Is Your Wild Swimming Actually Eco Friendly?

By Finn van der Aar | saltwater stories

Finn van der Aar is passionate about the environment, low impact travel and how to help people live more sustainably. She lives, surfs and works on the wild west coast of Ireland. Finn holds a BSc in Earth & Ocean Science, an MSc in Marine Biology and a Certificate in Culinary Arts. 

She works freelance for the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and is an ambassador for Clean Coasts and An Taisce’s Climate Change Program. Here she gives us some food for thought about the impact our wild swimming has on the environment’s we cherish.

You’re dipping your toe in the water, excited and bracing yourself for the cold. You’re surrounded by the beauty of nature. Whether it’s a wild leap in the waves, a swim in a placid bay or a dip in a mountain stream to cool off after a long hike, the water rejuvenates us every time.

But what are we doing for the water?

When I was studying oceanography we learned about the human impact on our water systems – from the physical (like plastics) to the chemical (like industry and sewage). So what is it like in Ireland and what can you do protect the aquatic environment that you love so much?


To learn more about how you can ditch plastics when it comes to your wild swimming check out my previous post here. An active lifestyle means lots of wear and tear for your gear. Replacing plastic bags (even reusable ones) with sturdier tubs or crates (for your wet gear) to buying better quality hats and goggles (that won’t break easily) is a great start.

Snacks are the easiest place to ditch single use plastic all together! My favourite things to bring is homemade snack bars – I’ll batch cook them and then freeze  in portions (helps keep their shape and they’ll be defrosted by the time you’re ready to eat). Use reusable pouches, beeswax wraps or even just a glass jar to take them with you.

What are we doing to the water?

A key thing to think about when wild swimming is what are you (chemically) doing to the water. When we swim in a pool (either chlorinated or salted) its not something we tend to give a second thought. Pools are cleaned regularly and (ideally!) never being flushed out into the environment.

When you’re swimming in a wild habit its a completely different story. You are entering and  changing an ecosystem. What you’re wearing on your skin or in your hair can have a profound affect on this system, especially if its a place where a lot of people enter the water (think the 40 Foot in Dun Laoghaire).

Most hair and skincare products contain an array of chemicals that can build up in our environment. One of the easiest ways to protect your favourite swim spot is to ditch these for their natural alternative! By switching to natural bar versions of your favourite products (I have bars for soap, shampoo and conditioner) you’re getting rid of chemicals, but also plastics.

My cheap and cheerful alternative to plastic-wrapped skincare is rose water (for toner), rose hip oil (for my face) and coconut oil for a body moisturiser. Be mindful of your skin of course with oils and sun exposure (easiest things is applying at night).

Potentially the most important, when it comes to protecting both you and your favourite wild swimming spot is sunscreen!

The chemical component of typical suncreams can have a seriously detrimental affect on the marine environment. While this might conjure up an image of Bondi-beach-levels of suncream sliding into the ocean, there is still plenty of opportunity for large amounts of these chemicals to enter Irish waters too. Imagine the Salthill diving boards on a sunny day in Galway. I’m 100% not recommending to head out without protection, simply be more mindful of what you use.

Swap cover for cream – I first found out about surf leggings in Australia. I was well familiar with a rash vest (which can have a fabric density equivalent to wearing factor 50) and was stoked to find the legging equivalent. These two combined are a great alternative to slicking head to toe in cream.

Be “reef safe” – this can be simple barrier based suncreams (typically made with a zinc oxide) to more cleverly concocted formulas.  My tried and tested is Amazinc, I use their zinc paste on my face and ears (for big swims/long surfs) and there non-zinc creams for everyday protection (all in plastic-free packaging).

How are you getting to your favourite spot?

Walking? Cycling? Driving? I know myself in the cold, wet and wild weather of Donegal, more often then not I’m driving to my favourite sea pool. To try to reduce my carbon footprint, I’ve started to swim more frequently off the little reef near my house instead of driving into town. This is a trickier piece of advice due to COVID-19. But when it’s safe to do so again lift sharing or using public transport are great greener options.

Have any questions about how you can make your wild swimming more eco sustainable? Pop them down below! I’ll be answering all your questions here and over on Instagram in the coming week! Have any favourite tips or trick, share them too!

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