Here are a few top tips the team at The Reef-World Foundation (international co-ordinators of Green Fins) wrote for PADI to help you play your part in preserving the oceans you enjoy diving in and for future generations.
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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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
#CITES4Sharks. After 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A wavy ocean, that is how the last week of placement felt inside me. Movements of waves rising from excitement and a feeling of fulfillment, and lowering when it came to the realization that another chapter have finished and we had to move on. When you leave a place and you feel that something tickles inside you, it reflects from where you lived the experience and how. I definitely poured my heart and soul during these weeks of placement, juggling between the role of a Green Fins assessor and a Reef-World intern. Both responsibilities that challenged me every single day, forcing to bring the best out of me.
I was warned of the amount of work we would face, but it was not until I was actually living the experience that I could clearly understand the dimensions of it. Fortunately I wasn’t doing this on my own, I had the chance to share all of these moments with a group of magical human beings. Sharing even viruses that sent us all, but two team members, into bed with fever and “dodgy” stomachs, as they would say. Our bodies pleading for a pause, a forced pause, to recover and come back up again. Not by chance I received an email with the phrase: ‘Be thankful when you’re tired and weary, because it means you’ve made a difference’.
Even though we were tired, at the end it was clear for all of us that we had made a difference. Those big waves of excitement came from the reactions and humble gratefulness from the people that were involved. Expressed in powerful handshakes and sincere smiles, making us realize the big impact that lies behind the Green Fins initiative. Parallel to the thrill and excitement came the goodbyes, testing the bonds created along the seven weeks of teamwork. I will be forever grateful with all of those who played part in this special chapter of my story.
Now back home in Dumaguete the waters are much calmer, waiting for the next tide to come in!