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As more travelers head underseas, the threat to global dive sites continues to escalate. According to the World Resources Institute, nearly 58 percent of the world’s reefs are now classified at a medium to high at-risk factor. So troubling are the numbers that the International Coral Reef Initiative established 2008 as the Year of the Reef in an effort to raise awareness.
Snorkeling and diving near Thailand’s
coral reefs are popular among many visitors.
Dive tourism in Thailand first started 30 years ago and, by 1985, the country welcomed some 25,000 divers a year. That number has since increased and now more than 550,000 divers travel to Thailand annually.
Because of its location between two disparate oceans — the Pacific and the Indian — Thailand possesses optimal diving conditions. It boasts temperate waters, approximately 250,000 square miles of aquatic environment and 26 marine national parks. It is home to 800 species of coral reef fish — nearly 20 percent of the total world supply — and is one of the few locations in the world where whale sharks and manta rays can be found. What’s more, each ocean enjoys a peak season on opposite sides of the calendar, making diving a year-round sport.
The increased stress on Thailand’s seas, however, has scientists, tourism professionals and government officials taking notice. In 2004, the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC) rolled out the Green Fins program, developed "to protect and conserve coral reefs by establishing and implementing environmentally friendly guidelines to promote a sustainable diving tourism industry."
Three basic environmental issues are at the program’s core: (1) lack of awareness among tourists, guides and boat operators, (2) anchor damage to the reefs and (3) littering. Through a series of educational programs and dive company certification, Green Fins hopes to encourage better diving practices while increasing protective measures, collecting data and improving coral reef health.
Now, about 70 Thai-based tour operators carry Green Fins certification. Green Fins encourages individual divers to dive with Green Fins-certified operators. Such companies will tie up at existing moorings so as not to harm the fragile reefs and will have adequate waste management facilities (so overflowing trash cans don’t litter the seas).
The program goes well beyond education, too. In an attempt to regenerate coral reefs, Green Fins is growing tiny coral fragments in floating nurseries. Last December, when the first fragments had grown to a self-sustainable size, volunteer divers transplanted the baby coral to Phi Phi Leh, one of the hardest hit areas during the 2004 tsunami.
Also an active supporter of International Coastal Clean Up Day, Green Fins will bring together volunteers from Koh Lanta schools, hotels, tour operators and government organizations on Sept. 13-14 to help lessen the effect of trash on Thailand’s beaches and underwater destinations.
Looking forward, Green Fins also hopes to establish a Green Fins Club for goodwill messengers who can spread the word about preserving Thailand’s world-class dive facilities.
Green Finswww.greenfins-thailand.org International Year of the Reefwww.iyor.org Phuket Marine Biological Centerwww.pmbc.go.th/english/english.asp Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)www.tourismthailand.org TAT Green Tourism E-bookwww.ebooktourismthailand.org/epage/green_tourism.pdf TAT Thailand Diving E-bookwww.ebooktourismthailand.org/epage/into_the_blue.pdf World Resource Institutewww.wri.org
The Tourism Authority of Thailand is promoting greener tourism through its Seven Greens Program which encompasses the following principles:
Green Heart: Urging tourists to be socially responsible and to take part in global efforts to help protect the environment.
Green Logistics: Promoting the use of more environmentally friendly modes of transportation, including cycling tours.
Green Destinations: Promoting responsibly managed tourist sites. Thailand’s Pollution Control Department, for example, has recently introduced star ratings of Thai beaches.
Green Communities: Supporting community-based tourism programs that foster local traditions and ways of life. One example is the Elephant Village in Surin province.
Green Activities: Highlighting tourism activities that are culturally enriching without compromising the integrity of the environment, such as eco-friendly diving programs.
Green Service: Encouraging service providers to attain higher quality assurance standards while demonstrating respect for the environment.
Green [Plus]+: Soliciting corporate social responsibility by encouraging operators to give back to the communities in which they operate and to implement energy-saving initiatives.