The Sustainable Diving Think Tank was a private discussion where dive industry leaders shared intel, successes, concerns and challenges, and worked together to map out a pathway towards adopting ocean-conscious business models. The event was led by Reef-World, hosted by UW360 and supported by Blue Ocean Network, Coral Triangle Centre and ZuBlu.

The Sustainable Diving Think Tank opened with a speech by Chloe Harvey, Director of The Reef-World Foundation, who stressed pursuing the sustainable model is critical and brands need to get on board. She presented Reef-World’s mission, introduced the collaborators for the session and outlined the sustainability journey from a Green Fins perspective, highlighting that it all begins with a shift of consciousness in the mindset of the decision makers of the business, and this is often the hardest step. Every success thereafter is worth sharing and celebrating.


Recent Initiatives Highlighted:

  • Mik Jennings, from blueotwo and Worldwide Dive and Sail, explained how blueotwo has launched five recycling machines, three of which will be running full time, to help themselves and other dive operations recycle.

  • Ian Campbell from Project AWARE shared the Responsible Shark & Ray tourism guide which ensures operators are following the best responsible tourism standards. It has had huge effects on a global scale and, in Fiji, has been able to encourage governments to shift money to conservation because of its importance to tourism.

  • Rosie Cotton from Tioman Dive Centre mentioned that she is fortunate to have great community group spearheaded by Reef Check Malaysia. After some time, they have been able to source environmentally friendly cleaning products. Smaller shops did not want to have anything to do with it initially; however, after someone went around and provided the information, local shops started supplying and now most dive centres, resorts and hotels are using them.

  • Cassian Bellino from Six Senses talked about how the resort has been taking huge leaps to use 100% reef safe sunscreen because they respect the marine life in the beautiful places they have their resorts. By September 2019, all resorts will be equipped to sell reef safe sunscreen.

  • Petra Morten talked about how Lembeh Resort is maximising their partnerships by collaborating with partners on the island and working with a sourcing agent to supply bigger bulk packaging. Several resorts have been engaged to increase purchasing power.

  • Julian Hyde, General Manager of Reef Check Malaysia, mentioned a local group (Cintai Tioman) that was set up on Tioman Island (spearheaded by RCM) to help with recycling and the replacement of mooring buoys. Tioman is currently the only place in the whole of Malaysia where glass can be recycled, as a result of the work of this group.

  • Dennis Bait-it of Evolution Malapascua talked about a group of dive centres which fund patrol operations and boats, since the government cannot do it. This has lead to better legislation on sharks and rays in the Philippines including distributing mooring lines and the protection of thresher sharks.

  • Susan Stephanie, Dive Operators Community Komodo (DOCK), helps to introduce rules for sustainability among members, link dive operator members with government and national park officers, and offer an eco travel kit (reusable bottle, stainless straw etc.) which also serves as a discount coupo. The money is used to fund other projects, including Green Fins, community youth education and outreach.

  • Sascha Janson of Six Senses Laamu (SSL) mentioned its marine team has created the Maldives Underwater Initiative aimed at protecting the seagrass, which most resorts uproot/destroy to provide white sandy beaches which has a huge impact on marine life. When seagrass washes up on beaches is not so pretty so some governments have tried to “clean up” the seagrass. It’s not clear how other countries are dealing with it and would like to know more.

  • Adam Broadbent from ZuBlu introduced an idea to provide added value to customers before their trip: ZuBlu share a Green Fins guide along with advice around what they can do pre-travel to minimize impact. The site also has a filter to search for Green Fins members.

  • Corrina Davides from SSI talked about Mission Deep Blue which builds on the importance of education in the reduction of plastic etc. They have made the content of this free programme accessible (available in 10 languages and counting) and easy to spread; plus, people get a certification on completion.

  • Robert Scales from Ceningan Divers noted that his initial attempts to become an eco-resort largely failed. However, he took actions with some small things that helped (not using single-use plastic bottles, not offering straws, offering locally made reef-safe sunscreen in a stainless steel tin) and used them in a marketing campaign to raise awareness. The resort has also engaged with Green Fins and Project AWARE to improve its eco-mandate.

  • Maggie Roodt from MyDivePro highlighted that conservation and mindset starts with the individual consumer. If we want to achieve tangible change, we need to engage dive professionals and consumers. The MyDivePro platform works with conservation leaders to make such education integral for dive professionals.

  • Hazel from TRACC mentioned there is a market for eco-tourism and that a lot of operators have commercial ambitions in this field.

  • Chloe from Reef-World added people are willing to pay more for an eco-product so it is a good market to tap into once you have strong sustainability practices, noting that green washing is no longer accepted by the consumer. Otherwise, when customers become more informed you will be left behind.


Outcomes from the Breakout Sessions:

Topic: Shifting the baseline knowledge of consumers and their behaviour

  • There was a strong and somewhat divisive debate around banning or managing cigarettes at resorts and one resort gave the example of banning cigarettes altogether and only hiring non-smoking staff, which has led to a resort-wide appreciation that smoking is not done there

  • One resort in Melbourne had transparent cigarette disposable bin to serve as a visual reminder of what we’re putting in our lungs and trying to shift behaviours

  • Simply providing alternatives: e.g. metal straws instead of plastic ones, reusable bottles instead of plastics etc.

  • There was lots of conversation around resorts becoming much more demanding of suppliers - e.g. pushing back when boxes of deliveries arrive with individual items all unnecessarily wrapped in plastic

  • Creating an ongoing network after ADEX for people to continue to learn, share ideas and ask questions

  • Is it too late? Stop talking and take a hard line approach and make changes now


Topic: Marketing environmental operations and practices more effectively:

  • Six Senses Laamu offers their customers the opportunity to become “gems”: consumers can express an interest in getting more involved in sustainable practices and will then be looked after by a sustainable assistant throughout their stay. Building that messaging into welcome briefings or having a specific dive guide as a guru in that field it’s a great opportunity to upsell products such as speciality courses or excursions

  • Finding and using influencers in your business to disseminate your message

  • Using existing platforms, such as ZuBlu and your own website, to market your sustainability processes - providing that information to potential guests and customers


Topic: Integrating sustainability and conservation into everything you’re doing:

  • Integrate education on sustainability and conservation into training of dive professionals

  • Always engage local actors and communities as well as other dive operators to encourage people to work together

  • Be positive rather than creating resistance - for example, making reef-sensitive sunscreen available and convenient rather than just banning chemical sunscreen

  • Engage through programmes for kids as well as parents, making sustainability fun

  • Give customers the information as soon as they book so they can prepare pre-arrival


Topic: How to overcome common resource challenges:

  • Rather than waiting for governments to support what you’re doing, build coalitions, talk to other dive operators in your area and work to overcome challenges. The example was given of an eco trust on Koh Tao where everyone who comes into a dive shop and purchases anything pays a small fee which is put towards funding conservation activities

  • Learn how other businesses that have adopted new sustainable technologies are doing it to shorten the learning curve. One example is the plastic shredder in Tioman that is now being used but took 4 years to set up. Other new technologies that are of interest include solar powered boats, glass shredders, and and pyrolysis for waste management.

  • Build local capacity to manage new sustainable technologies being adopted to minimize maintenance costs

  • Learn about traditional products in your area/community which can be used as sustainable alternatives i.e. cleaning materials, bath products etc.


Quotes from Breakout Sessions:

“We’re actually even more profitable over some time by implementing more sustainable practices” Wicked Diving

“When we ask our customers how they found us or why they dive with us, they say – you’re environmental, that’s the reason we want to dive with you. Promoting your sustainable practices makes a difference to get more clients and do the right thing.” Daniel Stilwell, Abyss Ocean World

“We just started with sunscreen, we told our gusts that they’re able to use only reef-safe sunscreen whilst educating them. We use Stream2Sea, put their link and all information the website, and informing the clients before the trip to purchase such sunscreen.” Daniel Stilwell, Abyss Ocean World

“Getting outside of your usual silos and partnering with environmental organizations leads to tapping into other networks.” Julian, Reef Check Malaysia

We have achieved a mindset shift with our staff starting from the basics such as with re-usable food containers, which has trickled down to changes in the community and their behaviour” Rosie Cotton, Tioman Dive Centre