Okay, it is a weird title, however it is about two outstanding organizations. Project Aware and Green Fins are two non-profit organizations that are dedicated to the environment and the role that scuba divers can play into improving our world, one dive at a time. Project Aware grew out of a PADI commitment and is still closely aligned with PADI and found in over 180 countries. Green Fins is primarily based in Asia and focuses on problems more unique to underdeveloped nations.
“Green Fins, a public-private initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme and Reef-World, provides the only internationally recognised code of conduct used to reduce the environmental impact of the diving and snorkelling industry. The system includes a proven assessment criteria to identify high-risk practices both above and below the water, offering practical alternatives to business managers, and is implemented by resource managers we train and support.” Reef-World Website
“Green Fins was developed as a way to address the gap in knowledge and awareness about the growing threats to the marine environment.” Green Fins Website
The two quotes above and the video gives a quick overview of what Green Fins is all about. The Green fins program started back in 2004 with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) funding a pilot project in Thailand. It has expanded since then to include operations in Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Palau, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. While Green Fins is integrated at the national government level within each operating question, the local dive centers are the work horses of the program.
While the primary focus of the program is to reduce the damage done by divers and dive operators, you need to consider the mindset at the time in these countries. Most of the locals had very limited exposure to environmental practices. Most people in the west has had some environmental messages being drummed into them for a few decades. Earth Day, air and water pollution control laws and improved environmental practices have been with us since the 1970s. When Green Fins enter into most of the countries they are currently in, good environmental practices were unheard of. Local fisherman often used destructive fishing methods such as dynamite fishing and took no concern of the damage done by anchors on reefs. Many areas used the seas as dumping places for all sorts of trash and contaminants.
Pristine reefs could be damaged beyond repair overnight. Local dive centers often had to reply on these fishermen as boatman. It is in the best interest of the dive center to train not only their own staff but also other people living in the area to protect the coral reefs and the seas. Much of the materials that Green Fins provides to dive centers are also intended to educate others with an interest in the seas.
A Green Fins dive center pledges to implement the programs of the organization. They are evaluated yearly on a 330 point scale that measures how friendly they are to the environment. The goal is to improve their score with each evaluation. If they fail to improve in two consecutive evaluations they are moved to an inactive status. Members in good standings can carry the Green Fins logo in their marketing.
When you look at different social media outlets, you will often see comments about divers who experience dive operators who do not operate in an environmental friendly manner. While not a 100% perfect, seeking out a dive operator who has taken the Green Fins pledge and is working towards improving their environmental impact is a good way to stat to find an environmental friendly dive operator.
“There are so many significant problems facing mankind, but as divers this is truly our cause. If scuba divers do not take an active role in preserving the aquatic realm, who will?” John Cronin, PADI Co-founder
Having been started by PADI and still closely aligned with it, Project Aware has a larger presence in the dive industry. It would be difficult to find a scuba diver who had not at least heard of the organization.
Project Aware has concentrated their efforts into two main channels: Dive Against Debris® and Responsible Shark & Ray Tourism. They also have a top ten tips for divers which are similar to the tips of Green Fins.
Dive Against Debris®
Project Aware website states:
“Project AWARE’s flagship citizen-science program, Dive Against Debris®, empowers scuba divers to remove marine debris from the ocean and report data on the types, quantities and locations of materials collected”
Marine debris is an unimaginable problem. Much of it is plastics which because of its non-biodegradable nature continue to accumulate. Plastic does break down, however, they simply break down into increasingly smaller pieces until they become microscopic size.
Some plastic, such as micro-beads used in some beauty products, start out that way. These small undetectable items can impact on the clarity of the water impacting algae and coral life. Small pieces of plastics is often mistaken as food for some marine life. Plastic had been found in waters thousands of miles from humanity. Startling there are a number of places in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as well as the other seas and oceans where the currents have created garbage patches.
The focus of the Project Aware program is to get as much of the marine debris out of the water before it can create greater problems. The program also has a citizen scientist aspect to help study the problem.
Great Pacific Garbage Patch
I have to believe that just about everyone in the western world has heard pleads to stop our current practices and save our environment. However, I think that not everyone can really comprehend the magnitude of the problem that plastic is having on our environment. There are two related articles that I think each responsible person needs to look at. One is a National Geographic look at Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The second article is on the NOAA Marine Debris Program website that also has a video and audio interviews.
While the Pacific patch gets the most attention, each of our oceans has a similar patch. The same can be said of many of our rivers and lakes. I have seen beaches that had tons of trash placed on them after a storm. That trash came from the ocean after being placed there from runoffs from land or dumped on purposed into the water.
After a dive my friends and relatives always asked what did I see. I wow them with stories of the beautiful reef fish or maybe tell them of the shark or turtle I had encountered. However, often my dives are tempered with the point that I also saw trash or discarded fishing lines and nets. Removing trash when I see it on a dive is something I do automatically, if allowed. I also make it a point to join an underwater clean up when I come across them. This is what Project Aware’s Dive Against Debris® program is about. Get the marine trash out of the water so we reduce the danger to the ocean and keep us interested in what we do see when we dive.
Responsible Shark & Ray Tourism
The position that sharks and rays have in the ocean environment is undeniably important. At or near the top of the food chain makes them very important in maintaining the natural balance of life. Unfortunately, mankind has been killing off rays and sharks at a rate that has brought many species to an endangered point. The shark being an apex predator has a certain draw for many divers, also they have a natural beauty as well. Diving with sharks can influence their behavior. The projects Responsible Shark & Ray Tourism takes a look at the best way man and shark can interact and supports conservation programs to protect sharks and rays.
Are You Part Of The Solution Or Part Of The Problem?
Please take a look at the goals of both of these organizations. Examine the tips and suggestions they make. How do you measure up? Ask yourself “Are you part of the solution or part of the problem”. Your actions should not be limited to your diving but look at your everyday actions. These two organizations are not the only two, they are just two that focus on scuba divers. Look how you may help with the problem even in a modest way. Recycle your plastics, support local efforts, just do what you can.
Find Out More
You can find out more about both organizations at: