The Reef-World Foundation delivers practical solutions for marine conservation around the world. It is dedicated to supporting, inspiring, and empowering governments, businesses, communities and sustainably developing coastal resources. We met with the charity’s director, Chloe Harvey, to find out more…
CHI: Hi Chloe, thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me. Today, we are going to chat a little bit about healthy reefs and oceans, and sustainability in marine tourism. So back to basics, can give us some quick facts about our oceans, and the dive and snorkel industry?
CHLOE: You’re welcome – we’re always happy to help raise awareness about how people can improve their sustainability in the marine tourism sector.
To set the scene we need to look at the scale of the marine tourism industry: currently an estimated 1 million new divers are certified each year with millions more snorkelling worldwide on coral reefs. In this burgeoning industry, diving-related damage to coral reefs is a significant concern because it can impact a reef’s ability to withstand more widespread stressors, such as climate change and coral bleaching events. While one individual diver might not think his or her actions will have much impact, we need to be aware of the bigger picture. Think about it: a diver contacts the reef on average 5.79 times on a dive. That stat alone is pretty staggering. But if one dive boat carries 12 divers, each guest does two dives per day and there are two boats per mooring each day, it adds up quickly – there would be around 278 potentially damaging diver incidents at that mooring site each day.
That’s why it’s so important to minimise any potentially negative tourism-related impacts, such as diver contact, anchoring, fish feeding, marine litter and chemical discharge amongst others. Mitigating these threats allows the delicate ecosystems to be healthier and more resilient to climate change impacts. What’s more, well-managed tourism can present a huge economic, experiential and educational opportunity.
CHI: It seems that in the past year or two there has been a lot more noise being made in the mainstream about plastics and its impact on sea life. Can you reflect on this, as well as discuss some of the initiatives that are in your pipeline?
CHLOE: That’s true – the “Blue Planet Effect” has been amazing in raising awareness of the threats our oceans are facing, particularly from plastics. Seeing more people around the world changing their behaviours when it comes to plastic use is so heartening. It’s also fantastic to see large corporations responding to consumer demand for more environmentally-friendly practices – for example, I read recently that Unilever has committed to halving its production of new plastics. It’s not enough – there’s so much more we need to do – but it’s an encouraging start and we hope to see this snowball effect continuing.
Reef-World partners with a range of eco-minded companies that are taking great strides towards sustainability. Mission 2020, originated by Fourth Element, is a brilliant example of a positive initiative that is spearheaded by the industry for the industry. Through Mission 2020, dive companies – including Reef-World’s partners PADI, Explorer Ventures Liveaboard Fleet and Blue O Two– are committing to putting their environmental impact over their profit margins and make significant changes to their business practices – with a focus on single-use plastic – to help protect the ocean.
CHI: Tourism can be a double-edged sword when it comes to marine ecosystems, and you’ve written extensively already about how industry collaboration and destination management can help protect reefs. Besides plastics, are there any priority areas you would like to see a greater focus on from the tourism sector, and why?
CHLOE: The increased awareness of plastic pollution is positive but, yes, there are lots of other areas to focus on too. The Green Fins Code of Conduct guidelines cover 15 points – both above and below the water – where marine tourism companies might be able to make practical, low-cost changes to minimise their environmental impact. One of the key areas we’re hearing businesses increasingly talk about is overcoming the challenge of how to find more sustainable suppliers. Reef-World is working with our partners on solutions that will help travel businesses find and share sustainable suppliers; driving best practice throughout the supply chain.
CHI: In terms of tourism management, we’ve seen some destinations that have seen overtourism being closed to the public indefinitely for conservation purposes. Do you think this methodology works to restore marine ecosystems – is it the best solution? What works and what doesn’t?
CHLOE: It’s always sad to hear when destinations have been so heavily impacted by tourism that they have to be closed to the public. While this can be an effective way of restoring ecosystems, ideally we don’t want to get to this point in the first place! That’s precisely what Green Fins is there for. It helps tourism businesses minimise their impact on marine environments to help protect and preserve coral reefs and related ecosystems for future generations.
CHI: What can tourists – snorkelers, divers, and land lubbers – do to help keep our reefs healthy? What innovative or fun things can the industry do to facilitate this?
CHLOE: The good news is there are lots of things everyone can do to help keep our reefs healthy and educating people on how to reduce their impact on the reef, is vital for the future health of our oceans. As divers and travellers, we can work together to protect fragile marine ecosystems from human threats.
Planning ahead is important – that’s why we always say, “the dive starts at home.” For example, researching the environmental practices of companies before you book so you can be sure you’re spending your money with a company that is working hard to protect the ocean. Minimising your use of single-use plastics is, obviously, an important one too; both at home and when on holiday. If you can bring a reusable water bottle, cutlery and tote bag with you on a trip, you can negate the risk of getting caught out; particularly when in more remote destinations. Both at home and abroad, try to choose more environmentally products when it comes to washing detergents (choose eco-friendly), sunscreen (there are lots of reef-safe options available) and batteries (rechargeable rather than single-use). When diving or snorkeling, look but never touch, chase or harass marine life, and be careful or your buoyancy and position in the water so you don’t accidentally knock or damage any coral. In particular, be mindful of your fins!
From an industry point of view, there are lots of things that can be done to encourage positive behaviours. Several of our partners – including Explorer Ventures and ZuBlu – send packing tips to their customers ahead of the trip to help them know how best to prepare in advance. ZuBlu also has a search filter on its booking site so people can actively look for Green Fins members. Working together as an industry is really important – by working together we can all speed up our progress when it comes to sustainability – so we’re always interested to hear about innovations that work well which other tourism companies might want to adopt too.
CHI: I have always wondered – as someone who works to protect marine life, what are your feelings towards eating fish?
CHLOE: Wow – tough question! I have actually chosen to only eat fish if I’m 100% sure it’s sustainable and, unfortunately, those opportunities are few and far between these days. I can’t remember the last time I ate fish! Being a mum of a one year old makes this as little tricky as I’m also aware of the health benefits of fish. So, I do buy fish for her to eat but I always make sure they are bycatch species such as Coley or Herring (Irish Sea). Having said that I always try to be a gracious guest, especially when I visit places where access to food is a very much a privilege. If someone serves me fish in these sorts of places and there’s no other option, I will eat it.
CHI: I’m so glad you touched on motherhood and seafood as well –that was going to be a follow up question! Ok, last bundle of questions – what is your favorite type of dive (e.g. night, wreck), where and why did you first fall in love with diving, and what species would you most like to see?
CHLOE: I think it’s safe to say I was hooked from my first time underwater! I was 12 years old and my family went on holiday to Sinai in Egypt, which was so exciting because we’d never been abroad on holiday before. We all learned to dive together during the holiday and it was spectacular. I was absolutely spoiled by the Red Sea’s amazing diving and that was it for me (which is why I was particularly excited to launch Green Fins Egypt this year!). When we got back to the UK, we joined our local BSAC club and became heavily involved with that. I was diving pretty much every weekend and was an Assistant Club Instructor by the age of 15.
As a marine biologist I love having the opportunity to dive on coral reefs around the world but I must admit I’m a British diver at heart. The best diving I have ever done has been around our coastline at home; making friends with seals of Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel and the Farne Islands near where I studied Marine Biology at uni; exploring the massive German battle ships of Scapa Flow in Scotland; cannon ball hunting in the kelp forests of Plymouth sound; traveling back in history while touring the HMS M2 submarine aircraft carrier off Weymouth. There’s so much to explore.
CHI: Thanks for a fun interview, Chloe!
Reef-World leads the global implementation of UN Environment’s Green Fins initiative, which focuses on driving environmentally friendly scuba diving and snorkelling practices across the industry. Green Fins encourages and empowers members of the diving industry to act to reduce the pressures on coral reefs by offering dive and snorkel companies practical, low-cost alternatives to harmful practices – such as anchoring, fish feeding and chemical pollution – as well as providing strategic training, support and resources. By reducing the local direct and indirect pressures tourism puts on coral reefs, it helps make corals healthier and more resilient to other stresses such as the effects of climate change.
For more information about The Reef-World Foundation, please visit www.reef-world.org or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. To learn more about Green Fins, visit https://www.greenfins.net/ or follow the initiative on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.