How can well-managed tourism protect coral reefs?

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* This article is guest post authored by Melissa Hobson, Communications Manager of The Reef-World Foundation, a valued member of the PATA network. PATA is an advocate for sustainable tourism and proudly supports key discussions around the topic of sustainability.


“Why is it that scuba divers and surfers are some of the strongest advocates of ocean conservation? Because they’ve spent time in and around the ocean, and they’ve personally seen the beauty, the fragility, and even the degradation of our planet’s blue heart.”  –Sylvia Earle

These words – from the legendary marine biologist and explorer Sylvia Earle – will particularly resonate with those of us lucky enough to have experienced the mysteries of the ocean through scuba diving. Divers – who have glimpsed this awe-inspiring underwater world – are often ignited with a passion for marine conservation; even more so when they’ve sadly witnessed plastic choking animals in the ocean and trash washing up on once pristine beaches.  

So it might be no surprise to learn that the team at The Reef-World Foundation – a PATA organisational member working tirelessly to protect coral reefs and related ecosystems – is made up of divers, passionate about the ocean. 

The charity’s work has been proven to reduce threats to, and protect, one of the world’s most valuable ecosystems: coral reefs. Coral reefs are home to 25% of marine life yet cover less than 1% of the earth’s surface. According to the World Resources Institute, more than 90% of the world’s reefs will be threatened by local human activities, warming, and acidification by the 2030s. Projected increases in the number of tourists visiting reefs can further threaten them through preventable, irresponsible business practices and tourist behaviours. Yet, coral reefs are remarkably resilient; by removing direct threats, reefs are better able to survive wider stressors. 

Reef-World leads the global implementation of the UN Environment’s Green Fins initiative, which focuses on driving environmentally friendly scuba diving and snorkelling practices across the industry. Green Fins encourages and empowers members of the diving industry to act to reduce the pressures on coral reefs by offering dive and snorkel companies practical, low-cost alternatives to harmful practices – such as anchoring, fish feeding and chemical pollution – as well as providing strategic training, support and resources. As a result, it leads to a measurable reduction in the negative environmental impacts associated with the marine tourism industry. 

If done sustainably, well-managed “on-reef” tourism, such as diving and snorkelling, can generate employment for local communities, offer a meaningful contribution to the social welfare of residents and provide alternatives for less sustainable livelihoods such as fishing. 

Reef-World’s very ethos – and the purpose of Green Fins – is to encourage, educate, inspire and empower people across the industry to protect their local marine ecosystems. So, what can PATA members do to play their part and how can Reef-World help them in their sustainability journey? 

Businesses operating in active Green Fins locations that provide diving or snorkelling activities can become a member (it’s free!) and pledge to follow the 15-point Code of Conduct. Active Green Fins members are then trained, assessed and certified annually by qualified assessors. Dive and snorkel centres not in an active Green Fins location can still begin reducing their environmental impact by following the Code of Conduct and asking their dive guides to take the new Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course.

Businesses interested in working with Reef-World to improve their environmental practices and help set high sustainability standards across the industry can get in touch to discuss partnership opportunities. 

The Green Fins Code of Conduct lends itself to the strengthening of relevant regulatory frameworks and governments are also using Green Fins in delivery against national and international environmental targets (including Aichi Targets 10 and 4 as well as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 14 and 12).

Helping governments and NGOs build capacity to implement the initiative is written into its very model: when Green Fins is implemented in a new country, Reef-World works with national and local government bodies and local NGOs to train them as implementing partners. Government agencies interested in implementing Green Fins in their area can take a look at the National Level Handbook to understand more about the capacity requirements and get in touch with the Reef-World team to discuss logistics and next steps. 

Together, we can make sustainable diving the social norm globally. For more information visit www.reef-world.org and www.greenfins.net