The Green Fins initiative is now active in 11 (and counting!) countries around the world, where it’s coordinated by Reef-World in partnership with the UN Environment and supported by local in-destination partners. Each country has its own unique sustainability story, made up of challenges, successes and learnings specific to that region. But, while every country is different, many regions around the world are facing similar challenges when it comes to implementing environmental standards to protect their natural resource. Only by working together, can we streamline and fast-track everyone’s progress.

So, the team at Reef-World wanted to share an overview of active destinations and how Green Fins has helped them overcome barriers to sustainability. Next up: the beautiful Maldives…

The Republic of the Maldives is an island nation in the Indian Ocean consisting of a double chain of twenty-six atolls. The waters of the Maldives are known for their variety of coral reefs, abundance of fish and healthy populations of large marine vertebrates, such as whale sharks and manta rays. Unsurprisingly, this reputation has led to a thriving diving industry with tourism being the country's main source of income.

So, it stands to reason that Green Fins was chosen as one of the key projects to help protect the marine resources the Maldives so heavily depends upon. Green Fins became active in the Maldives in 2014 where activities are coordinated and facilitated by the Environmental Protection Agency (a legal regulatory entity working under the supervision of a governing body of the Ministry of Environment and Energy). The launch was supported by IUCN Maldives’ Mangroves for the Future initiative.

As is usual with Green Fins implementation in a new country, the national team focused on a steady progression: introducing Green Fins on an Atoll by Atoll basis. In this way they were able to slowly build capacity of the team and help provide practical, low-cost solutions to local issues. This phased implementation process, rather than trying to immediately expand to all areas with incoming interest, also helped manage the expectations of the dive centres so if training and assessment requests could not be met at that time, they could understand why. The programme was introduced in the Male region as well as North and South Ari Atoll, new assessors were trained to join the national team and there were many membership requests from keen dive centres who wanted to improve their environmental standards through Green Fins.

As a result of a rise in budget accommodation being built on locally inhabited islands – making the Maldives’ diving industry more accessible to backpackers – the country’s diving industry was becoming more locally minded. For this reason, the assessor teams focused on building the capacity of local dive guides, educating them on the importance of a sustainable diving industry (and that diving provides a positive alternative livelihood to fishing or souvenir sales – if it’s managed responsibly) and helping raise awareness among their guests on protecting the reefs through environmental best practice.

The programme has also helped facilitate better relationships between private and public sector companies in the Maldives. Before Green Fins, the private and public sector didn’t have easy and open routes of conversation, which could lead to dive centres misunderstanding specific laws in the area and becoming frustrated towards the government and the rangers on patrol; for example, when mistakenly believing it was illegal to fish on or near dive sites and becoming frustrated when rangers weren’t taking action when this happened. Because many of the Green Fins assessors are government individuals, hosting awareness raising sessions gives them a good opportunity to meet and build relationships with dive operators and their staff. By facilitating conversations between these entities, Green Fins awareness raising sessions were critical in alleviating these kinds of misconceptions and strengthening private-public relationships.

In 2016, the initiative was able to expand to Baa Atoll; a world-class tourism hotspot and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. These stunning reefs are visited by huge numbers of resident Maldivian manta rays and seasonal whale shark aggregations; unsurprisingly, drawing tourists from around the world. The national team had also received numerous requests from dive centres to become Green Fins trained and certified. As such, this was identified as a strategically important region for Green Fins expansion. A particular area of focus was concerns around irresponsible snorkeller encounters with manta rays and whale sharks in Hanifaru Bay.

In collaboration with staff from the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Office (BR Office) and the EPA, Reef-World ran a Green Fins Assessor training programme on Eydhafushi island. Several new members of staff were trained to support the Green Fins initiative – including the rangers of the Biosphere reserve itself – and several new dive operator members were trained in best environmental practice. Thanks to this training session, a new Green Fins administrative role was also created to help the team maintain the long-term sustainability of the initiative. This role enables them to manage data upkeep, membership liaison and the website more easily.

As a proven management approach for marine tourism, Green Fins can be adopted by national governments as part of national initiatives and can be used to develop and strengthen regulations to protect the marine environment. The Maldives is a great example of this: the country has included the Green Fins Code of Conduct in national legislation governing the dive tourism industry. Using Green Fins to address marine tourism impacts in this way helps drive government funding and other resources to support the initiative.

The presence of Green Fins in the Maldives has also led to a mutually beneficial partnership with Six Senses Laamu; a resort which aims to raise the bar for sustainability across the travel industry. Through Green Fins, Reef-World and Six Senses Laamu are working together to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals 14 (Life Below Water), 12 (Sustainable Consumption and Production) and 17 (Partnerships for the goals) while protecting the Maldives’ pristine coral reefs for businesses and tourists to enjoy now and in the future.

You can find the current list of active Green Fins members in the Maldives here.

If your dive operator is located in the Maldives and you’d like to join Green Fins, please email [email protected] with a completed membership form.