Nature Guide: Leave Only Footprints

12 April 2019 By Aileen Mack

While the world has no shortage of attractions or places to visit, some things can’t compare to a day out in nature. It’s important to know how to enjoy nature and not end up doing any harm in the process. Conservation organizations share their advice on how to get the most out of your nature adventure and protect the environment as you do so.

Plan for your visit and do research. Consult local conservation organizations, parks departments, government agencies, or locals about the destination. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics says to use a map and compass to avoid using marking paint or flagging. The Nature Conservancy advises to think or find out the answers to the following questions: Do you need to know the tides for your recreation out on the water? Are there insects or animals to be aware of? Are there any special nature activities or events happening? Can you volunteer at a clean-up or conservation activity while you’re in town?

Be considerate of your surroundings. Take a moment to notice the vegetation, the wildlife, and how it’s different or similar to other places you’ve visited. When you leave, leave it at its best and most pristine. Try to refrain from collecting plants, berries, mushrooms, or other vegetation that wildlife may rely on. If you’re camping, don’t make your own campsite but instead find a good campsite. Concentrate on existing ones and focus activity in areas where vegetation isn’t, according to Leave No Trace. Also, let nature’s sounds prevail, and avoid loud voices and noises for they can disturb other visitors and wildlife.

Follow the rules. Be mindful of onsite signage and obey them. For example, if signs indicate a closed trail or prohibit swimming and fishing, pay attention and follow directions for your safety and/or for the protection of the environment, says The Nature Conservancy. Never litter, carry in what you bring, and carry it out if trash cans are not provided. This includes scraps of food which can harm animals, as well as your fishing line, which can injure wildlife. Bring your pets only to parks or locations where they’re permitted.

Stay on the trail. Trails may be carefully maintained for your safety and enjoyment but also for the protection of the wildlife and/or sensitive habitats that would be disturbed by visitors. Avoid walking through dunes and vegetation along the beach and coastline because they help protect shorelines — catching and collecting windblown sand and stabilizing dunes, which are critical to safeguarding our shores from storm surge, The Nature Conservancy says.

Respect wildlife. Don’t interfere with the wildlife’s usual activity. If you cause them to stop what they’re doing, change their behavior, or move away from you, you have likely disturbed them and should be further away. Leave No Trace says to never feed animals because it damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers. The Nature Conservancy also notes to not get too close to dens or to animals with their young, and to never disturb a bird on its nest or make them expose their eggs. If you see turtles or marine mammals out on the beach, appreciate them from afar and avoid lighting the beach at night, which may negatively impact nesting sea turtles. When collecting sea shells, make sure that there’s not a living animal making its home inside it, and when snorkeling or diving on coral reefs, don’t touch corals as they are very sensitive animals. To protect them further, use sunscreen that is coral reef safe.

Have fun but remember, as the saying goes, “Take only pictures, and leave only footprints,” or if you’re underwater, “leave only bubbles.”