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.
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.
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!