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...