By Samantha Craven, The Reef-World Foundation
Ocean pollution is continuing to make waves as the world come to grips with scale of the plastic pollution problem. News reports show a whale washed up on a beach with a stomach full of plastic bags, a tide of trash, or a beach strewn with plastic waste.
Yet our oceans are so vast and deep that the true impact of plastic pollution is rarely seen.
Only one group of people has witnessed the slow-motion build-up of marine litter up close and in person over the past few decades.
Divers have seen first-hand the transition from a plastic bag here or there on a reef to the plastic Armageddon facing ocean life today.
But the diving industry is not sitting on their fins. Through a joint programme between UN Environment and the Reef-World Foundation, the Green Fins initiative is working to bring governments and diving businesses together to beat plastic pollution and limit the environmental impact of diving.
Thousands of businesses make up the diving industry. Their primary economic asset is the incomparable underwater environment. Millions of customers who dive and snorkel do so to reconnect with nature and witness incredible landscapes and wildlife. There is a clear financial and personal motivation to be proactive in maintaining healthy, vibrant marine environments.
Green Fins approaches this challenge by offering membership to dive and snorkel operators that follow a 15-point code of conduct above and below the water. Government staff are trained to assess a business’s compliance with the code of conduct. Green Fins members have access to an extensive suite of tools to help their staff and customers adopt more responsible routines. Several posters target marine pollution issues, and the recently released how-to videos walk you step-by-step through best garbage management practices in dive shops and on boats.
“Diving is one of the most proactive industries on marine debris, because it’s is aware of where it makes its money,” said Matt Reed of Evolution Dive Resort, a Green Fins Top 10 member. “If we don't care for the marine environment, then it will not last and our industry will suffer. And in addition to that, it's just not nice to see debris when we are diving.”
Over 500 Green Fins members across eight different countries are taking concrete steps to reducing their environmental impact. One membership requirement necessitates the operator provide adequate garbage facilities and deal with waste responsibly throughout their operation, from the shop to the boat and back again. Another point in the code of conduct pushes the member to conduct regular underwater or beach clean ups with their guests or community members and to record and submit the data of trash collected. This allows international bodies like the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Clean Up to collect global information and create better management practices.
Each country, each dive shop and each boat are different, but all experience common trash management challenges. While the Green Fins assessments are a great tool to highlight the daily environmental challenges of a dive business, changing habits doesn’t happen overnight. Exposure to these best practices is still vital, though.
Megan O’Beirne, Sustainability Manager at Six Senses Laamu, another Green Fins member, put it this way, “Divers and snorkelers who are exposed to the Green Fins materials are inherently more environmentally conscious and aware of the issues of ocean pollution than those that are not. It is our hope that all guests that visit Six Senses Laamu, will come away from their holiday with a greater knowledge of the marine environment and the tools to tackle the problem of ocean pollution in their everyday lives.”
Green Fins members are proving that offering sustainable services need not affect the bottom line, and that if an industry decides together to break the status quo the effect can be monumental. The down-to-earth (or sea) small business owners and staff are becoming ambassadors for change and role models for sustainable tourism. After all, clean seas keep customers coming back.
8 June is World Oceans Day. Learn more about UN Environment's work to protect our oceans and seas.