What are you passionate about? Ask me that question and the answer would be...water!!
Seas , oceans - maybe even big lakes. I love being on the surface , in the middle, on the coast, underwater . In calm and in stormy conditions. Winter sea has as much of an attraction to me as summer sea. For sure, even in summer, you wouldn’t catch me roasting on a beach, as I will be somewhere exploring (or maybe looking at tiny encrustations on rocks and willing to explain to passers by all about that sponge / barnacle / hydroid / bryozoan ...)
New month, new sport!
This time I'd like to investigate a sport that by no means is one of my favourites, and is actually one I dislike quite a lot. However, it is one of my bf favourites and one in which he partook quite a lot in the past so, seeing some of the locations where he used to do it gave me some inspiration.
I firstly have to say that i don't really consider motorised activities as 'sports' - but some are classified as such so let's go have a deeper look into it.
What is off-road motorcycling?
This is pretty much self-explanatory: the term off-road refers to driving surfaces that are not conventionally paved. These are rough surfaces, often created naturally, such as sand, gravel, a river, mud or snow.
What are the environmental impacts?
The first, most obvious one: fuel consumption! In my head sports should be as carbon neutral as possible and powered by human force, not engines and thus shouldn't require any fuel. Motorcycles, on the other hand, do require fuel... and I believe they may drink quite a lot of it..
Secondly, they are NOISY which means: disruption to wildlife! Not only by frightening the animals and potentially driving them away from their natural habitats, but also potentially disrupting behaviours which are reliant on sounds (e.g. mating via interruption of mating calls, predator protection by disruption of alarm calls etc...).
Other wildlife distruptions will come from ACCIDENTS. Wildlife can end up injured or even killed...
Disturbance to soil and plants: off-road vehicles can churn up soil, leading to ruts, damaged root systems, compacted soil, accelerated erosion. In addition to damaging plants in the process of driving over them, off-road vehicles can spread seeds as they churn up soil and vegetation, aiding in the spread of weeds...
What can be done to reduce these impacts?
So, if the above hasn't convinced you to switch your motorcycle for, say, a mountainbike or even better a walk in the forest, let's see at what can you do to minimise some of these impacts...
For example the use of wet trails is generally more detrimental in terms of erosion because dirt-bike wheels have less traction and spin more on slick trails.
Less throttle is usually better than more throttle, which can cause wheels to spin unnecessarily and results in excessive noise.
Always stay on the trail to avoid damaging the surrounding ecosystem.
If there is a stream crossing on a trail, riding as slowly as possible through the water will cause the least amount of habitat disruption.
Meadows and wetland areas are especially sensitive because they have fragile soil structures and are often nesting sites for animals.
To avoid spreading invasive weeds or disease, always wash your motorcycle/bike between excursions so that soil and mud are not transferred from one area to the next. Finally, ensure that your dirt bike’s engine, exhaust system and spark arrestor are functioning properly. Poorly maintained bikes are louder, run less efficiently and are not as safe as tuned-up bikes.
Running.. 'what sport could be more environmentally friendly that something powered solely by your legs (and mind) ?' you may be thinking
Well.. you are right!
Yet there are still some impacts involved that could be reduced by being aware of them to try and reduce them as much as possible.
Running clothes are often made of technical fabrics promising to maintain optimal temperatures, keeping you dry and being breathable. This comes at the cost of being made of plastic and artificial fabrics, which will leach microfibres into the environment.
Solutions: buy natural clothes whenever possible, switch technical for cotton, bamboo, wool - they are very breathable and better for your skin as well!
If you are not ready to make the switch or are in real need of the 'technical' clothes then consider changing the way you are washing them! Read here for some great advice.
As a general rule of thumbs shoes should be changed every 300-500 miles, which may sound like a lot, but serious runners may get to this mileage quite quickly... which means a lot of shoes in the bin!
Solution: recycle them!
some impacts associated with racing events:
racing packs = often a lot of waste of plastic/papers in race intro packs, goodie bags (often full of 'junk' items that end up in bins)
water points = water served in plastic cups that end up on the ground shortly after being used
driving to races
Solutions: Try and choose wisely what events to attend, take everything home with you and sort it in various recycling bins, see if there are things worth keeping or giving away to a friend, try not to throw your empties on the floor, actually try not to leave any traces of you ever being there. Try and car share whenever possible, or maybe take public transport? See if they need volunteers to clean up after, I know, it may be the last thing you want to do but hey - you are doing something for the greater goods!
4) Wild running
Trail and nature - what could be best? I love my dose of trail running. However some risks include disturbing nature.
So: be mindful of where you are running, what are you likely to encounter? Stick to the paths to avoid stepping on potentially important plant species, be quiet (steps aside), be generally aware, read any signs at the trail entrance that may warn you of what and what not to do and most important: leave no traces!
As part of my series on the environmental impacts of sports, this month I chose to have a look at a ‘sport’ very close to my hearth. As a marine biologist this is not simply just a sport, but an essential component of my work.
Diving, in my opinion, can have both environmentally-friendly aspects but carry some risks for the environment that needs to be analysed in depth and discussed. As always I will try to provide some solutions and advice as well, to aid you make some informed choices!
Let's look at the positives first:
Firstly, when someone goes diving and immerse him/herself in the wonders of the blue water, he/she becomes aware of the magical hidden world that lives beneath the surface. This, perhaps, makes him/her more prone to taking protective actions towards it, and thus has great conservation potential...
Secondly, recreational diving can be used as a useful tool for 'citizen science' projects, such as temperature data collection or seagrass monitoring! So not only fun but useful...
But now... let's be a bit critical and look at the negative impacts of this sport on the environment:
For example, scuba diving 'mass tourism' brings excessive number of people to dive in delicate ecosystems. More often than not, these divers are not careful and do not follow sensible code of conduct (do not take, do not touch..), perhaps are not even made aware of the actions that they should and shouldn't take whilst in the water.
Another problem with this kind of tourism is that divers are often beginners, just taking their first open water experiences in the tropical destinations - nothing wrong with it per se, but with often limited 'buoyancy control' they risk damaging delicate ecosystems.
Also, boating to the destination can have an impact per se - boat presence, noise, fuel consumption.. can amount to a high carbon footprint if you ask me! Not to talk about equipment, often made out of not so environmentally friendly material...
So here a few simple rules and ideas to follow if you'd like to be a sustainable diver
Most of us are aware that exercise should be incorporated in our busy schedules if we want to lead a healthy life. Guidelines recommend a min of 30 min of daily moderate exercise (something that increases your heart rate).
Exercise is often viewed as something "too expensive" to be included in daily routines, and that's true if we look at gym memberships, swimming pools, clubs and classes...
And if you include the fact that eating healthy is also more expensive than eating junk food (on this note I believe something really should be done by higher authorities!) - it may seem that healthy lifestyles are not affordable!
But let's have a look at ideas to exercise for free :
So - no more excuses - get on your gear and get out!!!
This is the first of a series of posts investigating environmental impacts of some of my favourite sports.
Why? Because I care about the environment and I want to make sure I minimise my footprint, but I also love being active and particularly being active outdoors so I want to ensure I don't impact my surroundings while I enjoy myself...
Let's start with a water sport - SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding)
Where is it practiced?
Seas, Oceans, Lakes, Rivers - basically anywhere there is water!
What does it involve?
The name is pretty self explanatory - a board and a paddle. No engines or motorised parts, just human power or nature power when practiced on waves or rapids.
Potential sources of environmental impacts
- Disturbing nature
As always when we are out in nature, we need to remember that we are the intruders. Often when you are paddleboarding you will enter some very peaceful habitats and may encounter wildlife. Remember to keep your distance and observe from far away, try not to disturb birds or mammals by getting too close. A
Now, this is where some of these 'seemingly environmentally friendly' sports have some less-friendly impacts... SUP boards are often made from plastic materials which are very toxic in the making but can also leach out toxins (that act as endocrine disruptors with negative consequences for the aquatic life!), and include epoxy resins which are also full of toxic components..
Also where are these boards made? Often they are made with cheap labour from third world countries, with not only high environmental impacts but also negative effects for human welfare... really makes you think!
But.. what makes you think also makes you find some solutions:
Sustainable boards do exist
Sustainable materials include wooden boards, however make sure to choose sustainable woods such as bamboo! Technology is also advancing and new materials, such as cloth made from flax and bioresins are starting to become available, although maybe still too expensive (and it will reflect on the price of the board). If you are thinking of investing in your own board, think of going as environmentally friendly as possible, and why not go even community friendly and find a local shaper?
Inflatable boards are now also a thing, and while they are also very convenient for transport they are more environmentally friendly than their hardboard counterpart... so perhaps it could be an interim solution. And many surf school are now employing them, so you can always be eco friendly even if you are a beginner..
And talking of surf schools: if you live in South West England (or planning a holiday there), I recommend you to check out the 'Paddle Shack', Alana will coach you right from the beginning to get you up and going in no time! They offer a range of trips as well after you learnt the basics, which include a discovery trip (and Alana is a great marine biologist, which will introduce you to the marine life while guaranteeing it will be fully respected!) and also a SUP and SIP - tempted yet?? Go check them out on their Facebook page.
Some pics from the 'shack...'
The time has come to move to the new place I will soon call ‘home’ : The Netherlands!
I have just arrived (well I arrived on Thursday), and I have to say I am excited about this new chapter in my life.. One thing for sure, I am excited to get accustomed to the new foods (I will have to be careful with the cheese though!), but I am even, strangely, more excited about my first buy: a BIKE!
Because, can you live in the Netherlands without one?
Short answer: probably no. And it’s so flat, that it will be zero effort biking, just as I like it.
So I decided to dedicate this post to bikes and cycling..
Goes without saying that biking is part of a green and sustainable lifestyle. Faster than walking, you can use it as a great commuting alternative, perhaps integrating it to public transportation if your commute is too far (as they seem to do in the Netherlands a lot, with many train stations equipped with big bike lockers). Or why not go for the challenge and go the extra mile door-to-door?
According to the Queensland department of transport and main roads, cycling 10km everyday to work would save 1500 kg of fossil fuels each year..
Not only that, but parts to make a bike are less environmentally damaging (think batteries, and waste from parts that break on a car? And all the electronics… )
And you are not only saving the environment and being sustainable, you are also being healthy. Cycling can be part of your 30 minutes recommended daily exercise, you can incorporate some HIIT (high intensity interval training) as part of your commute to have some additional benefits, or maybe download a tracking app and see how you are improving, maybe challenge yourself to go faster, or maybe take your evening commute to a longer route to destress after work? And why not, maybe you will become addicted and go for weekend rides or even biking holidays or join a local cycling team…
However: CHOOSE WELL
First of all, choose a bike that is good for you: is it comfortable? Comfortability will determine how much use you will get out of the bike. Also, riding the wrong kind of bike (wrong height, wrong settings..) will potentially lead to accident or over-using injuries..
If you don’t like it, or are likely to get hurt on it, chances are that the bike will be left to rust in the garden, leading to waste. So, choose well, take your time, study. If you feel like you got the wrong one, try swapping, or sell it before changing it.
I would recommend that to limit environmental impacts, a bike should be bought second hand – why producing more if there are plenty of good ones already out there looking for a loving owner before becoming rusting waste? Maybe, if you fancy some extra work, you will bag yourself a nice bargain which just need some TLC – but hey you would have saved a bike from the dumpster and made a good action for our planet!
If you really really want a new bike (no judging here.. there are reasons for wanting a new fancy shiny bike, I get it…), then study well the company where it comes from. What are their environmental and ethical standards? Where are the bikes produced? Where are the materials sourced?
For children bikes, they will be replaced often during the course of the child growth, as the bike will need to get bigger and bigger. Thus I believe new bikes would be a bit of an unnecessary waste (of money too!). Second hand shops/online platforms should be your main point of contact – yes maybe the kid wants a shiny new pink bike, but it can always be fixed with a nice coat of paint and could do for a fun Sunday activity!
So, my aim for the next few days: find my perfect second hand bike for my everyday needs and commutes. Best point is that I love the look of Dutch bikes, and the second hand market here seems pretty good so…finger crossed!
Holidays.. for many it means a trip to some foreign city or some sun-kissed destinations. For me, holiday-time= travel and explore new destinations, and while you will not find me sunbathing on a beach as I have always been the beach-walker type, holidays often mean trying the local foods and relax a little... which often has meant coming back with some extra weight, and not just in my bags! But I have recently learnt how to enjoy the local foods healthily (next post- stay tuned) and that you can easily incorporate fitness into your holiday too (of whichever nature it is!).
So, let's have a look at some of my favourite activities
If you are a runner (and if you are not, there are many reasons to become one, or try) then my best advice is to get up early and get a little run in before your day begins, a 20 minutes should do fine. If you are on a city-break type holiday, seeing the city as it awakens has the added benefit to help you paint you a better picture of it, enhancing your experience (but don't be too tempted by those bakery smells, maybe on your way back). If you fancy running longer distances, I find that exploring a new place by running is great, especially if you are short on time, I like to call them run-explorations, and if you map it well you may even get to see all the sights on one go which is perfect for weekend breaks or small stops.
If you are somewhere remote, you may even be lucky enough to find some trails to challenge yourself on and reward yourself with beautiful views!
Instead of renting a motor-powered vehicle to roam around, rent a bicycle and use it to go explore, or to go to far away beaches, You will appreciate them even more after you worked hard to get there! Roadtrip anyone?
Beach walks are a great way to burn down some calories while effectively sunbathing (make sure to walk in both direction to achieve some tanning both back and front), it will be amazing on your legs and bums as walking on the sand is a lot harder than walking on hard ground!
And by swim I don't mean just splash around.. Aim to do one longer swim everyday, maybe have a goal in mind such as swim the length of the beach and back, or go round the buoy (once, twice.. maybe increase it everyday?) - afterwards feel free to splash around!
Even better - find an open air swimming pool, and find a good time when it isn't too busy to get a 40-60 minutes session in!
In these days and age is possible to find gym equipments outdoors pretty much everywhere! Or you can make your own if you find a fixed bar high enough that allows you to do some pull ups and some benches for push-ups, triceps dips etc... children playing areas are actually pretty amazing gyms (just make sure to go when no kids are there if you don't want funny looks from the parents!)
Whilst I don't really like to call yoga 'exercise', it can definitely be aaand you can do it anywhere! Your hotel room, outside the tent, the park, the beach.. choose your spot!
Trying new activities
trying new activities can be a great perk of a holiday, so why not go and get a paddleboard or a windsurf lesson?
Or... Choose a sporty holiday
Surfing, Climbing, Skiing, Snowboarding, Windsurfing, Hiking, Canoeing.... you can go on a sporty holiday where the main aim is, well.. to do the sport of choice! They are great choices, not just in term of fitness but they will also help you improve on such sport, dedicating one week or more to it. You can choose organised trips which have the added benefit of introducing you to like-minded people, or plan your own with some friends.. so what are you waiting for? Stop reading and go out to enjoy!
While it's only Wednesday, the countdown to Friday has begun for many of us.
Friday symbolises the end of the work week for many, the beginning of two days of relax and adventure (or perhaps some chores). Either way, work week over - let's party to that!
On Friday evenings most people, to begin the destress process from the week before, turn to pubs for one, two, three, just one more...ten? fifteen? (more? ) pints of the golden stuff (beer), glasses of the smooth burgundy drink, mixes of sweet, sugar-laiden, tasty, craze-inducing pitches. These will not only "help" to take the stress away (at least for the night), and help loosen up the tongue ( I mean talking, what are you thinking dirty mind?), perhaps leading to fun adventures and encounters, surely making fun conversations (for those partaking anyway), and even more surely leading to a nasty wake up (you have an headache you say? Stomach pain I hear you scream?).
I am not denying that I, too, have taken part in many of these Friday festivities, However, I have to say that lately I found a much better way to de-stress on a Friday (and actually doing so on most days of the week so I don't arrive on a Friday overloaded with cortisol and tension): Run and exercise! And complement with some yoga. Running in particular, especially if done outdoors in a nice forest park, with or without a good playlist (depending on the mood), has a great impact on my mental health. I would start a run with a cluttered brain, full of thoughts, stressed about the many things to do (especially lately, with the end of the phd, the imminent leaving of the country and the start of a new job!), and I will end a run with the perfect email to write, or a clear plan of attack, or just a calm mindset that tells me 'I can do it all'. But I promise I don't spend the run overanalysing things, I mostly just look at the trees around, or think about my legs moving, or where am I turning next (I don't plan my routes and sometimes I get a bit lost, but I love it!). Swimming also helps, although the repetitive up and down the lane can be frustrating and if you are stressed about something is easy to keep thinking about it while in the pool. Outdoor swimming on the other hand is very reinvigorating albeit very cold so impossible to stay for longer than 10-15 min (for me here anyway - the mediterranean will be a different story...).
I complement my running with gym classes and weight training which make my body feel strong and give me a strong mind-body connection. And on Wednesday we climb (indoors :( ) , which puts my strength to a challenge, puts my brain on a new level of puzzle solving, and my mind on a new level of trust (climbing requires as much mental strength as physical, I am learning that you need to believe in your capabilities otherwise you will not make it to the top - but if you believe you will be surprised!). I also do yoga to refocus, train my mind to be present, challenge my balance and deep stretch when I need to. Plus - the week training prepares me for any weekend adventure that may come my way: surf? hike a mountain? Cycle? Bouldering? I am up for it!
Parkrun is a great way to get out of the Friday night beer times - or anyway what started getting me out of it! The 5km fun runs are at 9.30 on Sat morning, and as much as they are only fun runs - they are still 5Km and I prefer to run hangover free. Nowadays, just one drink gives me a funny feeling in the morning, so I still went out when invited but stuck to a diet coke (then replaced by sparkling water as now I am also very very careful with the processed drinks!). This not only considerably reduced my alcohol consumption to only one drink occasionally, but now I have not had a drink in more than two months and the idea of not needing it and the hidden calories behind that glass made me realise that I can easily go forever without (okay, unless mum opens up a bottle of some organic prosecco to celebrate my phd and my new job - but only one glass with some food - in Italy and in my house in particular we have a drink-with-food policy whether is dinner or aperitivo).
So here, skip the party and go do something active next weekend - I promise you will be better for it! No depressive side or comedown to this all-natural drug !
As this post gets published, I am likely getting ready to run my 9th parkrun - on a beach!
Yes, I am being a 'tourist' today and making the most of my weekend by being up the north coast of Ireland and running the Portrush parkrun before a surf (finally some swell!)!
But what is parkrun? And why do I love it so much?
Let me give you some background on my running - let's just say it dates back to...hmm... just a few months ago! Yes, one day in February I decided to start running. No particular reasons apart from the fact that I always hated the idea of running, and I decided it was time to face the hate and trying to see if I could understand why so many people love it ( I know I know I sound mental...).
My first running attempt was a 5 Km of mixed walk and run which lasted a whole 45 minutes and left me exhausted. Exhausted but also happy. And so I gave it a couple more attempts, getting slowly better, until the walk and run became continuous run for 15 then 20 then 25 and eventually a whole 30 minutes..
Some of my surfing friends were talking about parkruns and one day I decided to challenge myself and join them in their local 'Ormeau parkrun'. I remember that Saturday morning, so worried that I wasn't going to be able to finish the 5Km, let alone finish them in a reasonable amount of time. Worried I will come last. Worried people would have to wait for me. Planning my escape route just in case. And yet there I was, at the start line, surrounded by at least 2-300 people who looked like runners. 3,2,1 GO - first loop, 2 Km, done. Second loop, harder, pushing through, tired and yet surrounded by others like me, encouraging smiles. One of my surfing friends next to me running at a similar pace, faces that I recognise in the crowds. Volunteers at every corners, telling you where to go, clapping, smiling, 'nearly there' one says. People ahead (many), people behind (some). Finally crossed the finish line, a chip gets handed to me, my barcode scanned - my time will be online soon. A few hours later, my time is online. 29:45 - I am proud to have done it, let alone done it sub 30.
8 Park runs later I have a personal best of 24:25 (hopefully to be closer to 24:00 soon), and the faces in the crowd have become more and more recognisable. I find myself smiling as I overtake, challenging the person just next to me as we continuously overtake each other, and smiling at that tall dad pushing twins that manages every week without a doubt to zoom past me.
I have been taking other running challenges since, signed up for races and take up running alone in my own time, yet the 9.30 saturday morning run is my favourite. There is something about familiarity, community, encouragement, smiling faces, everyone being on the same boat - up early on a saturday to run.
I love that this run is run entirely by volunteers - many of them. From the ones organising 'behind the scenes', via the ones at corners telling you where to go and clapping as you go past, to the ones recording and organising the times. I owe them a huge thank you - they transformed my hate in love!
I guess I didn't answer the 'what is parkrun' question:
An extract from their site : parkrun organise free, weekly, 5km timed runs around the world. They are open to everyone, free, and are safe and easy to take part in. These events take place in pleasant parkland surroundings and we encourage people of every ability to take part; from those taking their first steps in running to Olympians; from juniors to those with more experience; we welcome you all.
As you can see is very inclusive. Through the map you can easily find the running circuits closer to your home, or to your current location. After you sign up and get your personal barcode you can also be a 'tourist' (as they call them at my local parkrun) and attend other runs, maybe for convenience or for a change of scenery and path. I am really excited about my beachrun this weekend, and hope it goes well. I am super thankful to the organisers who quickly responded to my facebook enquiry about beach running shoes vs barefoot for providing me with great info in a super quick time (and remember they are volunteers!).
I love this kind of community efforts, I believe they are so important - so let's keep them going!
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