The economic benefits of travel can be tremendous, but what about the environmental impact? Chloë Harvey, a marine biologist and international coordinator of Green Fins at The Reef-World Foundation, explains why the diving industry could be the key to many ecotourism solutions.
Divers themselves are very keen to protect the environment
Can you tell us a bit about your work with Green Fins?
The Reef-World Foundation is a UK charity that has been involved with Green Fins, an initiative of the United Nations Environment Program, since its outset in 2004. We promote sustainable practices within the diving industry. I came along in 2008 as a volunteer in Thailand and then became much more involved in the regional implementation of Green Fins across Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines and, more recently, into Maldives and Vietnam.
How does Green Fins work within the diving industry?
The main stakeholders are the diving industry and we provide support to follow our code of conduct, which is a list of 15 activities and actions to reduce the potential negative impact of their activities on the local environment. We also work with the regulating government agencies to adopt Green Fins as a national approach.
What are the biggest environmental problems that face the diving industry?
The obvious one is diver damage which has a significant impact on the marine environment. This is especially true when you look at mass diving numbers, which countries like Thailand tend to attract. Green Fins seems to have a positive impact, not just through management of divers underwater, but also through raising awareness.
What are some of the less-obvious problems?
It’s about identifying the impact of the dive center on a local level. What chemical products are being used at the dive center and on boats? What are they doing with used engine oil on the boats? These are major issues, especially in developing countries, where perhaps the infrastructure isn’t there to dispose of waste responsibly.
How do you find those solutions?
We help the dive centers to identify local opportunities. For example, a Shell garage in the Philippines accepts the Green Fins dive centers’ used oil and takes it back for recycling. It’s opening up those channels and matchmaking to find local solutions to local problems.
Learn more innovative solutions in our exclusive video with Chloë Harvey.
In terms of green initiatives and ecotourism, do you find that people are purposely seeking out responsible dive centers? Or is it an added benefit?
In the high-end tourism industry, environmental credentials aren’t necessarily looked for, they’re expected. Of course, we see negative stories, like Facebook photos of dive guides picking up starfish or people harassing marine life underwater. People don’t like seeing that and so the industry has started to keep up with it.
Is there an initiative to make consumers more aware of the Green Fins logo and what it means?
We’re focusing much more at the dive center level but we want to do a lot more public outreach in the future. Divers are very passionate individuals and they’re very aware of the marine environment. Just going underwater is a fantastic awareness-raising tool. So divers themselves are very keen to protect the environment and naturally will do so.
As we see tourism growing so quickly in Asia Pacific, what are you anticipating having to deal with in the coming years?
Climate change is on everyone’s lips. We can’t stick our heads in the sand because climate change could be quite a big threat to the diving industry. But actually, I see the diving industry as a fantastic opportunity to become more aware of climate change moving forward.