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Do our small actions really matter? For years, experts at Shedd and other environmental organizations, have encouraged people to reduce their environmental footprint through activities like opting to bike, take public transit in lieu of driving or reducing our use of plastic. These are important things to do! Plus, Earth-friendly behaviors like these are often not only better for the environment but also better for our health.

But how much of an impact does each of our small actions really make? How can we lead an ocean-friendly life no matter where we are and what resources we have? 

Each of our small daily actions can add up to a big impact to protect and restore our blue planet, but for them to  make a significant difference, here are three key steps we need to take.

A diver ties dangling coral polyps to a tall propagation frame.

1. Don’t stop at one “good deed”  

A 2015 study found that people who brought reusable bags to the grocery store were significantly more likely to buy indulgent foods, like donuts, candy bars and ice cream. Psychologically speaking, doing one “good deed” left these shoppers feeling like they did their part. Could the same thinking apply to other Earth-friendly actions, whether subconsciously or not? For example, I bought reef-safe sunscreen. I did my good deed for nature and can let others do theirs.  

According to Shedd’s lead coral researcher, Dr. Ross Cunning, “We can’t let using reef-safe sunscreen become a feel-good deed that distracts from the much bigger threat to corals—climate change, which is warming the ocean.” 

In order to make a real difference for our ocean’s future, we first need to understand the many different ways that we impact the ocean. Then, we need to make improvements at every level. Focusing our efforts on just one individual action can do a disservice to the long-term health of the ocean. 

Tropical fish swim near the bottom with various corals.
Fresh greens are arranged artfully on a small square plate with slices of lemon and cucumber, sprinkled with shreds of bright pink beets for color.

Let’s connect the dots between our small actions to a bigger system that we should also work to change. One way to elevate your efforts is to speak up to businesses or elected officials in your community who can have a greater influence on policies and practices.

One good deed:

Using reef-safe sunscreen

Amplify your action:

Reef-safe sunscreen is healthier for corals, but climate change is a much greater threat. Along with opting for reef-safe sunscreen, find opportunities to advocate for climate action. Contact Congress today. >

One good deed:

Cutting back on your beef consumption 

Amplify your action:

Join the #8Meals Challenge and share your story about building more veggie meals into your weekly diet on social media. Tell your friends and family that you’re cutting back on meat because you want to decrease your carbon footprint.

One good deed:

Saying "no thanks" to a plastic straw at a restaurant

Amplify your action:

Nominate a restaurant to join the Let’s Shedd Plastic program. They'll have access to educational resources, special events, and a community of restaurant industry peers who want to make a difference. 

One good deed:

Riding a bike to work

Amplify your action:

Contact your local government to make bike riding and green transit more accessible, safe, and affordable in your community. 

Shedd volunteers engage visitors to Navy Pier on Earth Day to promote a campaign to "Shedd the straw".

2. Tell your story 

“Elevating our collective consciousness about the problems the ocean faces is a pre-requisite to implementing any significant change,” Cunning shares. “And then talking with others around you is the most important next step.”  

The easiest way to make your small Earth-friendly action matter? Make a change and then share it with others. Did you just sign up for a new at-home compost service? Or cut back on your meat consumption? Post your story on social media and talk to your friends, family, and coworkers about the change you made— and be sure to tell them why and how you did so.

To drive broader culture change, we need to have a ripple effect with those around us—starting small by making changes in our own lives and letting those actions inspire and influence those around us to do the same. 

A close-up of the head of a clownfish sculpture, showing the individual pieces of upcycled plastic used to make it.

A piece of upcycled art created by Washed Ashore. Learn more at

3. Do what you love—for the ocean 

“I often tell people that we need them to use all their strengths and passions to make a difference,” says Cunning. “For example, if you’re an artist, make art! The film Chasing Coral came out in 2017 and has been hugely impactful for coral conservation. The filmmakers chose to dedicate their talents and expertise to telling the story of how corals are vanishing— this was a critical storytelling opportunity.” 

At Shedd Aquarium, we would love to have a million more marine biologists in the world, but the ocean also needs advocates in every corner of society from our restaurants to banks to schools and beyond. Consider how you can utilize your passion, skills, and influence to make a difference while doing what you love and are good at.