I learned to scuba dive at the age of 12 and was a diving instructor by the age of 15 – pretty unusual for a girl growing up in the middle of England!
My underwater encounters throughout those formative teenage years inspired me to study Marine Biology at university – those, coupled with my natural (and some may say tiresome) desire to learn more about the way things work.
I started off investigating marine biological and ecological functions, but have more recently moved into the area of how the industries and human processes tha thrive off marine ecosystem services, impact the sustainability of our ocean planet.
Tourism is currently one of the largest and fastest growing sectors in the world, generating 10 per cent of global GDP and supporting one in every 11 jobs. The Asia and Pacific region represents the major source of tourists, as well as being the number one destination for tourists worldwide – it’s underwater diving and snorkelling adventures promise vibrant coral reefs, making it a common draw for tourists.
Having lived and worked in many popular tourist destinations across Asia, I have seen first-hand the negative impacts of booming tourism. These impacts are felt socially as well as environmentally, especially by fragile natural ecosystems like coral reefs.
In response to these negative impacts I have been working with some of the leading conservation and industry voices in the region, developing a program that supports sustainability within the diving and snorkelling industry. This programme is called Green Fins, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Reef-World Foundation led initiative. Green Fins is effecting measurable and meaningful change in core business practices and is positively influencing the way this industry works. In the below video Jim Toomey (and his cartoon friends) will take you through a fun and enchanting run through of the Green Fins approach.
Service providers are the cornerstone for sustainability and whilst diving and snorkelling activities carry significant environmental risks, if activities are well managed their opportunity to provide environmental awareness and education is enormous. There are good case studies from all over the world highlighting how operators successfully strike a tourism/education balance. Unfortunately though, this is not commonplace.
Mass tourism often drives unsustainable practices, as businesses prioritise cashing in on the opportunity to make a quick financial gain, without consideration for the longevity of the industry. Green Fins is working to make the industry partner with government agencies in environmental management, putting business owners in control of protecting their natural asset. The approach involves businesses voluntarily agreeing to adhere to a 15 point environmental code of conduct for diving and snorkelling activities.
The end result is a win-win – enhanced business performance and the protection of the underlying natural asset. By systematically eliminating negative environmental impacts, businesses can increase the health of coral reefs and ensure the sustainability of the ecosystem services they provide.
Businesses who are successfully applying Green Fins are also noticing a shift towards a more loyal repeat customer base that make longer stays and are willing to pay more for services. This constitutes the basic building blocks for sustainability within the industry.
The most sustainable choice no longer being a sacrifice, but the one that makes business and professional sense
The marine tourism industry is changing, and those wanting to be ahead of the game need to get on board. The change will result in the most sustainable choice no longer being a sacrifice, but the one that makes business and professional sense. Dive and snorkel industry partners and government agencies in some of the most thriving tourist destinations are using the Green Fins learning and outreach tools to apply best industry practice. Today almost 500 dive and snorkel businesses across Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Philippines and Vietnam are leading the charge and applying Green Fins to support consistent improvement in environmental business practices.
In response to the demand, expansion to Singapore, Sri Lanka and Palau is underway, and plans for replication in the Caribbean and Mediterranean are in progress. Education and communication materials are also available in Chinese, Japanese and Korean, to ensure best practice and guidance is widely available to these growing segments of the market.
If Green Fins is available in your area, then sign up for free. If it is not available in your area then consider adopting and applying the code of conduct and guidelines within your business independently by following the dive and snorkel centre handbook.
Joining the Green Fins network means joining the only international sustainable diving and snorkelling programme, recognised by divers and leading authorities as a program which is doing exactly what it says on the tin … Greening the industry’s Fins!
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