1. Plan ahead and prepare.
Careful planning means that you can minimize your impact in ways you may not even have thought about. There may be special regulations and concerns about a specific island – for example, an island may be posted ‘Do Not Visit’ since it has a nest of bald eagles close to the campsite which you’d not want to disturb. Secondly, check the weather, hazards and emergency information – there may be a forecast of severe weather and you need to know how to act responsibly under these particular conditions, and not rely unnecessarily on backup assistance. Thirdly, schedule your trip to avoid times of high use and consider splitting your group, if it’s a large one, into smaller groups to minimize impact. Prepare for your own group by repacking food in smaller containers such as ziplocks to minimize waste (see Principle #3). Finally, make sure you have a chart and reliable compass so you are not making markers out of rocks or tree limbs, for example, in order to identify a specific location on an island.
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow. It is said that good campsites are found, not made. If the area is well-used, then use existing trails and campsites. Rather than widening a trail by walking on the edges, walk in the middle of the trail. Try to keep campsites small and focus activities in areas where there is no vegetation. In pristine areas disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails – if you see that someone has camped in a relatively unused area and not an established site, think about putting your tent in a different location to avoid that site from becoming an established one.
3. Dispose of waste properly.
You know the phrase: pack it in, pack it out. When you leave, inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. You can carry all your waste in one bag at the back of your boat. Deposit solid human waste and toilet paper using a bag-in-a-bag kit. You can buy these in any good outdoor supply store - they were developed for use by the military, they are packed with degradative chemicals and when sealed they can be disposed of in the regular trash once the trip is over. To wash yourself or your dishes and cooking pots, use small amounts of biodegradable soap. After washing up after a meal, filter the water, bag the solids and dispose of the filtrate at the water’s edge and below the high tide mark.
4. Leave what you find.
The main idea of this one can be summarized as: preserve the past. It incorporates how you interact with the environment and how you leave it for others to do the same – if you see historical or cultural artifacts, such as shell middens, examine but don’t touch; leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them; avoid introducing or transporting non-native species, either plants or animals; don’t build structures or make temporary furniture out of branches, for example, or dig trenches at your campsite. These all have in mind the intention that others should find things just as pristine as you did.
5. Minimize campfire impacts.
Campfires can of course cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. A single spark can potentially destroy everything above soil level in a small island. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light. Fires are permitted, on some islands, in that case use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires. But keep fires small and only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand, using driftwood or twigs or branches taken from the ground. Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes. Ideally, though, rather than lighting a fire on an island, simply learn to go without the traditional campfire. You can also find on the web some novel ways to preserve the ‘campfire experience’, for example, build a ‘candle campfire’.
6. Respect Wildlife
On th Maine islands this generally applies to birds and seals - observe from a distance and don’t follow or approach them. Never feed wild animals – feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers. Storing rations and trash securely. Most importantly, avoid wildlife during seasonally sensitive times, eg. during the seasons of mating, nesting, raising young.
7. Be considerate of other visitors.
This can be expanded a bit to: respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience. Be courteous and yield to other users on the trail and generally on the water. Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors. Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises. What I’ve really appreciated, when I’ve seen it, is when a group of kayakers have ‘parked’ their kayaks on a beach in a small cluster to one side rather than spreading haphazardly all along the beach. It really makes a difference to see that others have gone out of their way to protect your experience.
That’s it, the seven key points of ‘Leave No Trace’. Try to observe them, and you’ll enjoy the way you see others observing them even more.