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Coral reefs could be gone in our lifetime – if they go, the protection, health and wellbeing of people and our planet will be affected to a point of no return: coral reefs are home to more than 25% of all marine life and vital carbon sinks supplying rainwater, drinking water and oxygen. They are also a valuable source of livelihoods and local economic growth, food security, safer and more protective coastlines, good mental health, and life-saving medicines.
Puerto Galera in the Philippines is a busy marine tourism destination with over 60 marine tourism businesses offering services in a relatively small area. It’s famous for its marine life and coral reefs – the area was designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1977. While marine tourism in this location generates many benefits to the local economy, if unmanaged the activities also threaten to degrade the health of the environment upon which it’s built. Preventable irresponsible tourism practices (such as anchoring or kicking corals) are proven to cause breakage of live coral, damage which can take decades to repair. This in turn undermines the resilience of coral to other global stressors, such as climate change.
Reef-World’s flagship Green Fins program targets dive and snorkeling operators to become driving forces in coral reef protection and conservation. The Green Fins code of conduct provides a baseline for benchmarking operators’ environmental performance, following a standardized assessment process by local champions qualified as Green Fins Assessors.
Businesses are subsequently supported through practical guidance and training, developing sustainability action plans, and annual assessments. To ensure lasting positive change, we also work closely with national governments to promote public-private partnerships, and strengthen regulatory frameworks to provide incentives and new standards for sustainable tourism operations.
Green Fins was first introduced in Puerto Galera in 2011 and met much success. Over the following nine years, 35 dive operators participated in the program and assessment data indicated significant improvement in environmental performance among all businesses (impact scores improved on average by 27%).
Additionally, many environmental activities were conducted (e.g. marine monitoring and clean ups), spearheaded by the Green Fins operations in partnership with local government. Green Fins assessments resulted in the strengthening of local regulations and infrastructure enabling a sustainable industry (e.g. MPA laws, sewage facilities and garbage management).
All Green Fins operations halted during the COVID-19 pandemic and businesses closed. As tourism returns to Puerto Galera, many of the businesses have new management and all of the Green Fins Assessors have changed jobs or location. The national Green Fins implementing agency (Department of Environment and Natural Resources, DENR) has requested Reef-World’s support to rebuild local capacity for Green Fins operations and rejuvenate the program in Puerto Galera.
This fundraiser will support Reef-World’s direct costs to deliver the six-day Green Fins Assessor Training Program in Puerto Galera. Six local environmental champions with the skills and resources needed to conduct ongoing operations have already been identified by DENR and Reef-World.
Once qualified, the Assessors will conduct assessments to reactivate Green Fins memberships, helping businesses to build sustainability action plans once again. They will raise awareness of sustainable business practices among dive center staff and tourists. Together with Reef-World’s support, they will also use the assessment data to inform local decision-making around the national and local government’s new sustainable tourism plans.
Concretely, within the scope of this project, the following will be delivered:
This training will rebuild local capacity for Green Fins operations in Puerto Galera. The local marine tourism community in Puerto Galera have proven to be very receptive to the program, and there is a strong demand to activate membership.
The program has been developed significantly since the pandemic, including a threshold for certification and membership levels based on performance (gold, silver and bronze). We have also collaborated with lead diver training agency PADI on a new sustainability recognition program. So, there are many more incentives for operators to demonstrate exemplary environmental performance.
Results will continue beyond the life of this project as Green Fins is embedded in a national environmental initiative, so the DENR is committed to sustaining and expanding Green Fins nationally. The only gap in funding is for capacity building, which will be met through this fundraiser.
Reef-World has a long-established partnership with the DENR (since 2007), the national authority for environmental protection. The DENR works through regional departments, who engage and collaborate with local government units. Region 4b oversees the Puerto Galera region. Reef-World and the 4b regional office have already identified local environmental champions to be trained as Green Fins Assessors. These individuals are experienced divers and environmental resource managers, and Green Fins operations will become a core part of their roles once they are trained.
The project will engage local marine tourism business (both diving and snorkeling) management and staff, many of whom are local community representatives. Environmental training will be delivered to the entire staff teams, including the dive/snorkel guides, admin staff, boat crew and maintenance staff.
Where the businesses offer accommodation, the accommodation staff team will also be invited to participate in the training. Everyday sustainable behaviors (e.g. good garbage management) will be taken home to the local communities via the staff. Tourists visiting Green Fins Members will be exposed to environmental messaging and training.
Over the past 20 years, Reef-World has developed and expanded Green Fins in partnership with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), coastal communities and governments in popular coral reef tourism destinations, pushing for system change in the scuba diving and snorkeling industry across 15 countries. More recently we have also launched Green Fins Hub, which enables Green Fins digital membership, to complement the certified program and offer support to businesses operating outside geographies where Green Fins Assessor can currently reach. It is our vision to make sustainable diving the social norm, in turn improving the protection and conservation of coral reefs globally.