Chloe Harvey, Director, The Reef-World Foundation
Global awareness of the threats faced by our oceans — with a particular focus on plastic pollution — has skyrocketed in recent years and new research continues to be published on the topic. For example, in March 2019 the UN Environment launched three reports each addressing plastic pollution on the world’s ocean ecosystems. As a Director at The Reef-World Foundation — a non-governmental organization dedicated to inspiring and empowering governments, businesses, communities and individuals to act in conserving and sustainably developing coastal resources — plastic pollution is a threat I’m keenly aware of.
According to the UN’s data, between 60 to 80 per cent of marine debris is plastic and it’s affecting more than 800 marine species. We’re increasingly seeing devastating pictures in the news of whales, dolphins and turtles, washed up dead on beaches, their stomachs crammed full of plastic.
While the distressing impact of plastic pollution is something I see with a heavy heart, I do have hope. In March 2019, the European Union parliament approved a ban on single-use plastics, which will take effect in 2021. This means the top 10 disposable plastic items that are found washed up on European shores (including plastic plates, knives, forks, straws and cotton buds) will be banned and alternatives will be made available. In May 2019, England followed suit, saying that plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds will be banned from April 2020.
Now, leading organizations across the scuba diving industry are also stepping up by pledging to support an initiative called Mission 2020. Scuba divers are uniquely placed because they see first-hand the damage human activity is having on the ocean — so it’s no surprise this group is particularly invigorated to protect marine habitats for the future.
The dive organizations involved in Mission 2020 are committing to putting their environmental impact over their profit margins and making significant changes to their business practices — with a focus on single-use plastics — to help protect the ocean. What’s exciting about this initiative is that it’s spearheaded by the industry, for the industry.
Fourth Element, the originator of the initiative, has committed to eliminating single-use plastic packaging from its products by World Oceans Day (Monday 8 June) 2020 and is inviting other scuba diving companies to join them in making a pledge. Inspired, hundreds of companies have signed up too. Not only is Fourth Element’s new Thermocline wetsuit range made from 78% ECONYL® (made largely from ‘ghost’ fishing nets, recovered from the sea) but no plastic tags or bags are used in its packaging. Instead, it’s packed in cardboard or cassava starch packaging.
For example, Explorer Ventures Liveaboard Fleet is working towards the elimination of single-use plastics onboard its Caribbean vessels. It is also helping The Reef-World Foundation establish targeted liveaboard protocols as part of the Green Fins initiative with the hope of improving dive operator and liveaboard environmental policies worldwide. What’s more, Blue O Two has removed single-use plastics from its Red Sea fleet, equating to 60,000 bottles each year, and is working to make all its fleet vessels single-use plastics-free by the end of 2019.
PADI is working towards a fully-integrated digital learning system, so as to reduce its dependency on plastic packaging and minimize the plastic footprint of hundreds of thousands of divers each year. The company is also encouraging its 6,400 PADI dive shops around the world to take action and say no to plastic. Many Green Fins members are PADI dive operators and, as part of the initiative, are working to minimize their use of single-use plastics. The Reef-World Foundation, international coordinators of Green Fins, provide training, resources and support to help these businesses in their mission to become plastic-free.
Katie Thompson, Director, Global Brand + Mission at PADI, told me: “As PADI has grown, our purpose has expanded to include a stronger responsibility and commitment to take care of the environment. As the largest certifying agency in the world, PADI and its network of divers, teaching professionals and dive shops can mobilize as a force for good that can impact the health of the underwater world. This commitment to ocean health has become an integral part of the PADI corporate ethos. To be the best in the world, we all must be the best for the world by protecting the ocean planet we love.”
The UN report highlights that, in 2010, an estimated 11.1 billion plastic items were thought to be in the Asia-Pacific region alone and this is expected to increase to 15.7 billion by 2025. These staggering figures should be enough to spur us into action — we can’t sit and wait or expect someone else to come up with a solution. We all have a part to play.
Now is the time for dive operators to join other big names in the industry to be part of the change. This initiative has already encouraged really forward-thinking knowledge exchange across the industry. If you’re reading this, I urge you to join Mission2020 and make a pledge to reduce your business’ plastic use.
For more information and to make your pledge, visit: https://www.mission2020.org/get-involved/