come back from hunting and are not in danger. If you do find an animal in distress, contact the local Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center 24/7 at 360-378-5000.

Take time to sit in one of Friday Harbor’s waterfront cafes and have your Mocha in a porcelain cup
Take time to sit in one of Friday Harbor’s waterfront cafes and have your Mocha in a porcelain cup

  1. Cut down on single-use coffee cups and water bottles

All San Juan Island garbage needs to be shipped to the mainland. Recycling all over America is questionable right now with China not taking it anymore. Do your part by simply bringing your re-usable water bottle. The tap water in the lobby at the Bird Rock Hotel is filtered. Please fill up your water bottle there. When getting coffee bring your own mug, or better yet, sit down in one of the lovely waterfront cafes in Friday Harbor and have your Mocha in a porcelain cup while chatting with the locals and enjoying the view.

Bird Rock Hotel sources all its body care products for its guest rooms from the local lavender farm
Bird Rock Hotel sources all its body care products for its guest rooms from the local lavender farm

  1. Shop island-made

San Juan Island offers abundant opportunities to shop for island-made souvenirs, who haven’t been shipped from faraway places. Buy local arts and crafts, San Juan Island Sea Salt, local wine, cider and spirits or the delicious body care products from the local Pelindaba Lavender Farm. Bird Rock Hotel uses the latter in all of their guest rooms and got me hooked on their shampoo and lotion.

San Juan Island has excellent public transportation in during Summer
San Juan Island has excellent public transportation in during Summer

  1. Use your human power

Especially in the Summer it is almost easier to leave your car behind and use public transportation on the island. Think about car-pooling with another family or friends. Pledge to use Bird Rock’s complimentary beach cruiser bikes for an outing or two. Opt for a guided kayak tour as opposed to using more fuel to go on your sea adventures. Look forward to walking to dinner. There are over 40 restaurants within three blocks of the Bird Rock Hotel.

  1. Leave Mother Nature’s treasures

Leave the sparkling pebble stones, sea shells, bones, Native arrowheads and feathers. Take a picture instead and feel giddy about the next person seeing the same astonishing treasures.

  1. Eat local

You will find not a single fast food chain on San Juan Island. As a matter of fact, most restaurants serve some fresh, local fare from sea and land. Take advantage of eating with the seasons, supporting local farmers and chefs and savor the delicious island abundance. I’m here to tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve had an island-grown lamb burger with freshly picked tomatoes and homemade bread.

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