How can agents ensure they are booking responsible diving breaks for clients?
Around one million new divers are certified each year, with millions more snorkelling worldwide on coral reefs. This market is growing alongside an appetite for environmentally responsible travel, so your clients could soon start asking you how they can dive and snorkel responsibly while on holiday.
Enter Green Fins, a UN Environment initiative internationally coordinated by charity The Reef-World Foundation. Green Fins aims to protect and conserve coral reefs by providing the only internationally recognised environmental standards for diving and snorkelling.
The programme has been adopted in 11 countries around the world including Egypt, Thailand, the Philippines, the Maldives and Antigua and Barbuda.
It functions on a membership model and comprises around 600 members, including hotels such as Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives and dive centres linked to resorts such as Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru Dive Center and Como Maalifushi Marine Sports Centre.
All members are offered training and are assessed to ensure they are as responsible as possible.
“We have a code of conduct for members, which includes practices and processes above and below the water that have an impact on coral reefs, to minimise damage to marine ecosystems,” says JJ Harvey, director at The Reef-World Foundation.
“Before certifying, our assessors look at elements like how guides are managing guests underwater and how they are disposing of chemicals used to clean diving equipment and boats.”
The lower the assessment score, the lower the risk to the environment, Harvey explains. “Active members are listed on our website. Membership is suspended if a high score stays the same or increases over the course of 18 months, when we conduct our next assessment.”
As well as checking if a hotel, resort or dive centre is listed as a member before booking a trip for clients, agents can also download free posters from the Green Fins website, which detail how clients can be responsible divers and snorkellers, and can be displayed in agency stores.
Agents can also share the below environmental tips with clients planning a diving or snorkelling break:
No stepping on coral or stirring the sediment: Divers and snorkellers can easily break coral with their feet or fins, which can cause injury and kill reefs, while stirring sediment can cause damage, spread disease and ruin the beauty of the reef.
No touching or chasing marine life or feeding fish: Touching marine life can lead to stressed, scared animals that will swim away, while feeding fish can make them sick or aggressive, causing them to attack and injure humans.
Do not buy souvenirs of shell coral or other marine life or take marine life, dead or alive: Buying souvenirs encourages people to take marine life from the ocean, and removing species that would normally break down into the sea leaves other animals without nutrients they need for growth.
No gloves or littering: Gloves can encourage tourists to touch things underwater, which could damage marine life, while littering in the ocean kills marine life, poisons seafood and can injure tourists.
Do not support shark finning: This is a brutal industry – sharks are worth more alive than dead.
Wear reef-safe sunscreen: Some chemicals in sunscreen may have a negative impact on coral reefs. Use reef-safe alternatives and cover up with clothing when in strong sunshine.
Report environmental violations and participate in conservation projects: If you see any destructive practices or violations of environmental laws, tell your dive guide, operator or government officials. Clients shouldn’t be deterred from snorkelling or diving coral reefs, as long as the above guidelines are adhered to, says Harvey.
“By minimising our direct threat to corals, we can help reefs to be more resilient in the face of climate change. We hope to educate clients and operators about the little changes they can make in a positive way while on holiday.”
Krissy Roe, head of values at Responsible Travel, on responsible coral reef breaks
Are you noticing an increase in demand for trips that help protect coral reefs?
We have seen a growing interest in all forms of wildlife conservation holidays in recent years. Over the past year alone, bookings have increased by more than a third (35%).
Why is it important for clients to safeguard coral reefs on holiday?
Coral reefs are at the frontline of the climate crisis. They are dying due to climate change and water quality, affected by agriculture. They’ll all be gone by 2070 if nothing is done. The support of local leaders and communities is vital to protect the future of our reefs. Despite only covering 0.5% of the ocean floor, reefs support almost 30% of the world’s marine fish species, and 400 million people depend on reefs for work, food and protection from waves, storms and floods.
What experiences do your clients get involved with to protect coral reefs?
We have a range of marine conservation holidays, focusing on protecting reefs and the biodiversity of the world’s oceans. Removing invasive species (such as lion fish) is a popular trip, which helps to maintain the delicate balance of the reefs’ eco-system.
How can clients ensure their coral reef break is responsible?
Book with an operator with responsible tourism policies and look into what the companies are doing in terms of wider climate change initiatives.