This month, Reef-World’s partner 1% for the Planet interviewed our Director JJ Harvey about all things Reef-World, why coral reefs are so important, how diving affects coral reefs and what can be done to protect them. Here are a couple of exerpts from the interview. How did you get involved with Reef-World?
As with many things in life, it was a combination of hard work, a bit of luck and being in the right place at the right time. I was actively seeking out overseas volunteer positions in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to gain experience with my partner, Chloe (now wife and co-director of Reef-World), and in Thailand when I came across Reef-World. The charity was supporting the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources in Thailand who was involved with the Green Fins initiative. We volunteered, worked seven days a week, travelled on budgets, built furniture out of driftwood and borrowed clothes and transport before returning to the U.K. to help save up some financial resources. This was all to pursue a cause we strongly believed in: helping to grow and develop the world’s only recognized environmental standards for diving and snorkelling. We were then employed by Reef-World! As a result, we managed to secure additional funding from the U.N. Environment and we developed and tested the Green Fins assessment model. Now, 11 years and 10 countries later, Green Fins is accepted as an effective management approach that has been proven (by two scientific papers) to reduce negative impacts from the marine tourism industry.
Did you always want to be involved in marine conservation?
Honestly, no. However, since a young age, I’ve been fascinated by the sea and was unimpressed with family and friends not being able to answer my many questions about the marine life I was seeing in rock pools around the southwest of the U.K. I enjoyed surfing, water sports and ocean swimming and always wanted to find out more about the marine life to which I was exposed. Because of this, choosing marine biology was an obvious decision for me. Like medicine, there are so many avenues within marine biology to get involved in and the most common path was that of continuing pure academic research. The combined effect of seeing the continual decline in the populations and health of different species, while witnessing so many scientists carrying out research that didn’t lead to a positive impact on the marine environment, led me to get into marine conservation. But my clear focus is to use scientific evidence and findings to help turn the tide on the degradation of marine ecosystems.
Why do you think coral reef conservation is so important?
Because coral reefs are some of the most valuable ecosystems on the planet. Occupying less than one quarter of 1% of the marine environment, coral reefs are home to more than 25% of all known marine species. Without coral, the ocean would lose a huge diversity of life. Coral reefs are vital to a healthy ocean; they provide a habitat for marine life, protect the coastline from storms and provide us with natural resources, such as food and medicine. A square kilometer of healthy, well-managed coral reef can yield a catch of over 15 tons of fish and seafood every year and act as the first line of defense from coastal storms—not to mention the jobs created through the diving and snorkeling industry. We’re at real risk of losing coral reefs within a generation but hope is not lost. We can all work together to protect these inspiring and wonderful creatures that we, ultimately, depend on for future generations.
Reef-World recently implemented Green Fins in Antigua and Barbuda thanks to a partnership with cosmetic company, Caudalie which came about through the 1% for the Planet movement. What was involved in setting up the initiative?
I recently visited Antigua and Barbuda to set up Green Fins alongside the government. This trip was entirely funded through the generous support of Caudalie: a 1% for the Planet member. Through 1% for the Planet, Caudalie chose Reef-World to help protect coral reefs. We were delighted to have been discovered and selected by Caudalie just a few months after being approved as a 1% for the Planet nonprofit partner in late 2018, and we look forward to being connected with other companies in the future whose ethos aligns with ours and with whom we can create a similar and mutually beneficial partnership. Antigua and Barbuda had been requesting Green Fins training for several years, so it was fantastic to finally be able to implement the initiative there. During the visit, I ran a week of training to certify a national team (made up of the Ministry of Tourism and the Fisheries Division) to recruit, train and conduct assessments of new Green Fins members in the country. This involves training about the ecology and threats to coral reefs, simple and local everyday solutions to these threats and Green Fins’ environmental standards to dive and snorkel operators. The country now has a national team of two senior Green Fins Network leaders, three Green Fins assessors and three dive schools joining the global network of more than 560 trained and assessed Green Fins member dive and snorkel operators, with many more dive schools already showing interest in joining.
Green Fins assessors in Antigua
What was that week setting up Green Fins in Antigua and Barbuda like?
Busy! Training new Green Fins teams and undertaking assessments are always hard work so it was pretty non-stop getting everything underway: running training sessions, helping with the organisation of assessments and assessing the new dive school members. I was even interviewed by a TV station about our work to protect coral reefs in the region and then a separate press launch alongside the Minister of Environment! Safe to say, the weeks we’re in the field are always pretty exhausting.