Protecting our oceans through sustainable marine tourism

Charitable Travel promotes sustainable tourism through its support of Reef-World’s Green Fins initiative

Tropical marine ecosystems (coral reefs, seagrass & mangroves) are vital carbon sinks and provide critical ecosystem services to humanity. They’re under severe threat from growing global stressors such as those associated with climate change (e.g. coral bleaching) and local stressors such as preventable irresponsible tourism practices (expected to grow over time in line with projected increases in reef tourism).

Degradation of these ecosystems and their ecological services to local communities leads to erosion of food stability and coastal protection, job losses and diminished returns from tourism due to reduced aesthetic appeal. Without corals and related ecosystems, the ocean would lose a huge diversity of life.

Currently an estimated one million new scuba divers are certified each year with millions more snorkelling worldwide on coral reefs. The survival of the marine tourism industry depends on healthy coral reefs with lots of marine life and we all have a part to play. While irresponsible tourism can pose a threat to corals, well-managed tourism can provide many benefits, including economic opportunities for local communities that rely on coral reefs. By acting as responsible travellers or operators, each of us can help reduce the pressures tourism puts on corals and other sensitive marine ecosystems; thus making reefs healthier and more resilient to other global stressors. That’s why Charitable Travel is supporting Reef-World’s Green Fins: an initiative that works with governments and operators to drive sustainable tourism. 

Travellers who visit the ocean can reduce their negative impact on coral reefs and other sensitive marine ecosystems by following a few simple guidelines, as outlined by the Green Fins Code of Conduct:

Don't step on coral
Divers and snorkellers can easily break coral with their feet or fins. This can cause injury and kill coral reefs
Don't touch or chase marine life.
This can lead to stressed and scared animals that will swim away, leaving nothing for guests to see. Sharks species, in particular, should be left alone as our presence can influence and disrupt their natural behaviour
Don't stir the sediment
Careless divers and swimmers who stir up the sand can cause damage, smother coral animals, and spread disease on reefs
Do not buy souvenirs of shell, coral or other marine life
This encourages people to take marine life from the ocean, removing the beautiful creatures that play a vital role in the ocean life cycle. The shells are often from marine snails that are now extremely rare due to this trade.
Do not take marine life – dead or alive
Removing species that would normally break down and be recycled into the sea leaves other animals without nutrients and elements they need for growth. Even empty shells on the beach play an important role in the wider ecosystem. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bubbles.
Don't litter
Throwing trash in the ocean kills marine life, poisons seafood and can cause injury – minimise your use of single-use plastics and recycle or dispose of your litter properly. You can also pick up any litter you see in the ocean or on the beach
Don't wear gloves
Gloves can encourage people to touch things underwater, which could cause fatal injury and damage to marine life. In Egypt, the use of gloves is not permitted.
Don't feed the fish
This can make fish sick or aggressive, especially with sharks, causing them to attach and injure humans. Fed fish are also more likely to leave their nests empty and vulnerable to predators.
Wear reef-safe sunscreen
Some Chemical components in sunscreen - including Oxybenzone and Octinoxate - may have a negative impact on coral reefs. Help protect coral from harmful chemicals by using alternatives which are reef-safe and covering up with clothing when in strong sunshine.
Report environmental violations
If you see any destructive practises or violations of environmental laws, tell your dive guide, dive operator, or government officials. by informing key authorities you are being part of the solution as your actions can lead to appropriate action.
Participate in conservation projects
By taking part in conservation projects, you can have a positive effect on the environment and help educate others.
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Reef-World is working to make sustainable diving the social norm through Green Fins; an initiative it runs in partnership with UN Environment Programme (UNEP). This proven and established conservation approach helps dive and snorkel operators become more sustainable as well as educating travellers about best environmental practice. It also provides the only internationally recognised environmental standards for snorkelling and scuba diving and enables policy makers to identify areas of high environmental risk within the industry. This means they can work with business owners to find a suitable solution to local threats.

Gabriel Grimsditch, UNEP’s marine ecosystems expert, said: “Coral reefs are hugely valuable in terms of marine biodiversity, harbouring at least a quarter of all marine species and providing support to the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people around the world. So, protecting them from the impacts of a burgeoning tourism industry is vital to the health of our oceans. Tourists can also have a tangible impact on the marine biodiversity hotspots they visit by always following the Green Fins guidelines for best practice. Together, we can all take positive actions that will protect our coral reefs, keeping them healthy and thriving for years to come.”

For more information, or to download the free Green Fins tools and resources for sustainable tourism, visit the Green Fins website.