The world is at a standstill to flatten the COVID-19 curve, a pause that has been especially devastating to the travel industry.
But for some marine tourism operators in Indonesia and Malaysia, the lockdown has inspired new innovations.
The picturesque Ceningan Divers Resort in Bali, Indonesia—though closed for guests since March 19—has set up an online education portal featuring conservation workshops to help people learn about the underwater world from home. The classes cover a range of topics, from marine life to coral reef conservation, and many are free
“As a small business affected by the current situation, we saw an opportunity to provide people something unique that they can access from their homes while promoting our passion for conservation and supporting our 24 staff,” said Robert Scales, the Director and Co-Founder of Ceningan Divers.
Faced with a funding crunch due to reduced tourism, the multi-award-winning resort set up a GoGetFunding campaign to support their staff to buy food and essential services for their families. So far over $6,500 has been raised. Those who donate $50 or more can access all Ceningan’s educational workshops for free.
“It’s a thank you from us to them, which also benefits the environment,” said Scales.
Ceningan Divers is a member of the Green Fins initiative – and is ranked as one of their Top 10 Dive Operators. Green Fins, led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and The Reef-World Foundation, aims to protect coral reefs through environmentally friendly guidelines that promote a sustainable diving and snorkeling industry.
Chloe Harvey, Director of the Reef-World Foundation, said several Green Fins operators remain committed to sustainability despite the crisis.
“This is an incredibly tough time for the diving and snorkeling industry. But, as the United Nations World Tourism Organization says, ‘To stay home today is to travel tomorrow.’ As a network we need to weather this storm together. Resilience is key for the sector.”
The underwater world faces threats, such as pollution and increasingly acidic seas, that imperil coral reefs and many species of marine life. Along with reviewing policies during the lockdown, Harvey recommends Green Fins operators use this time to research suppliers of eco-friendly cleaning products, take online courses on sustainable diving and train staff on new environmental policies.
The Green Fins Operational Handbook, for instance, is a one-stop-shop of information for dive and snorkel operators who are reviewing their sustainability policies. Usually priced at £20 ($25), Reef-World has waived the fee during the pandemic and is instead asking operators to pay what they can to access this resource.
“Businesses could even develop a marketing push to showcase their dedication to protecting the environment as a way of attracting eco-minded customers who might be researching post-lockdown holiday options,” said Harvey.
Scuba Junkie Mabul in Malaysia – another Green Fins Top 10 member – is one such business that cannot wait for the world to open up.
During the lockdown, the company built a new jetty and repaired its dive shop. The jetty was built with extreme care in order to avoid damaging nearby coral. Any hard corals, like slipper coral, were relocated prior to construction. The new jetty area will also (for the first time) have toilets, honoring Scuba Junkie’s policy of zero efflux into the ocean.
The company also manages a WhatsApp group, whose members include representatives from local government and other dive centres on the island, where they discuss marine conservation issues during the lockdown.
Safe diving in the times of COVID-19
With the pandemic raging on, divers are raising concerns about disease transmission through rented dive equipment like mouthpieces, snorkels and masks.
The main challenge for dive operations at the moment is adapting to new rules on disinfecting equipment from the Divers Alert Network, an association of recreational divers. “For an operation of our size, disinfecting all the equipment would require four bottles of bleach each day,” said Catherine McCann, one of Scuba Junkie’s Conservation Managers.
The chemicals would need to be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way, something that the resort can now do with the new sewer system on the jetty, where the equipment is washed.
Reef-World has also launched the Green Fins Guidelines for Environmental Best Practice for Chemical Cleaning Agents to help dive and snorkel operators deal with chemical waste.
Building Back Better
Along with building the new jetty during lockdown, Scuba Junkie also released 930 green turtle hatchlings and launched online talks to educate students around the world about marine conservation.
“The lockdown allowed us to do things differently and to reach out to people in a different way,” said McCann. “It gave the dive industry a chance to stop and rethink our practices so that when tourism picks up again, it’s not back to normal, but back to better.”