GREEN FINS Eco-friendly Diving in Thailand
Images Phuket Marine Biological Center, Phuket, Thailand

GREEN FINS
Eco-friendly Diving in Thailand

An interview with Niphon Phongsuwan,
Project Leader, Green Fins Project
Phuket Marine Biological Center, Phuket, Thailand

Introduction to the Green Fins Programme
Green Fins Code of Conduct
How You Can Help
Sustaining the Programme
Thailand — One of the World's Top 10 Dive Destinations
Reef Stability and Health
Environmentally-Friendly Dive Operators in Thailand

Thailand welcomes over 550,0001 dive tourists each year and is home to over 80,000 certified divers of its own. Dive tourism in Thailand has increased by more than twenty-fold from 25,000 divers2 in 1985.

THE GREEN FINS PROGRAMME
Coral reefs are an important resource in Southeast Asia, contributing to the economic incomes of the coastal population and the growing dive tourism industry in this region. The East Asian Seas region contains one of the greatest concentrations of coral reefs in the world. The area is so rich in biodiversity that more coral and reef fish species can be found here than anywhere else. The coral reefs of the region can be regarded as a classic example of a rich and diverse ecosystem.3


Map of global coral diversity from the World Resources Institute
Please click to expand

Thailand joins The Philippines in being actively engaged with Green Fins.
The main reason the participating countries were selected is recognition of the importance of the Indo-Pacific in terms of their contribution to global marine biodiversity. As this inevitably makes countries in the region popular dive sites, there is the risk that they will be adversely impacted by dive tourism if conservation measures are not introduced pro-actively.

To promote the protection and preservation of the marine environment, a new project called Green Fins is being rolled out in Thailand. An initiative of the Coordinating Body of the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA), United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the Green Fins mission is “to protect and conserve coral reefs by establishing and implementing environmentally friendly guidelines to promote a sustainable diving tourism industry”.

With decades of sustained growth in Thailand’s economic and tourism development, the impact of human activity on coral reefs is apparent. In the past, human impact on Thailand’s coral reefs were primarily from unsustainable practices such as dynamite and poison fishing. While these factors have not disappeared altogether, the environmental impact from dive tourism is potentially of more significance now. For example, the island of Koh Tao, a diving Mecca off the coast of Chumphon Province and Thailand’s most popular diving destination for all dive beginners, accounts for approximately 30 per cent of all dive certificates issued around the world. With the large numbers of divers visiting this island and other diving hotspots, inexperienced divers, reef-walking snorkellers and underwater photographers, as well as dive boat anchors, cause direct physical damage to coral.

Images Phuket Marine Biological Center, Phuket, Thailand


Image Phuket Marine Biological Center, Phuket, Thailand

Human-induced climate change is also leading to changes in temperature and sea level which in turn are causing changes in reef communities, such as bleaching and disease.
This makes it all the more important to reduce the impact people have on this fragile ecosystem. While climate change is inevitable, minimizing the impact from tourism-related activities can be more easily achieved.


 
Green Fins addresses the following environmental issues:
The lack of awareness among tourists, guides and tour boat operators of the adverse impact of improper recreational use of the marine environment
Anchor damage to reefs that have become popular year-round destinations for tour boats
Littering

The expected outcomes of implementation of the Green Fins Programme are:
Increased awareness of good diving practices
Increased protective measures for coral reefs
Increased coral reef data and information at the selected sites
Improved coral reef health
 


Image Phuket Marine Biological Center,
Phuket, Thailand

Environmentally-friendly
Dive Operators

Please click to view

The Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC) and the Conservation Unit under the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DoMCR) have direct responsibility for coral reefs.

PMBC is coordinating Green Fins in Thailand and is facilitating the development of a network of environmentally friendly divers and dive operators. The programme was launched in Thailand on 29-30 May 2007. Seventy-seven (mostly foreign) diving companies and over 200 (mostly Thai) individuals from six provinces (Phuket, Krabi, Phang-nga, Satun, Trang and Surat Thani) are currently participating in the programme. Each has agreed to abide by the Green Fins Code of Conduct.

 

Image Phuket Marine Biological Center,
Phuket, Thailand
Project activities fall under three categories:
Awareness training
Reef protection and monitoring
Improving reef health

While diver-training courses such as PADI already emphasize how easy it is to disturb the sensitive marine environment, it is easy for divers to fall into poor habits. Green Fins awareness presentations remind participants to control their buoyancy and not touch marine life. Dive operators can reinforce these simple protocls with their guests.

 

Image Phuket Marine Biological
Center, Phuket, Thailand

Clear identification of impacts caused by tourism vis--vis natural causes is important for managing reefs. Green Fins participants help PMBC scientists monitor reef health by conducting surveys using Reef Watch or Reef Check protocols. Reef conditions such as depth, topography, type and coverage of coral, water visibility and species indicative of environmental conditions are recorded. For example, urchins, snapper, butterfly fish, sea cucumber are indicators of environmental health. Changes on reefs detected by Green Fins surveyors such as marine life die-offs have alerted scientists to new and emerging threats such as cold-water upwellings and crown of thorns starfish. Seventy sites are currently monitored by Green Fins.


Special activities involving Green Fins participants are designed to protect and rehabilitate reefs.

Image Phuket Marine Biological Center,
Phuket, Thailand

Clean-ups are organized to collect and dispose of garbage accumulating on beaches and reefs. Participants may adopt reef sites. For example, as part of the Clean-up The World Weekend, Green Fins participants cleaned up the reefs at Racha Island, Phuket and the beach at Lanta Island, Krabi during September 14-16th 2007.

 

Image Phuket Marine Biological Center,
 Phuket, Thailand
Raising and releasing giant clams
Their populations are rapidly declining due to over-harvesting and water pollution.
 

Image Phuket Marine Biological Center,
Phuket, Thailand
Installing mooring buoys and replacing damaged buoys to help keep boat anchors off coral beds. This activity involves the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants Conservation (DoNP) and the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DoMCR)
 
GREEN FINS CODE OF CONDUCT
1. Adopt Green Fins mission statement
2. Display adopted Green Fins agreement for dive operators
3. Adhere to “Green Fins’ Friendly Diving and Snorkelling Guidelines” and act
as responsible role model for guests
4. Participate in regular underwater cleanups at dive operator selected sites
5. Participate in the development and implementation of a mooring buoy programme, and actively use moorings, drift or hand place anchors for boats
6. Prohibit the sale of corals and other marine life at the dive operation
7. Participate in regular coral reef monitoring, and report coral reef monitoring data to a regional coral reef database
8. Provide adequate garbage facilities on board facility’s vessel and deal with responsibly
9. Operate under a “minimum discharge” policy
10. Abide by all local, regional, national; and international environmental laws, regulations and customs
11. Provide guests with an explanation of Green Fins’ Friendly Diving and Snorkelling Guidelines” in pre-briefings (UNEP Multilingual pre-dive briefing handouts, multimedia, posters, videos, etc)
12. Provide training, briefings or literature for employees and guests regarding good environmental practices for snorkelling, diving, boating, marine wildlife interaction, and other marine recreation activities
13. Provide staff and guests with public awareness and environmental materials (books, pamphlets, fish ID books, etc.)
14. Provide guests with information on local marine protected areas, environmental rules and regulations
15. Promote strict “no touch” policy for all reef diving and snorkelling
Adapted from The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) "Environmentally Friendly Standards for Dive Operations" 

Evaluation of the programme is done through assessments of the dive operators by guests, by the operators themselves, and by PMBC. Questions asked include the following;
How well did the dive operator adhere to Green Fins ‘Friendly Diving and Snorkelling Guidelines’ and act as responsible role model for guests?
Did the dive operator use mooring buoys on every dive, when available?
Did the dive operator sell or allow others to sell corals and other marine life at the shop?
How well did the dive/boat operator deal with garbage and solid waste?
Did the dive/boat operator abide by all local, regional, national and international environmental laws, regulations and customs?
Did the dive operator provide guests with an explanation of “Green Fins” ‘Friendly Diving and Snorkelling Guidelines’ in pre-dive briefings?
Did the dive operator provide other public awareness and environmental materials (books, pamphlets, fish ID books, etc.)?
Did the dive operator provide information on local marine protected areas, environmental rules and regulations?
Did the dive operator promote a strict “no touch” policy for all reef diving and snorkeling?


Please click to expand

In the second year of the programme in Thailand, Green Fins will work more closely with existing participants, and will evaluate and certificate dive operators based on the results of the assessments.

The Thai and English language website will be further developed to raise awareness and for the web site to function as a tool for on-going communication with Green Fin members.

HOW YOU CAN HELP
Divers visiting Thailand can help save coral reefs by choosing to dive with companies that abide by the Green Fins Code of Conduct. In so doing they help promote environmentally-friendly businesses. Divers can learn about Reef Watch/Reef Check and volunteer to collect data. They may also participate in special activities such as reef clean-ups and the installation of mooring buoys.

ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY DIVE OPERATORS IN THAILAND
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SUSTAINING THE PROGAMME
Individuals and organizations will in future be able to join a Green Fins Club. This will promote interest in the conservation of reefs. Funding support from the private sector will help fund activities and monitoring of the programme. Ultimately the success of the programme will depend on the extent to which it can be sustained.

Green Fins can eventually become a part of official Thailand Government marine conservation programmes, and so be supported through annual budgets and sustained through forward planning.

*Sources
1 Tourism Authority of Thailand
2 Department of Marine and Coastal Resources
3 Coordinating Body of the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA)

THAILAND – ONE OF THE WORLD’S TOP-10 DIVE DESTINATIONS
Although they are no longer a secret to the diving community, Thailand’s marine attractions remain among the best-loved in Asia. Here are some reasons why…

Natural history
Undersea pinnacles host large pelagic fish, rays and whale sharks
Reefs feature a great diversity of corals, fish and other marine life, especially along the Andaman coastline
Feeding this diversity are mangrove forests, which protect coastlines, and serve as nurseries for marine fish and other animals
Sea grass beds stretching along the Andaman coastline from Ranong to Satun, as well as in the Gulf of Thailand, provide critical habitat for dugongs and marine turtles

REEF STABILITY AND HEALTH
Thailand reefs are more stable than reefs in some other parts of Asia. The impact of the 2004 tsunami were limited to 13 per cent of Thailand's reefs.

Dynamic Change of Coral Reefs in the Andaman Sea, Thailand
Findings from a study undertaken by the Phuket Marine Biological Center in Phuket, Thailand to monitor the long-term status of coral reefs in the Andaman Sea, Thailand and the pattern of dynamic change of the reefs and causes of change.

Proportions of live/dead coral cover provide a visual indicator of reef health in the Andaman Sea.


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Sixty study sites were grouped into 3 regions.
North – offshore
Transect sites at Surin Islands group and the Similan Islands group
Central – near shore
Transect sites in Phuket (at North and South Patong) and Phi Phi Islands
South – offshore
Transect sites at the Adang-Rawi Islands group

Data collected from permanently marked transects on the upper reef slopes at these 60 locations revealed the following findings.
30% were unaffected with live cover either remaining stable or steadily increasing until present
20% of reef sites showed damage from environmental factors followed by good recovery
31.7% showing damage and little or no recovery
18.3% of sites were damaged by the tsunami and are predicted to show recovery within the next 3-10 years if conditions remain favourable for reef growth.

ACCESSIBILITY AND INFRASTRUCTURE
Thailand’s position at the geographic crossroads of Asia makes it both a travel hub and destination. The marine realm is very accessible with international and domestic connections to dive take-off points at Phuket, Ranong, Krabi, Trang, Satun and Koh Samui.
Diving in Thailand is possible year-round, with Andaman Sea sites accessible during November to May, and Gulf of Thailand sites available in other months.
A plethora of registered dive businesses makes organizing dive tours easy, certification possible for beginners, and specialty instruction (e.g. deep water, wreck, nitrox diving) available to advanced divers. A Google search on the words “diving courses Thailand” returns 2,060,000 links.

Story by Antony J. Lynam

RELATED LINKS
GREEN FINS THAILAND
http://www.greenfins-thailand.org

COBSEA Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia web site at http://www.cobsea.org/activities/coralreef_sub/activities_greenfins.html

Coastal Clean-Up Day in Thailand
http://www.cobsea.org/activities/activites_coralreef_coastal%20cleanup.html

Coordinating Body of the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA),
United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)
http://www.cobsea.org/activities/coralreef_sub/activities_greenfins.html

World Resources Institute web site
http://www.wri.org

A map of global coral diversity is downloadable from the World Resources Institute web site
http://images.wri.org/map_rrsea_01_large.jpg

Contact information
Green Fins Project
Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC)
51 Sakdidaj Rd., Vichai, Muang, Phuket 83000, Thailand
Tel: +66 (0) 76 391 128
Fax: +66 (0) 76 391 127
E-mail: info@greenfins-thailand.org

COMPANIES PARTICIPATING IN GREEN FINS THAILAND
Please click to view

ACKNOWLDEGEMENTS
News Room sincerely thanks the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC) for the enthusiastic support and kind assistance in providing information and images for this feature.