Whether we can attain a healthy ocean is a topic much in the global spotlight. What is the true value healthy oceans and why is it so important we strive to protect them?

Never before has the topic of healthy marine environment been under the global spotlight to the extent it is today. With increasing reports of marine-plastic pollution, habitat destruction, overfishing and the effects of climate change, it can seem our oceans are anything but healthy. But what is the true value of healthy oceans and why is it so important we strive to protect them? The answer to this question can vary wildly depending on who you ask. But most people can agree that they are immensely valuable and we must protect them.

Healthy reefs attract divers

Coral reefs cover only 1 percent of the ocean area but account for 25 percent of all marine life —biodiversity that rivals the Amazon rainforest. Up to 275 million people worldwide depend on this relatively small area for their livelihoods and sustenance. Further, these underwater forests attract visitors to over 100 countries and territories, generating an estimated $36 billion in global tourism annually. The dive industry, of course, directly relies on a healthy marine environment. With diving and reef-based tourism activities generating $19 billion annually and more than one million new divers certified every year, diving is one of the fastest-growing recreational activities. Divers travel far and wide to see healthy, thriving reefs teeming with life. Without a healthy marine environment there will be no divers, and in turn, no business.

International Year of the Reef

In response to recent mass-bleaching events, the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) declared 2018 the third International Year of the Reef (IYOR). Previously observed in 1997 and 2008, IYOR means to increase awareness of the value of coral reefs and factors threatening their existence. Recognizing the urgent need for effective research, management and conservation practices, it promotes global collaboration between the private and public sectors.

While the task may seem overwhelming, the necessary tools are available to encourage and support stakeholders within the dive industry to adopt sustainable management and conservation practices. Green Fins, an initiative of the UN Environment and implemented by The Reef-World Foundation, has been working with the dive industry for over 10 years to help businesses promote best practices through a robust set of environmental standards. Green Fins empowers dive and snorkel operators to make simple yet effective changes to their business practices. This helps them work towards a circular economy. By implementing Green Fins sustainable practices, businesses can limit their impact on the environment and reduce the severity of localized stressors to coral reefs. This in turn help reefs remain more resilient in the face of major threats like climate change.

Raising sustainability standards supports the long-term viability of dive tourism without undermining the quality of life under or over the water. The effects go beyond the local dive center to the wider industry, impacting equipment manufacturers, dive-training organizations, resorts and dive-booking companies.

Dive businesses making a difference

Many individuals, local communities and businesses connected to the dive industry have become role models to inspire change. The last Action Point for Green Fins IYOR 2018 Campaign, #HealthyOceanHealthyBusiness, introduces some of the pioneering businesses that are leading by example to make sustainable diving the social norm.

  • As the pioneering liveaboard operation to the Green Fins initiative, Explorer Ventures has dived in and is taking action to enhance the sustainability of the business by organizing trash clean-ups, mooring programs and sustainable operations on board their vessels, such as using DIY reef-safe cleaning solutions and giving Green Fins environmental dive briefings to their guests.
  • As part of PADI’s long-standing commitment to ocean conservation, they introduced the ‘Pillars of Change’ in 2017 as a way to drive public awareness of the issues facing ocean communities. They are also building one of the strongest brand and non-profit alliances in the industry. By working collaboratively with The Reef-World Foundation, PADI will provide greater opportunity for dive operators around the world to be better informed and equipped to apply sustainable dive practices using Green Fins’ guidelines.
  • In its mission to reconnect people with the world around them and run a sustainable business Six Senses Laamu recognizes the need for healthy environments. By implementing meaningful conservation through the Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI) it is achieving this. With a team of 10 marine biologists and in collaboration with international NGOs such as The Reef-World Foundation, MUI protects the 50,000 m2 of seagrass surrounding the island. This is crucial habitat for juvenile fish and turtles and provides coastal protection as well. They also work with the local community to establish sustainable fishing models and their dive center is Green Fins certified.
  • ZuBlu not only helps divers find and book their perfect dive trip but makes it easy for them to choose sustainable, environmentally friendly resorts. Divers can choose not only based on the type of diving they enjoy but also based on a resort’s conservation activities, projects and sustainable practices. There is also an option to check whether a resort is an active Green Fins member.
  • Tioman Dive Center (TDC) has adopted Green Fins ideology as part of its everyday life. Encouraging staff members to take ownership of TDC’s sustainability processes has created a sense of pride in the business they run and service they offer. As a result, there have been changes in everything from using biodegradable washing products in the center to recycling in the local area.

What the dive industry can do

As the eyes and ears of the ocean, the dive industry is perfectly positioned to both influence and experience first-hand the effects of a healthy ocean. Whether an individual diver, dive center, resort, equipment manufacturer or holiday-booking company, all have a vested interest in healthy reefs. While marine tourism is seldom environmentally neutral, negative impacts need not be inevitable.

Each player is well positioned to lessen their environmental impact and inspire those around them to do the same. Dive guides can adopt responsible practices such as #RedefineTheDive when directing their guests; dive centers can use #AlternativesToAnchoring; and dive guests can make sure they #DoNotFeedTheFish while on vacation. The whole diving community can work for a healthier ocean and more resilient reefs. After all, a healthy ocean is a healthy business.

By guest author Rebecca Gillham for The Reef-World Foundation

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