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Conservation

BLOG: Green Fins plays a part in the #BetterBoracay movement.

BLOG: Green Fins plays a part in the #BetterBoracay movement.

The Reef-World Foundation were invited to participate in the Coastal and Marine Rehabilitation Orientation workshop in Boracay in December 2018. With over 100 participants actively engaging in determining coral reef threats and identifying solutions, our Project Manager Sam is hopeful for the future.

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

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. 

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.