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Marine Life & Conservation

Reef-World’s conservation impact remains strong despite global pandemic

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Reef-World’s annual report reveals tangible conservation impact despite COVID-19 disruptions

New figures out in the last few days reveal that The Reef-World Foundation – international coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative – certified more dive shops and reached more travellers with its conservation messaging than the previous year, despite disruptions to fieldwork caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reef-World’s annual report, released today, revealed the charity reached 115,000+ travellers with its information on environmental best practice through its Green Fins initiative during its 201920 reporting period; up from the 110,000 travellers reached during 201819. With 115 dive centres assessed in 31 diving hotspots across 11 countries (compared to 98 operators in 10 countries the previous year), the number of active members increased 42% from 118 to 168.

As well as attracting new members, the programme continues to demonstrate its success in helping marine tourism operators reduce their direct, local impact on coral reefs; with data showing an average 20% reduction in environmental impact among members.

While implementation work was unable to take place during three months of the year, due to the global pandemic, the reduction in the number of dive staff trained in person was just 6.5% (1,870+ in 201920 compared to 2,000+ in 201819). However, digital innovations have enabled the charity to continue educating dive professionals around the world, no matter their location. Over 1,140 dive professionals signed up to the Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course: a unique online course which enables individual dive professionals to become Green Fins certified.

Key projects included: the launch of the Dive Guide e-Course Scholarship Fund to help scuba diving guides receive vital environmental certification; the nationwide rollout of Green Fins Egypt in partnership with the Chamber of Diving & Watersports (CDWS); a new initiative to help protect coral reefs in the Dominican Republic in partnership with the TUI Care Foundation; and creating new resources to support marine tourism operators around the world in their efforts to prioritise sustainability despite the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, the charity also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which shall remain in effect until December 2025, to strengthen the framework of cooperation between the two organisations for their  joint international coordination of the Green Fins initiative.

Anne Paranjoti, Founder of The Reef-World Foundation, said: “When UNEP asked me to create a framework for Green Fins back in the 1990s, I wanted to create something that would be open to all and provide a role for anyone that wanted to do something to protect the natural world around us. Today, the Green Fins tools and resources are still free for all wishing to join and provide a framework for anyone that would like to contribute and be part of a wider active community of conservators. The model underpinning Green Fins is one that allows us all to have a role –  no matter how small – in protecting the natural environment and demonstrate actions that truly promote core values and reach beyond a limited view of sustainability. The outcome is, thus, enriched lives for all and sustainability of our beautiful natural resources.”

JJ Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “Like many other charities and businesses across the travel industry, Reef-World has faced a tough time this year. Not only has the pandemic impacted our ability to conduct our environmental fieldwork but we also lost a valued mentor in the passing of our Trustee Andrea Leeman. Andy was as determined and strong-willed as the toughest out there and she would have been so proud of the conservation impact we’ve achieved despite COVID setbacks. As we move into a new normal, we’re determined to ensure sustainability remains a priority across the marine tourism industry. There are challenges ahead but we’re absolutely dedicated to protecting our precious marine ecosystems for the benefit of the local community, potential visitors, visitors and future generations.”

Chloe Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, added: “What a year it’s been – and we couldn’t have done it without you all! The generous donations and support from our partners and the general public have inspired us to continue the battle to protect our coral reefs around the world. We’d like to thank everyone for their efforts over the past year and are excited to work with you to forge a stronger path for sustainable tourism in the future. There’s much more to be done and the future is uncertain but, together, we can make sustainable diving the social norm.”  

With 33 government and NGO staff trained to run the network at a national level, Green Fins now has 82 active assessors; one quarter (26%) of whom are female. The Green Fins national teams are looking forward to resuming training and assessments as soon as it is possible and safe to do so. In addition, plans for Green Fins’ expansion into Guam, Timor-Leste, Japan, Costa Rica and Colombia are in place for when travel opens up again.

Reef-World would also like to thank its partners whose vital support has resulted in significant tangible benefits for the ocean: PADI1% for the PlanetExplorer Ventures; the Blue O Two / Worldwide Dive and Sail alliance; Fourth ElementCaudalieProfessional SCUBA Schools International (PSS)ZuBluPATAParalenzEXO FoundationWorld Nomads and The Footprints NetworkGSTCMyDivePro; and Dive O’Clock.

The full 2019–20 Annual Report can be found here: https://reef-world.org/reefworld-annual-reports

Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Ana Filipa Sobral, Founder of The Manta Catalog Project in the Azores (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Ana Filipa Sobral, Founder and Project Leader of The Manta Catalog Project in the Azores.

Ana Filipa Sobral is a marine biologist and conservationist based in the Azores Islands. She moved to the Azores in 2011 and once there, realised that this was one of the few places in the world where Sicklefin Devil Rays (Mobula tarapacana) gather in large groups, making it a strategic place to study them. She started the The Manta Catalog Project and through this project, collects photo ID and occurrence data on Mobulid Rays, with the precious help of divers and dive operators as citizen scientists.

Ana is also finishing her PhD which focuses on population genetics and connectivity of migratory elasmobranchs in oceanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The main goal fueling my research has been to help fill the knowledge gaps on elasmobranch biology and ecology to ultimately assist in the design of effective conservation and management plans aimed at protecting their populations in this remote region of the North Atlantic Ocean.

You can find out more about Ana’s important work at: https://mantacatalogazores.wixsite.com/mobulaid/project.


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Reef-World launches Green Fins Japan!

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The Reef-World Foundation, the Onna Village Diving Association, the local government, and Oceana are delighted to announce that Japan is now the 14th country globally to implement the Green Fins initiative – a UN Environment Programme initiative. Onna Village in Okinawa is the first Japanese tourist destination to adopt Green Fins environmental standards to reduce the threats associated with diving and snorkelling on the marine environment.

Green Fins is piloted in Onna Village, Okinawa prefecture, an area renowned for its marine sports and has been working to protect its reefs for many years. Green Fins is implemented as part of the national Sustainable Development Goals project, which aims to manage and illustrate to the local industry how sustainable tourism can play a role in reef conservation. The economic benefits of the reefs benefit not only the fisheries industry but also the tourism industry as it has rocketed in recent decades.

If the project is successful – proving the value of sustainable tourism – the model has the potential to be escalated to a national level. A wide rollout would allow Reef-World to focus on uptake and expansion into other marine tourism and biodiversity hotspots across Japan. Green Fins implementation in Japan would provide practical solutions to many of the common problems faced in the area. It would also help to promote high standards for diving in the country. Improving the quality of the diving industry through Green Fins would demonstrate the added value of Onna Village’s tourism product. This, in turn, will encourage tourists to spend more time and money diving in the region.

Following a week of training by Reef-World (23 to 28 May 2022), Japan now has a national Green Fins team comprised of four fully certified Green Fins Assessors and two Green Fins Coordinators from Oceana and the local government. They will be responsible for recruiting, assessing, training and certifying dive and snorkel operators to become Green Fins members in the country. This involves providing training about the ecology and threats to coral reefs, simple and local everyday solutions to these threats and Green Fins’ environmental standards to dive and snorkel operators. Green Fins membership will help marine tourism operators improve their sustainability and prove they are working hard to follow environmental best practices as a way of attracting eco-minded tourists.

James Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We are really excited to finally introduce Green Fins in Japan. We have been planning this for almost three years, but the travel restrictions related to the pandemic hindered progress. The diving industry in Okinawa and the marine life upon which it has been built is so unique, it must be preserved for generations to come. The Okinawa diving community is very passionate about protecting their marine environment, and Green Fins has given them an opportunity to collectively work to reduce their environmental impact and pursue exemplary environmental standards.”

Diving and snorkelling related damage to sensitive marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, is becoming an increasingly significant issue. This damage makes them less likely to survive other local and wider stressors, such as overfishing or plastic debris and the effects of climate change. Based on robust individual assessments, the Green Fins initiative helps identify and mitigate these risks by providing environmental consultation and support to dive and snorkel operators. Through Green Fins implementation in Japan, Reef-World aims to reduce negative environmental impacts in the region by reaching 10 marine tourism operators, training 50 dive guides and raising awareness of sustainability best practices among 10,000 tourists in the first year.

Yuta Kawamoto, CEO of Oceana, said: “Green Fins will help to unify all the conservation efforts in Okinawa by applying the guidelines in many areas and raising tourists awareness. We hope this will increase the sustainable value in the diving industry and in turn increase the diving standards in the country.”

Green Fins is a UN Environment Programme initiative, internationally coordinated by The Reef-World Foundation, which aims to protect and conserve coral reefs through environmentally friendly guidelines to promote a sustainable diving and snorkelling tourism industry. Green Fins provides the only internationally recognised environmental standards for the diving and snorkelling industry and has a robust assessment system to measure compliance.

To date, four dive operators in Onna Village have joined the global network of 600+ trained and assessed Green Fins members. These are: Benthos Divers, Okinawa Diving Center, Arch Angel and Pink Marlin Club. There has also been significant interest from other operators, even those that are not located in Onna Village, for Green Fins training and assessment.

Suika Tsumita from Oceana said: “Green Fins serve as an important tool for local diving communities to move towards a more sustainable use of their dive sites; so that they can maintain their scenic beauty and biological richness to provide livelihoods for many generations to come.”

For more information, please visit www.reef-world.org or  www.greenfins.net/countries/japan. Dive and snorkel operators interested in signing up for Green Fins can find the membership application form at: www.greenfins.net/how-to-join.

Dive and snorkel operators in Japan interested in signing up to be Green Fins members can contact the Green Fins Japan team at japan@greenfins.net.

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