25 March 2020 Environmentally friendly diving to conserve marine life for sustainable development

Tourists and divers flock the pristine Nusa Penida Island in Bali, Indonesia for the scenic views, beautiful beaches, towering limestone cliffs and life underwater.

Tourists and divers flock the pristine Nusa Penida Island in Bali, Indonesia for the scenic views, beautiful beaches, towering limestone cliffs and life underwater.

Nusa Penida is known for its healthy corals famed to harbour small reef fish that in turn attract the bigger marine life such as manta rays (mobula alfredi) and the famous mola mola (ocean sunfish).

For Virginie Casse, marketing manager at Bali Scuba, the presence of divers is bittersweet. Tourism can have a hugely positive impact, for example by providing income to the local communities, but there is a risk of people threatening the corals if they don’t follow environmental best practice.

Many divers going to Nusa Penida are not respecting the corals and are often seen climbing over them, kicking them and breaking them,” she says.

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Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Photo by Jayne Jenkins / Coral Reef Image Bank

“If divers continue to disrespect the corals around Bali, the damage may be irreversible and future generations of divers will not get to see the amazing things that we do. As divers, we are responsible for protecting our oceans and corals,” she adds.

Coral reefs, like underwater cities, support a quarter of all marine life—an estimated 1 to 9 million species. They provide half a billion people with food security and livelihoods. Corals are essential to sustaining healthy fisheries, which is the number one protein source for 3 billion people worldwide. Additionally, coral reefs also protect coastlines from increasing damage by buffering shorelines against waves, storms and floods, preventing loss of life, property damage and erosion.

To address reef degradation, Bali Scuba joined the Green Fins initiative in May 2019, an effort led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and The Reef-World Foundation to promote sustainable diving and snorkeling tourism worldwide.

Green Fins works with members of the diving industry to reduce the pressures on coral reefs. The initiative offers training and resources to dive and snorkel operators using the Green Fins code of conduct. The initiative offers a raft of practical and low-cost recommendations that protect corals such as using mooring buoys instead of anchoring, no-touch policies (of corals and other aquatic life), and the request to maintain good buoyancy to prevent accidentally knocking, kicking or stepping on corals. The approach has been proven to help corals stay healthy and more resilient.

Bali Scuba also uses Green Fins posters, booklets and dive briefings to help their staff and guests be aware of more sustainable behaviours while underwater, on the boat and at the dive shop.

“Tourism can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand it is hugely important for the economy and can bring people close to nature so that they appreciate the wonders of the ocean more. On the other hand, if it is not done sustainably, it can kill the very ecosystem that tourists have come to visit,” says Gabriel Grimsditch, programme manager at UNEP’s Marine and Coastal Ecosystems Branch.

“We promote the Green Fins approach to sustainable dive tourism in the hope that countries around the world adopt a sustainable tourism economy.”

Over 9, 000 kms away in Egypt, Green Fins is just taking off. Egypt is a popular holiday destination with 11.3 million tourists visiting in 2018; up from 8.3 million in 2017. Of these, there are approximately 500 businesses providing diving and snorkelling activities in the Red Sea and an estimated 3 million divers and snorkellers visiting the region each year.

Green Fins Egypt was initially piloted in September 2019 in the East of the country, South Sinai Governorate, then it was rolled out nationwide in March 2020 to dive and snorkel operators.

Chloe Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We’re proud to be helping protect Red Sea coral reefs by expanding Green Fins nationwide across Egypt. The Green Fins national team in Egypt will play a vital role in helping the country’s marine tourism industry improve its sustainability; ultimately, protecting the Red Sea’s precious coral reefs for future generations.”By adopting the global environment marine tourism standards to protect corals, Egypt becomes the eleventh Green Fins member. Others are Indonesia, Antigua and Barbuda, the Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Maldives, Palau, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Egypt Green Fins
Egypt Green Fins. Photo by The Reef World Foundation

Green Fins is usually adopted by a government body, which integrates the programme’s activities into their annual plans and absorbs its costs. In Egypt, however, the Chamber of Diving and Watersports has taken the lead. The non-profit organization, under the Egyptian Tourist Federation, was founded by Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism in 2007.

Hesham Gabr, Chair of the Chamber of Diving and Watersports, said: “To date, nine Egyptian dive and snorkel operators have already joined the global network of nearly 600 trained and assessed Green Fins members, with significant interest from other operators. Green Fins is a critical part of our ambitious action plan to strengthen sustainability within the marine tourism sector across Egypt and we are excited to see the continued results.”

Matt Reed of Evolution Malapascua, a diving resort from the Philippines and among the 10 most environmentally friendly operators of all Green Fins members, offers insights on possible challenges of adopting sustainable diving.

“Some customers hate being told no gloves and no pointing sticks—photographers are particularly hard,” he says. “It's one of the most challenging parts of trying to get people to understand their impact on the environment. We try to explain that the areas are protected by the government and, therefore, the rules come down from above, as that removes our ability to make allowances or change the policy.”

Evolution Malapascua has been a member of the Green Fins from 2014.

Diving-related damage to sensitive marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, makes them less likely to survive other stressors, such as overfishing, plastic debris or rising sea temperatures.

The Green Fins initiative is closely linked to the Glowing Gone Campaign which inspires global conservation action to protect coral reefs. Corals have been observed to glow in luminescent colours—blue, yellow and purple—before they die. The phenomenon has sparked the Glowing Gone Campaign in which UNEP has partnered with The Ocean Agency, among other leading ocean conservation organizations.

The campaign highlights the fluorescing phenomenon that some corals experience to protect themselves, like a sunscreen, during extreme ocean heat waves. The campaign encourages designers to use three newly created “glowing colours” in their art to draw attention to the issue and to inspire action that everyone can use.

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Infographic

Green Fins is present in 11 countries: Egypt, Indonesia, Antigua and Barbuda, the Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Maldives, Palau, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

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Coral images courtesy of The Ocean Agency, USFWS, Coral Reef Image Bank, XL Catlin Seaview Survey