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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

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

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.

Eat. Sleep. Conserve. Repeat!

Eat. Sleep. Conserve. Repeat!

The last month has been a whirlwind of study, travel, marine conservation and unfortunately, sickness! I’ve had 4 different ailments, seen 7 different doctors and taken around 70 tablets. Through it all “It’s more fun in the Philippines” has definitely been my favourite catchphrase but despite the set backs I’m still managing to do what I love and that feels incredible.

 Alan and I braving various illnesses in Cebu

Alan and I braving various illnesses in Cebu

Before coming back out to the Philippines I was based at home for 6 months, spending some precious time with my family and desperately trying to scrape together the cash to pay off my last voluntary conservation role. I found myself working a mundane 9-6 job in a call centre and slowly losing all motivation to drag myself out of bed in the morning. I spent every day feeling unchallenged and uninterested in my own life!

Joining Reef World has felt like a renovation! I find myself challenged to improve myself every day. Whether it’s during a Global Marine Conservation module where you can’t sort your MMOs from your MNRs or a presentation where you have to explain global warming in a way that transcends language. This internship is not just strengthening my existing skills but introducing me to whole new areas of research and stakeholder interaction. Watching Sam (Project Manager) navigate meetings with Government officials or dive industry ambassadors in a way that considers the perspective of different groups whilst uniting them towards a common conservation goal is truly inspiring. I could never scribble enough notes to keep up with all this new knowledge but I’m certainly going to try!

 Enjoying a sunny day outside the Moalboal Municipal Hall with the ZEP volunteers Debby, Alex and Nicola

Enjoying a sunny day outside the Moalboal Municipal Hall with the ZEP volunteers Debby, Alex and Nicola

Fiesta Feast

Fiesta Feast

I had only been back in the Philippines for 1 week when I was invited to a local’s house for a fiesta feast! And the brilliant fact is that isn’t even unusual. A large part of the reason I fell in love with the Philippines when I first visited last year was definitely the people. They are among the friendliest and most generous I have ever met throughout my travels.

When I arrived in Dumaguete on the 5th of June I jumped on the first available trike with my life on my back and followed Reef World Programmes Manager Chloe to my new home by the beach. Instantly my trike driver Tony was my tour guide. He lived in our village so it quickly became routine for him to pick Jula (Reef World Intern) and I up and drive us to our office in the city. After just 1 week we were invited to his house on June 13thfor a special fiesta to celebrate San Antonio de Padua’s Feast day.

Baboy that's a big pig!
Baboy that's a big pig!

A proper Filippino fiesta has to have lechon and this one was no exception. For those of you who don’t know, lechon is basically a hog roast. The bigger the better! Tony was a true Filipino host, constantly plying us with food. Delicacies included lechon (obviously), rice (obviously), pineapple, coconut milk, cake and lots of San Miguel. If we ever managed to make it halfway through a drink or a plate of food it was quickly refilled and we were never allowed to be full!

Tony's friend Jean teaches me some useful Visayan
Tony's friend Jean teaches me some useful Visayan

Most of the afternoon was spent at Tony’s house eating food, meeting his extended family and trying to learn as much of the local language, Visayan, as possible. Once Jula and I were suitably stuffed we ventured out into the local municipality, Sibulan, to visit the fiesta market and the San Antonio de Padua Church. I hadn’t considered it a highly populated municipality until that moment. Thousands of people were milling around the market stalls and flocking to the church to pay homage to San Antonio. The sheer volume of people touching Jesus’ statue in prayer had literally rubbed his legs raw!

 Green Fins Assessor Training

Green Fins Assessor Training

It was a wonderful day and a brilliant re-introduction to the Philippines. I cannot wait to hit the ground running as a Reef World Intern, sitting in on the Zoox Experience Programme and starting my Green Fins Assessor training.