UNITED KINGDOM, December 6, 2018 – Never before has the topic of healthy marine environment been under the global spotlight to the extent it is today. With increasing reports of marine plastic pollution, habitat destruction, overfishing and the effects of climate change, it can seem our oceans are anything but healthy. But what is the true value of a healthy ocean and why is it so important we strive to protect them? The answer to this question can be hard to quantify and will vary wildly depending on who you ask. But one thing most people can agree on is that they are of immense value and should be protected.
Coral reefs cover only 1% of the sea floor but account for 25% of all marine life a biodiversity that rivals that of the Amazon Rainforest. 275 million people worldwide depend on this relatively small area for their livelihoods and sustenance. These underwater forests attract visitors to over 100 countries and territories generating an estimated $36 billion in global tourism annually.2 One industry that directly relies on a healthy marine environment is the dive industry. With diving and reef-based tourism activities generating $19 billion on an annual basis and more than one million new divers being certified every year; diving has become one of the fastest growing recreational activities. Divers travel far and wide expecting to encounter healthy, thriving reefs teeming with life. Without a healthy marine environment there would be no divers, and in turn, no business.
In response to recent mass bleaching events that saw unprecedented levels of corals die, the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) declared 2018 as the 3rd International Year of the Reef (IYOR). Previously designated in 1997 and 2008; IYOR was initiated as a way to increase awareness of the value of coral reefs and factors threatening their existence. Recognising the urgent need for effective research, management and conservation practices; it promotes global collaboration between the private and public sectors.
While the task may seem overwhelming, the necessary tools are available to encourage and support stakeholders within the dive industry to adopt sustainable management and conservation practices. Green Fins, an initiative of the UN Environment and implemented by The Reef-World Foundation, has been working with the dive industry for over 10 years to help businesses promote best practices through a robust set of environmental standards. Green Fins empowers dive and snorkel operators to make simple yet effective changes to their business practices, helping them work towards a circular economy. By implementing Green Fins sustainable practices, businesses can limit their impact on the environment and reduce the severity of localised stressors to coral reefs. This can help reefs to remain more resilient when faced with major threats like the effects of climate change.
Raising sustainability standards supports the long-term viability of dive tourism without undermining the quality of life under or over the water. The effects go beyond the local dive centre to the wider industry, impacting equipment manufacturers, dive training organisations, resorts and dive booking companies. When adopted, Green Fins acts as the perfect tool to support a business in becoming environmentally sustainable, a value that is increasingly attractive to tourists.
Many individuals, local communities and businesses connected to the dive industry have taken on what can seem like a daunting responsibility and are serving as role models to inspire change. The last Action Point for Green Fins IYOR 2018 Campaign, #HealthyOceanHealthyBusiness, introduces to some of the pioneering businesses that are leading by example to make sustainable diving the social norm:
- As the pioneering liveaboard operation to the Green Fins initiative, Explorer Ventures has dived in and is taking action to enhance the sustainability of the business by organising trash clean ups, mooring programs and sustainable operations on board their vessels such as using DIY reef safe cleaning solutions and giving Green Fins environmental dive briefings to their guests.
- As part of PADI’s long-standing commitment to ocean conservation, they introduced the ‘Pillars of Change’ SM in 2017 as a way to drive public awareness of the issues facing ocean communities. Also, they are building one of the strongest brand and non-profit alliance in the industry. By working collaboratively with The Reef-World Foundation it will provide greater opportunity for dive operators around the world to be better informed and equipped to apply sustainable dive practices, using Green Fins’ guidelines.
- In its mission to reconnect people with the world around them and run a sustainable business Six Senses Laamu recognises the need for healthy environments. By implementing meaningful conservation through the Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI) it is achieving this. With a team of 10 marine biologists and collaboration with international NGO’s, such as The Reef-World Foundation, MUI protects the 50,000 m2 of seagrass surrounding the island – an important habitat for juvenile fish and turtles as well as providing coastal protection; they also work with the local community to establish sustainable fishing models and their dive centre is Green Fins certified!
- ZuBlu not only helps divers to find and book their perfect dive trip but makes it easy for divers to choose sustainable, environmentally friendly resorts. Divers are able to make informed decisions on where they stay not only based on the type of diving they enjoy but also on a resorts conservation activities, projects and sustainable practices. There is also an option to check whether a resort is an active Green Fins member!
- Tioman Dive Centre (TDC) has adopted Green Fins ideology as part of their everyday life. Encouraging staff members to take ownership of TDC’s sustainability processes has created a sense of pride in the business they run and service they offer. As a result, big changes have been made to daily activities including the use of biodegradable washing products in the centre and recycling in the local area. Actively educating guests on the importance of a healthy ocean by incorporating environmental messages into dive briefings and conversations, TDC has demonstrated true care and responsibility for the local marine environment.
As the eyes and ears of the ocean, the dive industry is perfectly positioned to both influence and experience first-hand the effects of a healthy ocean. Whether an individual diver, dive centre, resort, equipment manufacturer or holiday booking company; all have a vested interest in healthy reefs. Whilst marine tourism is seldom environmentally neutral, negative impacts as a result of reef-based tourism need not be inevitable. Each player is well positioned to make the changes needed to lessen their environmental impact and inspire those around them to do the same.
By adopting responsible practices such as #RedefineTheDive as a dive guide directing his/her guests; using #AlternativesToAnchoring as a dive centre or #DoNotFeedTheFish whilst on a dive vacation the whole diving community is working towards a healthier ocean and more resilient reefs that will be around for many more dives to come. After all, a healthy ocean is a healthy business.
- Explorer Ventures
- Tioman Dive Center
- Jett Britnell/ Coral Reef Image Bank