UNEP states directives on balancing marine biodiversity with tourism

Published on : Saturday, April 16, 2016

Asia Dive Expo (ADEX)Guidance material on how recreational diving can protect fragile marine biodiversity threatened by growing coastal tourism and support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will be launched tomorrow at Asia’s largest and oldest dive expo by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners.
The Green Fins Toolbox, developed through a public-private partnership initiative working with diving and snorkeling businesses, communities and governments in Southeast and South Asia, was unveiled during Asia Dive Expo (ADEX), held at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre.

The growing popularity and accessibility of scuba diving and snorkeling is bringing more people onto coral reefs. The diving industry adds over one million new divers every year, putting additional pressure on fragile coastal ecologies, in particular coral reefs, which host abundant marine life and are an enormous draw for tourists.

While helping to drive economic growth, intensive scuba diving can directly damage corals, making them susceptible to other stresses as well as reduce live coral cover. Poorly managed beach and reef tourism constitutes an environmental threat and undermines the industry’s primary asset, the coral reef.

“Green Fins provides guidance based on solid coral reef and diving industry know-how,” said Isabelle Louis, acting UNEP Regional Director and Representative. “It helps small and medium sized businesses show conservation leadership and turn environmental risks into opportunity, ensuring a sustainable industry that protects marine ecosystems, creates long-term livelihoods, and contributes to implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.”

Designed for the marine tourism industry, as well as local and national marine resource managers, the toolbox also includes a two-minute video on sustainable diving titled “Green Fins for a Blue Planet”, produced by UNEP in partnership with syndicated cartoonist Jim Toomey. Using clear and simple language, the video shows how divers, dive centre operators and owners, and governments can influence both the environmental and economic sustainability of the industry.

“The public is embracing dive tourism in a big way, and that’s great,” said Mr. Toomey. “However, now that we are taking to the water in such big numbers, there needs to be a set of guidelines that we can teach and follow as a dive community, if we’re going to protect our delicate coral reefs for future generations.”

The toolbox and video draw on the lessons of the Green Fins Initiative established by UNEP and the Reef-World Foundation. Green Fins is working with over 400 diving and snorkelling operators, who are continuously improving their business practices to reduce the negative environmental impacts.

“Green Fins is a catalyst for change,” said Chloe Harvey, Reef-World Programmes Manager. “It brings people from different sectors together, empowering them with tools and knowledge to take collective action and make lasting changes to the way they conduct business.”

The Green Fins Toolbox will be used for implementing and geographically expanding Green Fins as well as strengthening collaboration with key industry partners on environmental mainstreaming.

The Green Fins initiative provides outreach and capacity building to dive centres and their customers, and also supports governments in developing and implementing regulations. The initiative also involves regular assessment of industry performance against a 15-point code of conduct and supports improved industry practices and the development of regulatory frameworks.

Originally established in Thailand in 2004, Green Fins is now active in six countries in Asia and is being expanded to other regions.

The Two Minutes on Oceans video series produced with Mr. Toomey, the creator of the Sherman’s Lagoon cartoon strip, began in 2011 through a partnership between UNEP’s Regional Office for North America and Mr. Toomey.

The Two Minutes on Oceans with Jim Toomey series now includes eight short videos, which provide the general public with scientific information about urgent issues facing our oceans today, as well as recommended actions to address them. They use animation and humor to illustrate the importance of oceans to human well-being and the environment. They are accessible online for no cost and have been broadcast around the world.

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