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How to be an environmentally friendly tourist during your Surface Interval (for non-divers that means above the water!)


Divers love to immerse themselves in nature. To explore, be adventurous and enjoy all the experiences on offer. And ultimately, we want to do our best to look after the environment and our planet home. Its not always easy and we have had a chat, put our heads together and pooled our ideas and suggestions for you.

These ideas can be used for travel in general, but we have also made some specific suggestions for Zanzibar.

It well worth noting that while some countries have highly efficient means to recycle and deal with plastic waste, many countries do not, Zanzibar included. As a result, plastic waste ends up in landfills and the ocean. We see the pictures and feel powerless – what can we do to help?

  • Travel with as few disposable items as possible
  • Refuse plastic wherever possible and explain to people why – a friendly chat goes a long way.
  • If you do finish any products while on holiday – take your empty containers, used batteries, unwanted clothes etc. home with you for proper disposal.

Single-Use Plastics

Many of us know to avoid single use plastics, but sadly its far from a standard practice around the world. Many businesses continue to use single use plastic. The belief is that by providing a straw, plastic cutlery and disposable cups they are giving you the tourist a better experience. And yes, in the interests of hygiene maybe they are. But in the interests of our and the planet’s future they are not.

What do we do to balance these conflicting needs?  There are many ethical choices available to us to reduce, reuse and recycle.

  • The new fashion item is probably here to stay so let’s keep them out of our ocean and off our beaches– gorgeous, colourful, washable cloth masks are the number one item to pack. While Zanzibar is not a huge mask wearing culture, you will want and need them for planes, airports, taxis etc. Or buy some in Zanzibar.
  • A refillable water bottle – Fill up at One Ocean and more and more hotels and restaurants are offering water stations. Sign up on refillmybottle We did!
  • Planes get chilly so travel with a wrap on the plane so you don’t use the airlines, plastic wrapped blanket. This will be useful after diving and on the beach too. We personally love our bamboo travel blankets. Warm but breathable and perfect for our climate and sustainably sourced.
  • A reusable straw or simply refuse the one that is provided.
  • A spork – a fork and spoon in one handy item, available from camping shops and great if you want to eat at budget restaurants and markets where hygiene may be a concern.
  • If you enjoy your coffee on the go – a refillable travel mug is a great addition too. But on Zanzibar you will probably want to stop and enjoy a coffee, a chat and the environment. Ask us for our favourite coffee spots in Stone Town, Matemwe and Kiwengwa.
  • Your own shopping bag (or make your first purchase a locally produced and stylish bag as a useful and ethical souvenir)
  • If you need batteries for anything - go rechargeable. We are very happy with the rechargeable batteries we use for our torches on night dives in Stone Town.

And on a personal note

  • Consider refusing those, admittedly easy, disposable items each time you travel – on Zanzibar we find the beaches littered with shampoo bottles, disposable pens, toothbrushes, lighters and razors.
  • Soaps, shampoos, conditioners are all available in bars. Stock up before you leave home or even better buy them when you arrive at your destination from an ethical and local manufacturer.  Check out Inaya Zanzibar
  • The same goes for body lotions and face products, consider streamlining your regime, use less while on holiday and pack a hat as the ultimate stylish accessory to protect you from the sun.
  • Ladies if you have not been convinced already move over to a menstrual cup. See our previous blog on diving with a cup.
  • Washable laundry bags are great for dirty stuff and that bikini that did not dry in time.
  • Chewing gum – yup it ends up tasting of nothing as it’s basically a synthetic rubber or plastic.

Be a mindful shopper

We all collect things as keepsakes of our travels and experiences – the cheap and cheerful magnets, badges etc. They were all likely made far away, in poor conditions and then shipped around the world.

Consider buying beautifully and locally made memories that will last you a lifetime. Ask the shop for details of who made the items and where. They should be able to provide you with this information. At One Ocean we have a list of recommended shops and boutiques that manufacture locally (Zanzibar and Tanzania) and support many great NGOs. We are happy to share this on request. The same with buying gifts small, useful and sustainably sourced items will show your friends you care.

In Zanzibar we recommend

  • Beautiful magnets, keyrings and planters made in Zanzibar @recycle_at_ozti (check them out on Instagram)
  • Tanzanian Coffee (utterly delicious and amongst the best the world has to offer)
  • Zanzibar Spices
  • Handwoven and screen-printed textiles
  • Locally produced beauty products
  • Beautiful handwoven baskets

Look out for products that simply say “Zanzibar” as opposed to made in Zanzibar or produced in Tanzania.

We suggest caution

  • Buying clothes – you will see by the style and fabrics that much that is on offer comes from Asia
  • Wooden items – Zanzibar is famous for its carvings but its difficult to be sure the wood comes from a sustainable source. If you love timber look for items made from cocowood which is far more sustainable than hard woods.

Complete no no’s

  • Shells, sea stars and anything taken from the ocean to be sold as a souvenir. Each shell for sale represents a dead animal that was a vital and essential part of the marine ecology.

Consider what you eat

The best thing about diving – the marine life. One of the greatest threats to the oceans – indiscriminate and unregulated fishing. Zanzibar is no different, shellfish are getting smaller and smaller and taken before breeding age, same with octopuses. Some restaurants even feature shark, rays and reef fish on their menus.

Talk Out and Start the Conversation!

We often feel shy to speak up, especially when we are far from home and its evident our hosts are trying so hard to do their best for their customers. But that is exactly the point - anybody who works or owns a business in tourism has one aim – to please their customer. Do not feel bad to speak out when you feel a practice is harmful and destructive to the environment and upsetting to you and other travellers.

Have a friendly chat to the manager explaining what bothers you and why. They will listen. It does take time for changes to be made, but the more people request environmentally friendly policies and products the more suppliers will change to accommodate these requests.

We already see far more hotels providing water stations for their guests to refill their own water bottles. We have water available at all our One Ocean Dive Centres for this purpose. Many hotels have started their own filtration and bottling plants in response to requests from their customers and the changing needs/ demands of travellers.

Beers and sodas are all available on the island in recyclable glass. If you are offered drinks from plastic bottles or aluminium cans and that makes you unhappy let the management know.

Many day trips are using plastic cutlery – the more ethical like One Ocean and Safari Blue for example use proper crockery and cutlery and make sure they are well washed after every use.

Ask your hotel how they deal with their waste, where does it go, how do the try and reduce their footprint. Listen for things like we support Recycle@Ozti, Chacko and Zanrec

Spend your money locally

Many people take this to mean spend your money with a “local” as opposed to a company owned and run by foreigners to the country in question. This is frequently counter productive to the growth and development of a country as you may be unwittingly be supporting a black market were minimum wage, social security and taxes are not respected and paid. Look for responsible businesses that take your payment locally, treat their staff well and respect their environment and community.

Beware of Sanctuaries

Tanzania is well known as an incredible destination for wildlife lovers. We strongly recommend you consider a safari (again we are happy to make suggestions) but beware the “sanctuaries” and “breeding programmes”

Avoid any experiences that allow or advertise the following, no matter who appears to endorse them.

  • Watching any animal in captivity
  • Swimming with animals in captivity including natural water holes which do not allow for escape. The poor diet, harmful effects from the chemicals in sun lotions etc. and the fact that they are caught and sold and not rescued and released has had a massive impact on the turtle population on the reef
  • Touching of wild animals in any manner
  • Cuddling and posing with wild animals even if they “like it”
  • Dolphin tours equal dolphin chasing and harassment
  • Playing sports with a wild animal
  • Buying a wild animal to set it free – you are simply encouraging an illegal and destructive trade.

Basically ANY activity that involves a wild animal being kept in captivity is unethical and sadly, so too are the stories explaining how these animals were “rescued” and “saved” This is about as far from meaningful conservation as you can get.

What should you take home

You know the saying – take only memories and leave on footprints.

It is difficult to do this but consider what you throw away while in Zanzibar – where will it go? If you don’t have a good answer for that, please rather take it home.

From the bottom of our hearts we hope that this advice is useful. We do not want to preach and we do not claim that we get it right every time. But the more we all try and strive to change the better for all of us, our children’s children and the nature around us that feeds our souls.


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1 Comment

  1. Sjani on June 19, 2021 at 11:30 am

    Great tips!