What if you can combine travel, adventure and working for a cause? My first two months with Reef-World!

What if you can combine travel, adventure and working for a cause? My first two months with Reef-World!

Second day at the new job and I was diving in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Isn’t it amazing to be diving at the very beginning of a new job?! After seven days, I got certified as Rescue Diver. I never imagined I be diving with a job, and I also did not expect to realise my dream so soon, to live in Asia and travel while working for a cause I believe in.

Photo on the top left was taken in Apo island, Philippines. Photo on right was taken in Dauin, Philippines during my rescue diver course. The photo below was taken in Dauin, Philippines during some of the adventure dives we did. Photo credit: Bernd Zomerdijk

Photo on the top left was taken in Apo island, Philippines. Photo on right was taken in Dauin, Philippines during my rescue diver course.

The photo below was taken in Dauin, Philippines during some of the adventure dives we did. Photo credit: Bernd Zomerdijk

It was during the diving within the first weeks, that I also discovered a lot of the challenges with the diving industry, the dive tourism and its effect on coral reefs and related ecosystems, from destructive anchoring, stepping on fragile coral, damaging coral reefs with equipment to disturbing and affecting the marine life, etc. And did you know that some coral such as the honeycomb coral take 20 months to grow one centimetre? Looking at the different boats, the different dive tours, the snorkelers, I came to realise the scale of the problem. I was in paradise, I was enjoying, but I also was aware this paradise might not continue existing in such beautiful form and shape in future.

Leaving Apo island, Philippines after a day of diving

Leaving Apo island, Philippines after a day of diving

It did not take me long to get the link between what Reef-World does through the core program Green Fins and Climate change, a grand challenge I am working on for several years as a climate speaker and advocate. Protecting and conserving the coral reefs and related ecosystems, through sustainable dive operations, can prepare them to fight the ‘wicked’ climate change challenges.

I was also stunned by the work the small and motivated team of Reef-World is performing in bringing policy, businesses and communities together. The team is working directly with local communities, local and national governments, influencing policy and identifying clear solutions to local problems, and even helping countries to meet specific targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. On the other side, the team has a broad global perspective and understanding of marine conservation, and has developed strong relationship with UN Environment and other relevant stakeholders, with the aim to to protect our precious oceans and the marine life thriving in them.

A photo of the team together with the local community in Panglao, Philippines during a Green Fins training

A photo of the team together with the local community in Panglao, Philippines during a Green Fins training

I witnessed the different links of relationships and the value people see in the core program Green Fins, through visiting dive businesses in Negros Oriental and Panglao, Philippines, through participating in a training with the Philippines government where national actions where agreed, and currently I am in touch with UN Environment to work on strategic development of the organisation.

Photo of the Malaysian community, after being trained as Green Fins assessors

Photo of the Malaysian community, after being trained as Green Fins assessors

Now more than ever, the oceans need protection, and I’m motivated and grateful to be able to ride the journey. This is a unique opportunity to go deeper into marine conservation, explore Asia and everything it has to offer, explore the underwater world through diving and simply live a unique, exiciting and sustainable life.

Gifts from paradise!

Gifts from paradise!

Over the past few weeks, I got to experience a side of Reef-World that I’ve never seen before, one that embodies the ever-present ‘inspire and empower’ of the Reef-World mission statement. It was my first time being part of Green Fins implementation on a national level, it gave me a different perspective of the work that we do and a bigger, more international, scope to the reach we have as such a small numbered team.

With the guidance of JJ and Sam, I was part of the Green Fins Assessor Training in “Pristine Paradise Palau’, the first Green Fins country in the Pacific AND the 8th active Green Fins country! Before the trip to Palau, I assisted Sam in a training for the Philippines’ government and, once we came back from the pristine paradise, I got the chance to participate as a guest speaker on SSI’s event Free Dive for the Future, which took place in Mactan, Cebu, Philippines.

Traveling around to inspire and empower!

Traveling around to inspire and empower!

Over about three weeks, I interacted with three very different and important audiences that Green Fins reaches out to: national level teams (Palau and Philippines), the diving industry (Palau) and dive tourists (Mactan). You can see how being the Coordinator of communications for Green Fins can be complex sometimes! But it just shows the reach and amplitude of the initiative, there are so many different ways and channels that we can use in order to change perceptions toward a more sustainable and conscious interaction with the marine environment.

The Milky Way is famous tourist attraction for snorkel tours in Palau. Bottom right, me and Marley during a snorkel assessment. 

The Milky Way is famous tourist attraction for snorkel tours in Palau. Bottom right, me and Marley during a snorkel assessment. 

It was eye-opening. While doing one of the snorkel assessments in Palau, with local Assessor Marley Kloulubak, I realized I was in the middle of the Pacific on a boat with 10 Chinese tourists, 1 Bangladeshi boat crew, 1 Filipino boat crew, 2 Palauans and me, a Costa Rican; all sharing one experience for many different reasons. There and then I could see it so clearly, the complete supply and demand chain within the tourism industry. For whatever reason each one of us was there for, it was all directly influenced by the healthy state of coral reefs, and the marine environment.

The diving and snorkelling tourism industry directly depend on healthy oceans, and it is through these experiences that we at Reef-World have the chance to make a change. Experiences that give light to that flame inside, and remind us of why we work so hard every day!  

What inspires you to go that extra inch for conservation?

What inspires you to go that extra inch for conservation?

If you were to ask me who my hero’s in life were, I would have a tough time answering. I have different people that I respect for their contributions to the world of conservation and the obvious always spring to mind; David Attenburgh, Sylvia Earle, the entire Cousteau family, Ove Hoegh-Guldburgh, Callum Roberts, Charlie Veron. They are all people that would not have made me the conservationist I am today. Their teachings and works are truly inspirational. And although these people, among others have had a huge impact on my career direction, it is often in other places that I find motivation on a day to day basis. In this way, I suppose a few of my biggest inspirations are NFL Coach Marty Schottenheimer, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, and Winnie the Pooh. Now that sounds odd, even to me, but let me explain.

I have always been a sucker for a good motivational speaker. During my university rowing days, I would always listen to the Al Pacino ‘Inches’ speech from Any Given Sunday to get me into that fighting mode on race day, activating the Adrenalin. Even after having watched it many times, it can still make my neck hairs stand on end. “We can stay here and get the sh!t kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light, we can climb outta hell, one inch at a time.” “Life is a game of inches” he says. Recently I was rereading the Tao of Pooh. It’s a funny little book that tries (very successfully) to explain Taoist teachings through Winnie the Pooh. The author, Benjamin Hoff, explains that when he first started to write the book, many people exclaimed that it was “preposterous” and “where would you even begin?” To which he replied, “A thousand-mile journey starts with one step.”

Now individually, one would never really think to pair a film about American Football with Winnie the Pooh and Taoism and yet those two quotes go so well together. Basically, “start at the very beginning, and take it one inch at a time.”

All you have to do is start at the very beginning and take it once inch at a time

All you have to do is start at the very beginning and take it once inch at a time

So let’s apply that to conservation.

It is becoming truer every day that there is plenty to do to reduce the impact that humans are having on the environment but while working for The Reef-World Foundation we are trying to protect coral reefs by encouraging dive and snorkel operators to follow a code of conduct. Despite it being a proven way to minimise the risk of environmental damage, I work with naysayers, people with motivation but ultimately low capacity to change, people lacking motivation but with high capacity to change and those who go all out to ensure that their environmental conscience is clear, regardless of the actions of others. With each stakeholder, and each task, I start at the beginning and take it one inch at a time

And sometimes it gets too much. Every now and again it is nice to work with people who share in your mission to better deal with those people who seem determined to oppose everything you know is scientific fact. And in this way, ignorance truly is bliss. The most motivated people I work with are often also the people who are having their water pipes dug up for being an ‘environmental activist’ or going to bed at night feeling their efforts are just too small a drop in the ocean. These “enlightened ones” are often the people who are unhappy with the current global/local situation while the naysayers continue in their blissful ignorance.

How hard are you prepared to fight to leave your mark on the world?

How hard are you prepared to fight to leave your mark on the world?

So really it comes down to two camps. Are you motivated to change, or are you living in ignorance? In the Shawshank Redemption, Andy DeFresne says to Red, “You either get busy living or get busy dying”. In the warped way my mind makes connections, to me, that means, you either get busy trying to make the world a better place or you end up being part of the problem. And for my final motivation, I refer to The Old Man and the Sea by Ernst Hemmingway. It doesn’t matter what other people think of you, it is about getting up and fighting for what you believe in till the very end. There will always be people trying take away the things you fight hardest for, but the only thing that matters is how hard you are willing to fight back (in the book, its sharks fighting the old man for his hard-earned fishing catch).

And once all is said and done, rest well, because tomorrow is another day!

PS. Actually, having rewatched that Al Pacino Speech about 5 more times, just go ahead and watch the whole thing, right now. And be part of the team that fights for that inch

Don't forget your roots

Don't forget your roots

Over the years I’ve worked for Reef-World, I have heard the stories of the “birth” of Green Fins at Phuket Marine Biological Centre in Thailand. In 2004, as a new UN Environment initiative, Green Fins was first implemented through PMBC whose dedicated staff, in collaboration with Reef-World founder Anne Paranjoti (nee Miller) starting spreading the 15-point code of conduct around the local diving industry. 

PMBC from the sea.

PMBC from the sea.

 

In 2008, our managers Chloe and JJ knocked on the door of PMBC looking for voluntary work experience. Their passion was soon harnessed to work on the Green Fins programme. The rest is history. History that I have taught to numerous volunteers through our sister company Zoox. History that I see shaping every decision we at Reef-World make. The very foundation, the ethos of Green Fins was born at PMBC. 

 

The legacy from Anne and Khun Niphon Phongsuwan and Aey Suptuchong to name a few saturates my daily work life. Naturally, I was delighted to head over to Phuket last May with JJ to train a whole new team of Green Fins Assessors. I’ve always loved to see history brought to life and it was heart warming to visit Chloe and JJ’s old office, see the old faded Green Fins stickers on the tables and meet the people I’ve only seen in the depths of our photo library. Those stickers have formed the basis of Jula’s recent branding overhaul. Those people taught Chloe and JJ the lessons they now teach us. It felt like a full circle. 

The newly trained Green Fins Thailand team with JJ and myself.

The newly trained Green Fins Thailand team with JJ and myself.

 

To top it off, it was a real pleasure to work with the new Assessor team, nine passionate conservationists (and a cat) from DMCR, GVI Thailand, North Andaman Network Foundation and independent researchers. The experience many had from years of conducting Green Fins awareness raising activities translated easily into the assessment process and it was a quite incredible to witness the respect that the marine tourism industry stakeholders have for them. 

Tourists lining up in Ao Chalong for day trips to nearby islands. Up to 1000 people a day in high season.

Tourists lining up in Ao Chalong for day trips to nearby islands. Up to 1000 people a day in high season.

 

The Phuket tourism industry is overwhelming, and that was only seeing it at low season. However, the warm reception Green Fins got from the shops we worked with was incredible. It won’t be like that every assessment the team does, it never is, but to know that there are business owners out there that appreciate the chance to streamline sustainable practices into their every day practices is inspiring. 

 

We’re all looking forward to seeing the plans of the Thailand team come to life and even more active Green Fins members added to the growing network. 

Newly trained Green Fins Assessors Maw and Kaew deliver the GF Awareness Raising presentation to senior management of a snorkel tour company.

Newly trained Green Fins Assessors Maw and Kaew deliver the GF Awareness Raising presentation to senior management of a snorkel tour company.

Breaking Barriers with Green Fins

Breaking Barriers with Green Fins

Working on the Green Fins initiative means working closely with the diving and snorkelling community. Over the last two years, I have been privileged enough to meet some of the industry's strongest forces for coral reef protection. Whether it's the Green Fins Ambassadors - local dive guides going the extra mile to promote sustainable diving practices - or dive shop managers working alongside government to achieve their mutual conservation goals.

Green Fins Ambassadors of Panglao, Philippines

Green Fins Ambassadors of Panglao, Philippines

These individuals come from all walks of life: mothers and fathers, twenty-somethings and fifty-somethings, Filipino and Chinese, experienced divers and even newly qualified divers. But they all have one thing in common. They love the ocean. They'll do everything they can to fight for the survival of coral reefs.

One way in which Reef-World are working to help these inspirational people is by breaking barriers throughout the industry. Recently, so many instructors and dive guides have expressed their concerns about the growing number of new divers visiting them from China. I have heard story after story about divers that don't know how to control their buoyancy, divers that have been certified without even entering the ocean, and divers that just want to touch e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.

Chinese divers are becoming burdened with the stigma of being terrible divers before they've even set foot in a dive shop. It's a sheer numbers game. In 2017, visitors from North East Asia accounted for 65% of all people travelling to the Asia pacific! That's a huge majority but such growth only really began in the last 4 or 5 years. That volume of people learning a completely new sport - diving - in a completely new environment - underwater - that quickly is bound to lead to problems.

Asia Pacific Visitor Forecast 2017-2021, Source: PATA

Asia Pacific Visitor Forecast 2017-2021, Source: PATA

Again and again the industry has identified language barriers as the biggest hurdle to helping these new divers learn about sustainable diving and coral reef protection. That's why we at Reef-World have really pushed to translate all of the Green Fins materials into Simplified and Traditional Chinese (as well as Japanese and Korean!). By using these materials, dive guides and instructors can break the language barrier between themselves and their divers. They are able to show them exactly how all divers should behave underwater to ensure the future survival of the animals they love.

There's still a lot more work ahead for the entire diving and snorkelling community but this is definitely a fin forwards in the right direction! Check out all of the newly translated Green Fins materials promoting environmentally friendly diving and snorkelling here: http://greenfins.net/en/Posters

Some of the Green Fins Materials

Some of the Green Fins Materials

Green Fins How-to-videos, behind the scenes

Green Fins How-to-videos, behind the scenes

At Reef-World we are constantly trying to figure out the best ways to help the diving industry reach sustainability. We do this by providing solutions and tools that aim to make the task as easy as possible. From posters, e-books, briefing cards, presentations and now videos!

The first two  Green Fins How-to-videos have been released on all Green Fins’ social media platforms, the rest will be published one per month for 9 months! After several months of planning, production and hard work, we are all looking forward to witnessing how they will be received by the diving community. They were created with the purpose of sharing ideas gathered in the field, over more than 10 years, and encouraging others to get involved in the ‘green movement’ to protect the oceans that we love so much.

I was assigned the task of producing the How-to-videos, during that time I was a director, writer, and producer, many roles I never thought I would be able to do! It was daunting at the beginning, but then working for a small NGO poses incredible challenges, taking you out of your comfort zone in ways that make you grow in a personal and professional way. These videos were definitely a big challenge with a big learning curve, that now I can humbly say I overcame.

But this wasn’t done on my own, definitely not! There were a countless number of people involved, which we at Reef-World, truly thank. I personally appreciated having the opportunity of working with professionals in the field of video production, sharing with me all their knowledge and being open to absorb the Green Fins philosophy. Projects like this provide the opportunity to influence others, to share passions and to immerse yourself in many different areas of expertise.

One of my favourite aspects of working with an initiative such as Green Fins is that all the knowledge and tools are shared. That is the only way we can ALL really achieve a more sustainable future.

Here, is the newly released video ‘How-to Manage Underwater Photographers’, I hope you enjoy it and find it useful! And if not, feel free to contact us at info@greenfins.net.

Reef DependenSEA

Reef DependenSEA

Right now, my colleague Sam is travelling around the Philippines and Malaysia with a film crew gaining an insight into the various perceptions of coral reef value among the full range of coral reef and dive tourism stakeholders. This is a way for individuals to really reflect on their relationship and dependence on reef ecosystems and the actions taken to protect them, the benefits arising from good reef management and how Green Fins can help to reduce reef impacts.

To help ignite the passion for commitment to change I thought I would answer some of the questions as a marine conservation professional to give insight from this perspective!

My relationship with the ocean and coral reefs began through the aquarium trade when I had a small tropical fish tank. From there I learnt a lot about aquariums with my interest then expanding to the natural habitat of these fish. Over the years my ocean relationship has varied between running Sea Green School programmes and becoming one of the first Sea Green School Leaders with the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, to teaching international and local volunteers to conduct Philippine ReefCheck surveys. Currently, working for Reef-World, my main role is to conduct Green Fins assessments for members across the Philippines, Maldives and Vietnam.

The biggest benefit I get from the reef is doing a job that I consider a hobby, and not work. It allows me to earn a small income, do a generous amount of SCUBA diving (mixed in with a lot of time sat behind a desk too), and do a small amount of world travel. These are all things that are also really important to me. Without coral reefs, I probably would have become a police officer! Even while studying for my MSc Conservation and Protected Area Management I was considering working in the police.

Walking the beat and carrying my dive kit back from assessment on on of the less sandy roads of Malapascua

Walking the beat and carrying my dive kit back from assessment on on of the less sandy roads of Malapascua

Instead of walking the beat, I now do the Green Fins beach trudge. They’re similar except I walk along (mostly) sandy beaches, speaking to members, recruiting new ones, hearing about the daily life within the diving industry and trying to develop new solutions for coral reef management efforts. Using the Green Fins code of conduct this can range from overseeing the development of oil disposal policies to giving briefing workshops to educate dive guides to protect their reefs from poor diving behaviour.

This has also provided me with a platform on which to do scientific research. Monitoring the underwater behaviours of divers has led to the better communication of environmental standards to the diving industry. I am now also attempting to measure the social impact Green Fins is having within dive tourism, specifically looking at the change in attitudes, opinions and beliefs of guides and tourists alike.

Its picture time after a member requested an environmental briefing workshop to help them communicate environmental standards to their guests.

Its picture time after a member requested an environmental briefing workshop to help them communicate environmental standards to their guests.

As a result of Green Fins implementation, I see governments that are more in touch with their dive tourism stakeholders, but also more passionate and empowered stakeholders who are willing to do whatever it takes (or at least make small changes) to ensure they are minimising their environmental impact.

Many of the predictions for the future of coral reefs sound bad but in the Philippines, despite predictions, there has been hardly any bleaching over the past 2 years. This means there is something larger at work in this area which is keeping the reefs healthy. By ensuring that we, as humans, are making responsible choices in life and for the reefs, we can ensure that they remain able to fight off global stress. By refusing plastic straws, using canvas bags to hold shopping, and not touching the reef, we make the reef that little bit more able to survive, a little bit longer. The longer the reefs survive the longer the benefits are sustained. It’s common sense!

The beast that has been, 2016

The beast that has been, 2016

I think it's safe to say that 2016 has been an ... interesting year. The internet is flooded with 'worst year ever' sentiments and memes, and there has been no escape from the media frenzy on the ups and (mostly) downs of global politics. Several people I know have had challenging years personally, and we have lost some of the great voices in our global culture (R.I.P. Snape, Willy Wonka, Major Tom etc). 

Unsurprisingly, it's also been the hottest year on record. Again. (See some brilliant climate graphics here). I learnt the terrifying fact that "if you are 30 years old or younger, there has not been a single month in your entire life that was colder than average." This year also saw the bulk of the 3rd, and longest running, global coral bleaching event, with some countries seeing up to 74% of it's reefs bleached. The predictions for reef health over the next 30-50 year are, honestly, bad enough to entertain the "why bother" thoughts. 

All the global temperature observations for 1850-2016 mapped in a single figure. Can you see a trend? By Ed Hawkins

This feeling of hopelessness, whilst more acute this year than ever, is not new. Not to me, nor to the vast majority of people working in conservation. I remember sitting in my Marine Pollution module during my Masters thinking....we really can't do anything that doesn't have a negative impact on the environment. We are too many, too greedy, too short-sighted. But here I am, still working in conservation 10 years (has it really been that long!) later. And so I'm sure we'll get through this year and whatever 2017 has to throw at us. 

Working in conservation requires this delicate balance of naiveté (things will get better, won't they?) and thick skin (to stave off all the hopelessness). It requires you to absorb the lows and use them to propel you and your cause upwards, and forwards. You have got to celebrate the successes. You have got to stop and appreciate the progress, even if it is only a tiny step for mankind.  Even if it's not enough yet. Because the crime, the real savagery, is to accept the status quo. To not act. And none of us are in this to 'lie back and think of England'. 

In that vein, let us consider my top three: 

  • We made it to the Paris Agreement. Ok, so it was made in 2015, but this year it 'entered into force', at literally record speed. You will have read how it's not enough, it's too vague, it took too long, countries still have to follow through - all valid points - but on this hottest year ever, the global community has listened to science and taken a stand. We didn't, and won't, give up. That is no small thing. 
  • More than 5% of the ocean is now protected. For the first time ever. Considering that countries started promising measures of protection in 1992, and in 2012 when I joined Reef-World the figure stood at 1%, this is pretty incredible. Plus there's all the super cool technology they are using that is speeding things up even more. 
  • #CITES4SharksAfter being under-represented for decades, we saw, for the second COP running, a majority consensus to protect highly vulnerable sharks and rays despite heavy lobbying from “the other side”. Three thresher shark species, nine mobula ray species and the silky shark (and the Nautilus - not a shark, but as cool) were voted in a nail-biting vote that doubled the percentage of sharks threatened by the fin trade whose trade is now regulated internationally. 

[Read more happy ocean news]

New kids on the block

New kids on the block

Closer to home, we at Reef-World had an exhilarating, exhausting, exciting, remarkable year. Welcoming Charlie and Jula as full time staff, plus Lui for his 6-month internship, our growing family sprinted through 2016. The highs and lows, joy and tears, sweat and sea water all culminated in amazing conservation outcomes. 

  • Green Fins Assessor training -  17 government and NGO staff to be Green Fins assessors from three different countries have undergone our 6-day training programme to work as Green Fins to champion sustainable tourism in partnership with the diving industry.
  •  Green Fins Toolbox - A huge amount of this year was dedicated to launching the Green Fins Toolbox, a cumulation of 10 years of lessons on sustainable marine tourism for dive centres, divers, governments and NGOs. Check it out here
  • Updating the Green Fins Toolbox - Not ones to rest, we then trekked the beach fronts of many a diving location to consult with the industry and tourists and off the back of this, we are in the process of designing new materials and translations to meet the challenges of various growing tourism markets. Watch this space! 
  • Green Fins How-to-Videos - To complement some of the ... tools in the Toolbox... we are filming a whole set of environmental best practice how-to-videos for the diving and snorkeling industry. Another watch this space! 
  • The Green Fins website got a makeover, mostly the boring fiddly stuff behind the scenes in the database used to monitor the improvement we've seen this year in Green Fins members environmental practices around the world. 
  • Green Fins implementation - This year we worked directly in 8 different sites across the active Green Fins countries, conducted 250 assessments, trained over 900 dive and snorkel staff, released over 100 media releases/ articles, ran booths at three dive expos, presented at three international conferences, and wrote one bajillion emails and reports. Try saying that in just one breath. 
  • I just want to take a minute to mention how much more has been done by the Green Fins teams across the 6 countries - thank you to everyone for your tireless work. 
Green Fins assessors in the same place for the first time! Warm and fuzzies all around. 

Green Fins assessors in the same place for the first time! Warm and fuzzies all around. 

A major personal highlight for me was doing the Kinship Conservation Fellowship making 17 new life-long friends and talented conservation practitioners. Not only did this experience teach me a whole suite of new conservation tools and attitudes, but reminded me that there are so many passionate, dedicated individuals out there all working towards the same goal. 

So I step into 2017 refreshed and raring to go, determined to stay positive in the face of political upheaval and terrifying changes in climate. The world ebbs and flows to a dance that goes on for far longer than our lifespans, and if we want to drive a more sustainable world, we only have one choice. 

Just keep swimming. 

My internship with Reef-World

My internship with Reef-World

Having worked to implement Green Fins in dive centres I worked in, in Vietnam I was keen to get more involved with it. So, as I arrived in Philippines I came to meet the Reef-World team and was offered an internship.

 

At first the change from working by the beach in a pair of shorts to being back in an office felt so strange. I felt myself thinking ‘I’m hot, I should take my T-shirt off… Can I do that in an office?… hmm I guess not!’ Soon I was digging deep into research papers; conducting dive centre assessments and training; managing social media campaigns; researching sunscreens, greener cleaning recipes and septic tanks; having meetings with local government; writing news pieces and contributing my knowledge gained as a diving instructor. I even had the pleasure of visiting 3 municipal waste sites; I’ll never forget the look on Jula’s face when we were confronted with a wriggling sea of maggots!

A real highlight for me was to be invited to an expo in Xiamen, China to run a Green Fins Booth and be a guest speaker “Be the Best Diver – the Green Fins way”. The trip to China was an amazing experience; everyone was so lovely and welcoming to us. Event Co-ordinator Angeline, who had been one of my students in Vietnam, gave Charlie and I full VIP treatment. It was also lovely to see how our volunteer translators Emily and Wendy became passionate about Green Fins and gave us their full support. And… the food in Xiamen, so delicious; I’ll never forget that spicy hotpot!

 

Having previously experienced Green Fins from a dive centre perspective, I had never realised how much work goes on behind the scenes to run the programme successfully. Now at the end of my 6 months, having really experienced what Green Fins is and witnessing how it can truly make a difference, I am passionate about taking what I have learnt back to the industry as I return back to my life as a diving instructor.

It’s not all rubbish!

It’s not all rubbish!

Having the pleasure of visiting the rubbish dumps of Dumaguete and Dauin and seen how people hand sort through the rubbish to separate out recycles, I’m now compelled to make sure my rubbish is separated.

Over and over since being in the Philippines, I’ve hear people saying there’s no point separating rubbish out as it all get thrown in the same truck. It is true that it all gets collected in the truck together, but at the other end it is hand sorted. Certainly Dauin and Dumaguete anyway.

Visiting the Dauin dump wasn’t too smelly an affair as they don’t take bio-degradable wastes. It was sad however, to see the staff digging through each rubbish bag and pulling out recyclables by hand. The scrap buyer based at the dump, further hand sorts recyclables to sell in Cebu. The four staff get paid daily salary plus 50% of whatever they make from selling the recyclables (this 50% is also split between the four garbage truck operators). The remaining 50% goes to the Municipality.

Visiting Dumaguete dump was a much smellier experience, as organic waste is collected along with all the other wastes. The landfill recently caught fire and is still smoldering from plastics believed to still be burning deep in the pile. The smell of rotting and smoldering rubbish was a real nasal delight. Imagine having to work there.

Members of the BaCaSA (Balugo Candau-ay Scavengers Association) search for recyclables

Members of the BaCaSA (Balugo Candau-ay Scavengers Association) search for recyclables

Two staff (cover photo) are researching how to up-cycle plastics into other items to educate schools and Barangays how to reduce their landfill waste.

A small amount of bio-degradable waste is composted, if brought separately. 

Biodegradable waste from agriculture and the organic market is collected by MENRO and combined with manure from the slaughterhouse to make soil enhancer.

Biodegradable waste from agriculture and the organic market is collected by MENRO and combined with manure from the slaughterhouse to make soil enhancer.

Unfortunately the City’s separate collections for bio-degradable waste stopped as the trucks broke down and they don’t have the funds to fix them. Now everyone throws their rubbish in together, making the job of the scavengers harder, slower and stinkier.    

On returning to the office I felt we could do more to help. Recycles were already separated out, but waste was still being generated with non-recyclable and food waste. A third bin and a ‘chat’ with the gardener solved this, as he was happy to take raw bio-degradable waste and he could sell recyclables if we separated them. Well done Charlie for getting the message across with basic Vasayan and hand gestures.

Simple: three bins – recycles, bio-degradable and landfill – sorted!

Separating your waste is as easy as 1 - 2 - 3 bins

Separating your waste is as easy as 1 - 2 - 3 bins

Even if all your waste is collected by the same truck, separating it makes the job of the scavengers much easier and efficient and bio-degradable waste can be composted instead of landfilled.

Now our rubbish is sorted and disposed responsibly; I’m working my way through the products used in the office and kitchen, to swap them all for environmentally friendly ones, such as the Clean and Green recipes. If we can use them, so can the dive shops…

Next it’s time to hit the beach: Alona Beach - Green Fins Assessment time, starting Monday...

A year in the reef world

A year in the reef world

 

For how long have you been in the Philippines? I then start counting and realizing that my fingers are not enough anymore; a year has gone past. Twelve months in this beautiful paradise. Life is certainly not easy here, everything requires a bit more effort: from doing laundry, getting to places (!), running errands, everything requires a little bit more from you. Talking Filipino doesn’t only mean learning Visayan; it means learning the special way of saying things - even in English, the face gestures, understanding how their mind works in order to be understood. Life here is a constant adaptation to the people and their very cheerful way of being.

No day is an ordinary day. I can be woken up by a group of goats shouting by my window, trying to sleep with a chorus of frogs singing to the moon or a group of Filipinos singing karaoke! Certainly this story that I am telling is not new for those living outside their comfort zones in countries with very different cultures, so far away from home. We all have to cope with the differences, and particularities of the country we chose to live in. But another factor that we all share in common is the reason or reasons that keeps us here; it might be a job, a conviction, a group of people, or in my case, all of the above!

Although being challenged every day is a constant, it is one of the things that I really appreciate. It just forces me to keep strong and realize that I can do it, that the process of adaptation can be as easy or difficult as you want it to be. Also, being here has showed me how irrelevant the concept of time is; at the end it is more important what you do with the time given. And that is exactly what I most treasure in this on going adventure; the Reef-World team has taken my abilities and not only made me realize, in the most humble way, that they are there; but also make me capable of doing things that I never thought of. In just twelve months they have helped me to grow professionally and personally, helping me to reach new levels of accomplishments in my life. For that and everything else, I will be forever grateful.

 

 

 

My first week...

My first week...

My start was quite an emotional one, as I had started to grow roots in Panglao and had therefore left my new friends behind. Although Panglao and Dumaguete are not far, I couldn’t go directly as I was travelling with my motorbike. I had to travel via Cebu Island and due to mis-information; my journey became a 12hr one! There is however, something satisfying about being able to move house with all your belongings by motorbike.  But, at last I arrived at the meeting point and met Alan, who guided me home.

In 2010, I quit my office job to do masters, which lead on to moving to Vietnam and becoming a dive instructor. I continued this job, working as a freelance instructor on Alona Beach, Bohol, Philippines. Returning to an office based environment 6 years later and having to keep my clothes on all day, was a strange feeling. I still feels strange.

My first week has been mostly absorbing as much information as possible. As I said to the head of Arlene, Coastal and Resources Management.

“Yesterday, was my first day, so I’m not speaking much. Next time we meet I’ll speak more”

On Thursday we conducted a dive centre assessment. One of the first in the Dauin area. It was great to see how our team was so warmly welcomed and how open the dive centre staff were with us. Seeing how the assessment was conducted and how the feedback was well received, gave me confidence that the Green Fins process can really work to help dive centres improve their environmental performance. 

Same Reef-World, different image!

Same Reef-World, different image!

As some of you may have noticed, especially those who have been working with us since the beginning, our brand, website and our beloved logo/icon didn’t change one iota since first designed in 2004. This is not for lack of wanting but rather where this activity came on the list of priorities. Reef-World and the way we operate is very lean and is about spending our time and raised funds to “inspire and empower” key champions such as a respected member of the government or a village elder who is able to bring about change while keeping our overheads low. Our brand recognition has not mattered; it’s been about putting people on the ground where it matters with the tools to empower people to act in conserving and sustainably developing coastal resources, particularly coral reefs and related ecosystems. We do not go for the same approach as other organisations often do where their logo and brand is always very obvious.
 

 

 
 

However, there comes a point when we must at least look like the modern, efficient and effective marine conservation charity that we are and so we have updated our image. A huge part of this is down to the hard work of our new Project Coordinator, Jula, who has been overseeing the Design and Communication aspect of our work since she joined us as an intern in June 2015. This has of course been supported by not only the other staff and the Trustees who oversee the charity but also Anne, the founder of Reef-World who has whole heartily supported the upgrade and provided some very helpful input along the way, so thank you to her and the rest of the team.

I am sure you will all agree, the end result of the new brand and website look great and even better now that we have the blog integrated into the site. Here we will announce news, updates on our programmes of work, successes and insights from our team as they work around the world. We have our Instagram and Twitter also here for easy updates and you can also use the site if you want to Donate directly. 

We would appreciate all feedback, positive and negative so please get in touch.

JJ
Operations Manager

Many more colours than 'just green'

Many more colours than 'just green'

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As time passes by Green Fins keep unveiling its many colours to me; just like a prism, refracting light to those who want to receive it. I can go back in time and remember the way Chloë explained her life adventure with Green Fins, I could see in her eyes the passion behind it and how it easily got in her heart. That was not the only time I perceived this, as I immersed myself within the network and more people came in my way, I could identify that same shimmer in their eyes. It became a constant.

I can proudly say that I am now part of the network of conservationists empowered by the strength and diversity of the initiative. With every experience, a new colour is displayed. Initially working with the ‘sea guardians’, all those people within the diving community who live their lives in direct contact with the sea, the ones that most evidently need healthy oceans. This group of people empowered me and showed me how important is to clearly listen and understand their troubles/ needs in order to make our daily job more valuable.

This year, a new colour emerged. We had the chance to participate in ICRI’s International Tropical Marine Ecosystem Management Symposium, ITMEMS 5. We were there, maybe the youngest group amongst the crowd, ready to impart one of the sessions. It was a big personal challenge, we had a crowd of professionals in marine conservation from all over the world ready to listen what we had to say.

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Fortunately, everything was a success and again it was evident how in just one day the Green Fins philosophy went directly into their hearts. Many of the participants left ready to implement the materials on their locations, talk to national authorities, do whatever needed to get Green Fins to their countries and start working towards a change.

This experience goes beyond the concepts of ‘Bottom-up | Top-down’, it entails human relations, and most importantly human relations with the marine environment. As you dive into the Green Fins initiative, you notice that it is not only ‘greener’ on the other side.

Designing marine conservation

Designing marine conservation

  During my Master’s program I was the subject of constant questioning on how my previous professional development, in design and communications, and my current chosen program, of Sustainable Natural Resource Management, could interact with each other. During the ‘weak’ days it really made me question if I was making the right decision, but certainly, for the majority of times, it just reinforced the reason why I was there.

What took me into this new endeavour was the urge to make a difference. I wanted to develop a career that provided a meaning and an impact. This was just a platform that could help me combine my aptitudes and interests; it didn’t matter if people understood how. Every time they questioned me it just made it clearer for me. I knew that design, communications and creative thinking have a big reach, whether it made “sense” or not.

Determined to transform my work into something that means more, I made the decision. And so, I eventually stumbled upon a Charity that needed me as much as I needed them. That was of course Reef-World, offering me the job that perfectly embodied everything I tried to explain back in UPEACE.

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Life brought me to this fabulous group of professionals that challenge me every single day to become better. And is now my quest, as an official staff member of the team, to create that demand for creative thinking in the niche of conservation whilst bringing that extra asset to the team.

About a year ago, doing research, I stumbled upon a very interesting and assertive article under the title “Five Skills Designers Have That Global Development Needs”. I immediately felt identified, and now I can see the opportunities Reef-World is giving me to further develop my skills. Reef-World works with an amazing platform for empowerment, the Green Fins initiative. It benefits all of those involved, from operations, implementation and the actual network.

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From my perspective I can see how it gives me the opportunity to get close to the people who make it real, understanding them and their needs. The more I immerse myself into the Green Fins initiative, the more I look towards what can be done and improved.

“The key to better policy, better products, and better public services is rooted in understanding of the key players and what motivates them.”

At the same time, by understanding the people, I get the opportunity to create capacity, empowering these people to make a difference and by giving access to tools that will improve their lives. It is very comforting to realize that by enhancing my own skills, I am at the same time improving someone else’s life and while at the same time having a positive impact on the environment.

This experience just re assures that thinking outside the box, being frowned upon, is actually positive when you know you are following your true instincts and beliefs. I now have a big challenge in front of me, looking forward to see how it changes me and those around me.

Malapascua, then and now

Malapascua, then and now

In 2014, I experienced the magic of Malapascua for the first time. I embarked on the 20-hour journey from Southern Leyte with my new life-long friend in hand and a sense of freedom blowing through my hair.

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A bus, an overnight ferry and another bus later, however, I arrived in Maya feeling rather more exhausted and a lot less poetic! By that point, haggling a supposedly “fixed price” ferry to our final destination felt as if Dory was holding me out of the water, bloated belly first, for a flock of seagulls to attack! But once we negotiated our way through the "seagulls" and onto the ferry for an…almost reasonable price, the view upon approach to Malapascua Island made it all worthwhile. After a good night’s rest I was in full dive tourist mode; squeezing in as many dives as possible, overflowing my hard drive with photo after photo of captivating cuttlefish and new nudibranch species. My friends and I wanted to see it all: the giant frogfish, the mating mandarin fish and, of course, the infamous thresher sharks. We were not disappointed! We were lucky enough to dive with a huge number of species that we had never seen before. Species that we had spent months teaching about in Southern Leyte but had never actually seen! It was a wonderful experience and we left the island feeling extremely fortunate.

Thresher shark

Thresher shark

Almost a year later to the day, in 2015, I was given the amazing opportunity to return to Malapascua with Reef-World. It was another incredible trip but some of the changes I noticed in my year away left me feeling anxious about this charismatic island’s future. The magic was most certainly still there: the people were still smiling from ear to ear and the threshers were still as ethereal as ever. But the eyes behind those smiles looked a little strained and the glow of the threshers was being masked by more and more bubbles.

Trash separation on Malapascua Island

Trash separation on Malapascua Island

As an increasing number of tourists visit the tiny, 1km-wide island, pressure begins to mount and the cracks begin to show. Divers descend upon reefs, kicking corals and poking shrimp, and beaches become flooded with trash. Local stakeholders are doing whatever they can to hold back the tide but they are struggling with a load too heavy to bear alone. They need your help.

It is your responsibility to be an environmentally friendly tourist and to choose sustainable tourism options.

Choose the dive centre that doesn’t throw its anchor on coral. Choose the hotel that doesn’t provide you with single-use plastic bottles. Ask your guides and fellow tourists not to touch or harass marine life. And dispose of your waste properly.

Create the demand for sustainable tourism and its prevalence in the industry will grow. Not only will you protect the beautiful environments you have travelled across oceans to see, but you will also give the people you meet there a more secure future.

Sunset on Malapascua Island

Sunset on Malapascua Island

So...what do you do again?

So...what do you do again?

More often than not, returning home to the UK means telling friends and family what I've actually been doing for the last however many months. And when I tell them I've been working in marine conservation in the Philippines I usually get a soft “tut”, a roll of the eyes and a comment about how they wish they could swim with turtles for a living! Sadly that is not my job description…

The view from Malapascua Island lighthouse

The view from Malapascua Island lighthouse

…My job is much, much better! And here's why:

  1. I work for a charity. (So instant feel good selflessness points.)

  2. I help a small team of exceptional individuals run an initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme. (So…I pretty much work for the UN!)

  3. I help the booming diving and snorkelling industry of South East Asia protect the environment rather than exploit it. (Helping save the World one tiny coral at a time)

  4. I have to travel…lots!

  5. I help bridge the communications gap between the private sector and the Government. (I help the people with problems connect with the people who can provide practical solutions.)

  6. I meet and work with passionate individuals from all over the World.

  7. I SCUBA dive!

  8. I’m constantly pushed to think and grow. (The nature of the job is almost obscenely dynamic and diverse!)

  9. And finally, I get to do all of this standing beside the 1 person in the World whom simultaneously makes me feel completely content, yet inspires me to achieve the impossible.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still difficult days. Hell, there are difficult months! There are seemingly endless hours stuck in front of a computer, questioning whether something is even possible!

But the difficulties and the frustrations never outweigh the positives. The take home feeling is always one of satisfaction...of achievement...of passion for my job - for my life!

And that is why I cannot wait for my internship with The Reef-World Foundation to end…and for my job with them to begin!

The Reef-World Team, from left to right: Me, Chloe, JJ, Sam, Jula and Alan

The Reef-World Team, from left to right: Me, Chloe, JJ, Sam, Jula and Alan

From office to sea

From office to sea

One thing that I learnt from myself on past job experiences is that definitely I was not made to work on a fixed routine. I’ve lived it, appreciate all that I could gain from it, but also I have renounced to it! A very scary decision to make, but then the freedom of managing my own time was priceless! When I first came to the Philippines and saw myself on an office – for a second I thought, what have I done?? But certainly, as everything about this experience, it had a very special turn of events.

Being part of the RWF team has nothing monotonous about it. Just before I could freak out, I knew that I was going to be moving around a lot! Resulting into a new perception of what office work means. Suddenly the office time became so precious and effective; instead of being afraid of the routine I was actually excited to get things done, before the new journey began.

The journey led me to Malapascua Island, after leaving Dumaguete and taking a trike, a four hour ferry, taxi, sleep, taxi, eight hour bus, small boat, ferry and finally our legs in a very very very hot midday sun; I am here with the team. This small island has a very special vibe to it; definitely there is a before and after the Yolanda event, and you can feel it in the people. Something positive that I have noticed on the after Yolanda, is that they have come to the realization of how connected they are to nature, they saw how nature can destroy; but also realized how nature can nurture and help them thrive. I am looking forward to spend more time to immerse myself on their culture and their perceptions, using the Green Fins initiative as the way to do it.

It is these kind of life experiences what I was looking for before setting on to my new Filipino adventure. I wanted something that took me out of my comfort zone and transformed the perceptions and concepts of everything that I thought I already knew. From the basic concept of work, to the better understanding of human interaction with the nature; of humans and the ocean.

My journey towards a #LifeBeyondPlastic

My journey towards a #LifeBeyondPlastic

“Remember your intent.”

My journey towards a #LifeBeyondPlastic, or at least a life beyond single use plastic, started as a simple desire to inspire people to take part in the International Coastal Clean-up (ICC) event in September. With the driving force of a dynamic and zealous team this idea quickly became something much more. It evolved into an ideal strategy for the goals Jula and I needed to achieve. And before we knew it, we even had a mission statement:

"To use the ICC to raise public awareness of the impacts of plastic marine debris, and to encourage people to reduce their plastic waste by providing them with alternatives and up-cycling/recycling solutions."

We wanted to explore the topic of marine debris further, absorbing as much information as possible. And we found that for such an enormous and relevant global issue, public awareness is still staggeringly low.

“80% of marine debris is land based.”

“60-80% of marine debris is plastic.”

“Remote Operated Vehicles found a Coca-Cola can in the deepest part of the ocean, nearly 7miles deep, where no human has ever been!”

“The Great Pacific Garbage patch is larger than Texas.”

“There is six times more plastic than zooplankton within ocean gyres.”

Fish are dying.

Seabirds are dying.

People will die.

Whether it’s the result of direct ingestion or depleted fish stocks…

…People. Will. Die.

And still, as a majority, the public aren’t talking about it. We aren’t worrying about it. We aren’t trying to combat it! The UK introduced a 5p plastic bag tax, years behind the majority of Europe, and newspapers responded with headlines like “Chaos Looms!” How is that right?

“Remember your intent.”

You can see how a person (me) could begin to spiral into a deep, dark pit of despair when facing such a seemingly enormous and infinite problem…but that wouldn’t really help anyone would it? Fortunately my good friend Jula is always nearby to remind me to “Remember my intent.”

Yes, this problem is man-made. Yes, we created this problem. But doesn’t that make it our responsibility to fix it? We need to change. Fast! And that was the point of our campaign. Raise public awareness and inspire change. The world needs change on a global scale. But even one inspired person is a victory. Because that one person can inspire others. We can do this. We can set off a chain reaction to inspire the world!

So help the world. Help yourself! Take the steps to reduce the plastic in your life, and up-cycle that which you can’t. Inspire others to follow your life-saving example and live a #LifeBeyondPlastic.

My journey to a #LifeBeyondPlastic

My journey to a #LifeBeyondPlastic

For me this journey began a LONG time ago! It all started with a bucket of paint, paintbrushes and very consistent visits to the ocean. I’ve always found art as a very efficient way of communication: it has no language barriers, no boundaries on how to express your thoughts and feelings, it involves the use of all your senses, and even though the artist can guide the public, it can be interpreted in many different ways.

Being drawn to the sea on a very early age I found a need to express it and I found art as a way of letting it out to the world. That feeling just kept growing and growing and drawing me closer to where I am now. My art grew with the interest and scaled from the mere representation of my feelings to the reality that I was observing. I started realizing how unattached humans were to the oceans. Not realizing how our current lifestyles have a direct impact in the marine environment.

Reason why I decided to use my art to communicate the human impact on the oceans, focused on marine debris. On beach or dive trips I gathered what people thought of as rubbish and used it as part of my paintings.

Having as a result SEA|SEE, an environmentally aware art exhibition, aiming to represent how a small change in our consciousness can transform the world that we live in.

From that point on I knew that what I really wanted was to direct my professional career towards the protection of the marine ecosystems, combine my passions: design, art, and creativity with marine conservation. Which is where I am now, enjoying the company of the Reef-World team.

This amazing team gave me the opportunity of materializing that ideal combination. During this past month, with the launch of the #LifeBeyondPlastic campaign, Charlie and I had the chance to encourage change in people, educate them and educate us at the same time. Having a bigger reach and amazingly positive feedback.

Those positive responses and realizing that there is an increase in awareness, that people are willing to make a change; gives you strength to keep on doing what you love. I just hope that this experience is the first of many more to come! #fortheoceans