There’s nothing quite like a summer vacation at the beach. Sunshine, blue skies, beautiful waters, and sandy beaches are the ideal elements of a memorable summer escape with the family. How can we protect the delicate ecosystems of our shorelines, so that the next generation can enjoy a summer at the beach, too? The National Aquarium is challenging beach-goers to leave their favorite seashore destinations better than they found them this summer. Here are six small steps for beachgoers that can make a big difference in the health and longevity of America’s coastal environments.

Take some garbage home with you. Granted its not the best souvenir, but be sure to bring a garbage bag and and take every can, bottle cap, wrapper, plastic bag and cigarette butt with you when you leave. Got some extra room in that garbage bag? Take a moment to pack it up to the brim with any other garbage you can fit. It might not be yours, and it’s not fun picking up after others, but you’re setting a good example and doing your part to keep things clean.

Stay on the well-beaten path and use boardwalks and wooden walkways. Don’t climb over the dunes as you come and go. This can lead to dune erosion, while also destroying the habitats for many of the beaches native animals. Don’t disturb the beach grass either, by stomping on it: the grass plays a critical role in protecting the beach ecosystem.

Pick Up After Pets. Every dog loves a day at the beach, but come prepared with the gear needed to pick up after Fido when nature calls. Pet waste might seem harmless, but it can be a major bacterial pollutant if left unchecked. Plus, no kid wants to make a nasty discovering while digging in the sand with a toy shovel.

Leave the seashells behind. Every time you take a seashell away from its beachy home, you’re leaving the ecosystem just little less balanced. That seashell was a future home for a hermit crab, future nest building material for a shorebird, or an essential nutrient for organisms living in the sand.

Keep your distance. It’s amazing spotting a marine animal up close and personal. But use your eyes – not your hands – and admire from a distance. If you come across an animal that you believe is truly in danger or in need of assistance, look for a lifeguard, park ranger or other personnel who will know which local entities – like the National Aquarium in the Mid-Atlantic region – are qualified and ready to assist.

Think before you use chemical pesticides, cleansers, paint and oil. All of these elements work their way from your gutters and sinks to the oceans, rivers and streams of your local watershed area. Likewise, don’t flush extra or expired medications, non-biodegradable personal items or potentially hazardous cosmetics down the toilet.

While you’re at it, check out the National Aquarium’s 48 Days of Blue campaign for more challenges and tips on how you can positively impact our oceans. For more information about the National Aquarium, its conservation mission and other environmental actions, visit www.aqua.org.