Protecting the Reef
Currently an estimated 1 million new divers are certified each year with millions more snorkelling worldwide on coral reefs. While well-managed tourism can present an economic opportunity, expansion of global coral reef tourism has resulted in growing concern about associated environmental impacts.
Who is The Reef-World Foundation?
The Reef-World Foundation is a UK-registered charity which operates internationally to inspire, empower and support governments, businesses, communities and individuals to protect the marine environment; in particular, coral reefs and related ecosystems.
Founded in 1999, the charity’s vision is to preserve coral reefs around the world by making sustainable diving and snorkelling the social norm. It does this through Green Fins, an initiative which aims to protect and conserve coral reefs by driving environmentally friendly scuba diving and snorkelling practices across the industry globally.
Green Fins encourages and empowers members of the diving industry to act to reduce the pressures on coral reefs. It does this by offering dive and snorkel companies practical, low-cost alternatives to harmful practices both above and below the water – such as anchoring, fish feeding and chemical pollution. These recommendations are made to each individual member, based on a robust environmental assessment, and strategic training, support and resources are also provided to help operators in their sustainability journey. By reducing the local direct and indirect pressures tourism puts on coral reefs, it helps make corals healthier and more resilient to other stresses such as the effects of climate change. What’s more, by educating and empowering travel operators to use alternatives to unsustainable practices, we can develop a sustainable tourism industry and protect local marine habitats. Active members are listed on Green Fins’ website so tourists can pro-actively choose environmentally responsible options.
What can we do as divers?
Coral reefs are threatened by several direct and indirect impacts caused by irresponsible snorkelling and diving practices; higher levels of coral disease and lower hard coral cover have been reported on intensively dived reefs. Since reefs are facing increasingly severe climate change impacts, reducing direct local threats is critical to make them more resilient.
The Green Fins Code of Conduct provides the only internationally recognised environmental standards for scuba diving and snorkelling. By following these simple guidelines when scuba diving or snorkelling, you can be sure you’re protecting the beautiful coral reefs you’re visiting:
Don’t step on coral
Divers and snorkellers can easily break coral with their feet or fins, which can cause injury and even kill reefs.
Don’t touch or chase marine life
This can lead to stressed and scared animals that will swim away, ruining your encounter and leaving nothing for you to see.
Don’t stir the sediment
Careless divers and swimmers who stir up the sand can cause damage and can spread disease on reefs.
Don’t take marine life – dead or alive
Removing species that would normally break down and be recycled into the sea leaves other animals without nutrients and elements they need for growth. It might even be illegal in some locations! Even empty shells on the beach play an important role in the wider ecosystem. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bubbles.
Don’t buy souvenirs made of shell, coral or other marine life
Similarly, the sale of corals and other marine life has a seriously negative impact on the ocean by removing vital marine life from the ecosystem. So, please don’t drive this industry by buying coral and shell souvenirs or jewellery.
Wearing gloves underwater can give you a false sense of security and encourage you to touch things underwater, which can hurt you and damage marine life.
Don’t feed the fish
This can make fish sick or aggressive, causing them to attack and injure humans. Fed fish are also more likely to leave their nests empty and vulnerable to predators. This includes throwing food scraps overboard if you’ve been having lunch on the boat so be sure to bring any leftovers back to sure for proper disposal.
Throwing trash in the ocean kills marine life, poisons seafood and can cause injury – minimise your use of single-use plastics and recycle or dispose of your litter properly. You can also pick up any litter you see in the ocean or on the beach.
Do not support shark finning
People will travel thousands of miles to see sharks in the wild, supporting entire tourism industries. Sharks are worth more alive than dead – do not support this brutal industry.
Wear reef-safe sunscreen
Some chemical components in sunscreen – including Oxybenzone and Octinoxate – may have a negative impact on coral reefs. Help protect coral from harmful chemicals by using alternatives which are reef-safe and covering up with clothing when in strong sunshine.
Report environmental violations
If you see any destructive practices or violations of environmental laws, tell your dive guide, dive operator or government officials. By informing key authorities, you are being part of the solution as your actions can lead to appropriate action.
Participate in conservation projects
By taking part in conservation projects, you can have a positive effect on the environment.
Green Fins is currently active in the following 11 countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Maldives, Palau, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The initiative is launching in another new country very soon – watch this space!
Reef-World is also working on supporting dive professionals who are not located in active Green Fins countries. That’s why the charity partnered with Professional Scuba Schools International (PSS) to develop the new Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course; the only course which teaches dive professionals how to prevent diving-related damage to coral reefs by following the highest environmental standards.
The Reef-World Foundation leads the global implementation of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative, which focuses on driving environmentally friendly scuba diving and snorkelling practices across the industry globally. To keep up with our latest news and developments, please follow Reef-World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You can also follow the Green Fins initiative on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date with new materials, updates and sustainability insights from Green Fins members.
Images by: Martin Colognoli,Yen-Yi Lee, Cinzia Asele Bismark, Coral Reef Image Bank