[Coral-List] Sustainable Coral Reef/Dive Operator Certification?

Bastiaan Vermonden bastiaan.vermonden at gmail.com
Fri Nov 25 05:39:26 EST 2011

Hi Douglas,

Thank you for this great feedback, I share many of the same thoughts. This
website from National Geographic already shows nicely how a general rating
can be used and then subcomponents, http://pristineseas.org/site/

Also you reminded me of another reason why I decided on this method. Indeed
the power of dive operators is quite limited so I tried to devise a method
which would also create an incentive to other actors to ensure that the
reefs remain healthy. Since not only dive operators but also many other
businesses such as the hospitality sector benefit from the tourists
attracted by coral reefs. So for them it is also essential to ensure the
health of the reefs. We will still have the problem of the tragedy of the
commons but I hope that rated divesites will make businesses and people
more eager to solve these problems and as you said maybe apply more
pressure to marine park managers or maybe be more supportive of measures
necessary to achieve better quality such as a higher entry fee for a marine
park or better sewage management.



On 24 November 2011 23:14, Douglas Fenner <douglasfenner at yahoo.com> wrote:

>      I think there are excellent ideas in this thread!!  I just looked at
> Bastiaan's map, and indeed it provides a lot of information that dive
> consumers could use, an excellent start.
>      One thing is that it seems to me like there are at least a couple of
> separate, major, divisions in things to rate that have been identified.
> One is the "health of the reef" and the other is the "environmental quality
> of the dive operations."  Those could be quite separate things that vary
> independently.  At any one location, there may be several or many dive
> operators, each of which has a different "environmental quality of dive
> operations."  There will also be several dive sites, with different quality
> reefs.  Further, each of these things have sub-components.  Monika has
> given us some of the different components of a dive operation's quality.
> The reef also has sub-components.  So Bastiaan's map shows fish biomass.
> Fish are important for divers.  Overall biomass is a good measure.  Another
> might be quantity of the largest types of fish, such as sharks, giant size
> grouper (Goliath Grouper in the Caribbean, Giant Grouper in the Pacific),
> Humphead Wrasse and Bumphead Parrots in the Pacific.  Large fish are
> especially important, not only because divers like them, but because they
> are the first thing that people remove from reefs.  Another might be the
> quantity of herbivorous fishes.  Another might be live coral cover, another
> amount of algae, another amount of land sediment.  And so on.  They may
> vary quite independently, so for instance, the Maldives got hit very hard
> by mass coral bleaching in 1998, and their coral cover went very low (and
> now hopefully is in recovery).  But their fish life, including big fish, is
> amazing, and the fish life is one of the most attractive things to divers.
>      Anyhow, I suggest rating the sub-components separately, and having
> that information available on the website for diver consumers.  And then
> also combine the sub-components into one overall rating for reef health,
> and one for the environmental quality of the dive operation.  So a diver
> could look at the overall rating and get a quick comparison, but also look
> into the details of sub-components if they want to.  Some people will weigh
> things differently than the website does, so one person might value coral
> more than fish, and just want to know what the coral rating is, while
> another might value fish more than coral.  Plus, the sub-components will
> help identify components that need improving, so that gives an incentive
> for the local community to fix whatever needs fixing.
>      Another model might be "Consumer Reports" which rates all sorts of
> things people buy.  They rate component aspects, and give an overall
> rating, and list things in order of overall rating, and give prices.
>      Certainly not all divers will pay attention to this rating system,
> but some will.  I notice in Bastiaan's map it looks like Cozumel has the
> second highest fish biomass, which fits with my experience.  And Cozumel
> has a huge diving industry, partly because there are so many fish and the
> reefs are in better shape than some other places, and partly because it is
> relatively inexpensive, yet easily accessible to Americans.  These things
> do make a difference and the word gets around, and divers respond.  This
> type of rating system and website could go a long ways toward making it
> more explicit and obvious to dive operators and reef managers why divers go
> to one place more than another, which in turn gives them an incentive to do
> better.  Competition is indeed a very powerful motivator for people.
>      It is very important to keep the rating system independent of those
> that are rated, so not dependent on money from the dive operators or
> tourism representatives.  That's needed to keep objectivity and accuracy.
> There will be people who don't like their low ratings, and the easy way for
> them to get that fixed is to put pressure on the raters, instead of
> improving their operation or their reef.
>     We should remember that we not only want to provide an incentive for
> dive operators, but also managers and whole societies, to do a better job
> of managing their reefs so the reefs are in better shape.  Dive operations
> have a limited ability to directly influence the quality of their reefs,
> one of the more important things they might do is to provide support for
> the managers to better protect their reefs from all sorts of things.
> Managers often want to do a lot more for their reefs than the public will
> allow them to.  If they propose a no-take area, for instance, fishermen may
> be up in arms.  Managers need strong support to do their part, if they have
> no support they can't do it alone.  The dive industry could provide
> much-needed support for managers to take actions to protect reefs.  A
> rating system that includes reef health could help provide an incentive for
> this.
>      Cheers,  Doug
> Douglas Fenner
> Coral Reef Monitoring Ecologist
> Dept Marine & Wildlife Resources
> American Samoa
> Mailing address:
> PO Box 3730
> Pago Pago, AS 96799
> work phone 684 633 4456
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>   ------------------------------
> *From:* Monika Franck <monikafranck at email.com>
> *To:* Bastiaan Vermonden <bastiaan.vermonden at gmail.com>
> *Cc:* coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov; Peter Edwards <
> horlicks_1989 at yahoo.com>; loomisd at ecu.edu
> *Sent:* Thursday, November 24, 2011 5:59 AM
> *Subject:* [Coral-List] Sustainable Coral Reef/Dive Operator
> Certification?
> Dear Bastiaan - responding to your "Value of Hawaiian Reefs" email.
> I think you have a  *great idea to develop a globally recognised system
> that motivates all users*; (hotel/tourism business, divers, dive operators,
> sports/recreational fisherman, commercial and local fishermen and
> snorkellers (beach bathers) to visit and use coral reefs or marine
> resources sustainably *:*
> *1)* You might want to  /try a certification system/ for hotel/dive
> operators/dive spots/beaches etc similar to a 5 Star status of a hotel to
> give users an idea; of not only in what physical shape the coral reef/beach
> is, but also how well it is being enforced/cared/managed for to ensure it
> stays in good health, and that your visit as a diver/fisher/tourism
> business is not contributing to its destruction and lack of fish, coral etc.
> For example a dive operator would get  *1 seastar* on their
> brochure/online site if they had diver environmental education as part of
> their course/dive trip (content e.g. don't touch/remove anything, don't let
> your fins or depth gauge drag on the reef and break off coral etc..),  *2
> seastars* if they also have capacity control,  *3 seastars* if they have a
> clean beach/reef (water quality too) with public litter/water awareness and
> clean up dives,  *4 seastars* if operator contributes
> financially/physically to enforcement of the protection of the reef, and
> *5 seastars* if they have a pristine reef with its necessary management in
> place to keep it pristine. For divers/hoteliers and tourists it needs to be
> a simple and easily understood system a non-scientist understands enough to
> know that it benefits the user and not only the coral reef.
> What happens behind the scenes as to how the reef/operator/hotel/community
> actually acquires the sustainable coral reef certification may have more
> criteria/be more complex and integrate with a greater marine resource use
> framework. Similar to what the MSC have in place for global commercial
> fishing and giving consumers a sustainable choice when shopping for seafood
> (http://www.msc.org/). Similar for beaches is the Blue Flag voluntary
> innitiative (www.blueflag.org), look at their criteria for ideas. Some
> sustainable certification efforts have attracted criticism but they remain
> a good step in the right direction to raising awareness in consumers and
> providing a sustainable choice.
> Critical though is that auditors of such certification remain ethical,
> true to aims and independant (not paid by the business wanting the
> certification), otherwise it could become just another greenwash lable that
> can be paid for to mislead people into choosing a product that is not
> necessarily as sustainable in practice as it looks on paper. Also if not
> implemented correctly, it might become a trade barrier for poorer coastal
> communities who do not always have the funds to pay for or the know-how for
> such certification, and lose out on the global market. Such communities or
> operators would need help with knowledge and funding for sustainable
> certification via NGO's or government policies to encourage and maintain
> sustainable use.
> *2)* I as a diver for example would be  /willing to pay more or to dive a
> protected and well enforced and managed area/, who's diving/tourism fees
> are also benefitting the local community (not just the hotel, government or
> dive operator), thereby incentivise users to protect their coral reef
> resources instead of fish it to pieces or allow commercial fishing to trawl
> it to pieces for less profit, than a reef is worth in the long term through
> tourism (diving etc), and well managed local fishing without destructive
> methods.
> *3)* *Capacity control*: the system should also reward dive operators and
> tourism business that do not over commercialise, and who actively restrict
> tourist/diver numbers from damaging marine resources such as coral reefs by
> over exploitation such as too many divers or fishing. For example as a
> diver I would rather want to dive a well managed site who's dive operator
> limits the number of diver's per dive/day/year accordingly, to prevent
> damage to coral reef or fish behaviour eg. spawning aggregations from being
> disturbed etc. important to fish breeding.
> Problem is there is no standard internationally recognised dive operator
> or hotel/tourism certification/value system in place to inform me as a
> diver/tourist as to which operaters/users care about the health of the
> marine resource their business relies on, so that I as a diver/tourist can
> make a responsible and informed choice of which dive sites/dive operators
> to pick.
> That is an indicator flagging to consumers businesses operating
> sustainably and contributing to good management enforcement of the marine
> resource they exploit/use, and should be rewarded by being chosen by
> divers/tourists wishing to reward environmentally considerate business
> which gives back to nature and guards and values ecosystem services to
> sustain long term profit, not just plunder for short term profit/gain.
> Also look at this paper on part of the value subject:  *Peters, H. and
> Hawkins, J.P. (2009).  /Access to marine parks: A comparative study in
> willingness to pay/, Ocean & Coastal Management 52, 219-228.*
> All the best with your idea. Its an urgently needed tool and probably
> requires international input and co-operation from various stakeholders
> such as divers, dive operators, marine scientists, fishing industry, sport
> fishermen, tourism business owners, environment departments of governments
> and NGO's.
> best wishes
> Monika
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Bastiaan Vermonden
> Sent: 11/21/11 02:39 PM
> To: Christopher Hawkins
> Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Value of Hawaiian Reefs - why cant we all just
> get along? :-)
> Dear Coral Listers, I would like to ask all of you your opinions regarding
> an idea for a economic strategy which I hope would lead to better
> protection of coral reefs and the enforcement of marine parks. I also think
> it fits in well with the discussion about valueing reefs. So my idea began
> with the question why doesn't the recreational diving and snorkeling
> tourism industry invest more in coral reefs and hold politicians
> accountable when they fail to provide sufficient resources to maintain and
> protect marine parks. *I believe this is due to a basic economic market
> failure.* What you would expect in a proper economic market is that the
> price of a good is related to the quality of that good. So to use cars as a
> metaphor you expect to pay more for a sportscar which goes from 0 to 100 km
> per hour in 4 seconds than one that does it in 10 seconds. However when we
> look at tourism related to coral reefs I have the feeling although I cannot
> substantiate it with hard data that this!
>   is not the case for coral reef re
> lated tourism. There are locations where the reef is so degraded that it
> has no recreational value and places where the quality is so good that it
> is very expensive to visit but in between I have the feeling prices are
> approximately the same. I believe this is due to local pricing competition
> which drives down prices to levels which are close to the cost price of
> organizing diving, snorkeling, recreational angling trips or other tourism
> activities. I believe that this problem largely exists because recreational
> users do not have the quantitative data to properly compare different
> destinations. So for example divers now have to rely on qualitative
> (anecdotal) evidence to determine which place they should visit. So for
> example if we have 2 different destinations and both state that divers
> sometimes see sharks there, then which place is the better one to visit?
> Maybe at one location there is a 1 in 100 (1%) chance and at the other
> there is a 1 in 20 (5%) chance of encountering !
> a shark, this is a big difference
> but without this quantitative data the diver has to hope he is lucky and
> chooses the right location. However if we inform divers with quantitative
> data which area is the best then divers will always choose the best place
> they can afford. So if divers do not know the difference between the 2
> locations they have a 50% chance of choosing the best location however if
> they know the quantitative difference they will have a 100% chance of
> choosing the best place. This means that the destination where the chance
> of encountering a shark is 1% has to start improving or lower its prices to
> become competitive while the other has a strong incentive to protect its
> sharks to maintain its advantage. So with this quantitative data we can
> create a national/regional/global market which competes on quality rather
> than a local market that competes on price. * Setting a standard* Of course
> to compare different locations it is necessary to have some standardized
> measures of comparison that can be !
> applied to all or nearly all desti
> nations. I spent some time thinking of this and think that one interesting
> standard could be the biomass compared to the biomass of a pristine reef.
> The Northern line islands are some of the last examples of what are
> considered pristine islands
> http://www.wri.org/publication/reefs-at-risk-revisited/stories/line-islandswiththe biomass at the most pristine reefs being around 530 grams per square
> meter. So if we round this down to 500 grams per square meter then we can
> compare the biomass of destinations to this benchmark as a percentage. This
> allows divers to compare locations and resets their baseline for what
> constitutes a healthy reef. Then for coral cover we can use the more
> conventional measure of percentage of live coral cover. So I made a map of
> biomass in the Caribbean compared to this benchmark and it can be found
> here along with the standard: http://bastiaan.reislogger.nl/foto/idea/ (I
> don't have my own website so I used my travelblog website) According to
> this map !
> divers should choose Cuba as their
> next diving destination or otherwise Yucatan Mexico. Then next are the
> countries/islands with 27% of pristine biomass. So with such a map you hope
> that destinations start to compete with one another so for example
> Martinique needs to increase its biomass only 3% from 24% to 27% to become
> competitive with 3rd highest rated locations. Meanwhile those locations
> rated at 27% only need a small increase to be the third best in the region.
> Guadeloupe meanwhile needs to improve 4% to become competitive with
> Martinique. What we see is that countries only need to make small steps to
> increase their competitiveness. Rather than having to make a huge step to
> superb quality and then hope their reputation grows they can make small
> steps to improve their competitive advantage assuming that the area is
> given a new rating regularly. Of course my standard is one suggestion but
> it can also be a different one. What is essential is that it lets
> recreational users easily compare and that it is tr!
> uly indicative of the health of th
> e reef. Users should not be decision paralyzed by to much information or
> actually demand less healthy reef environments. (this might be a problem
> with sharks) *Intended Consequence* So the intention of this idea would be
> to reward countries who manage their marine environment well with increased
> or higher value tourism and make countries accountable to the market if
> they do not manage their marine life well. Hopefully its effect would be
> Increased biomass = healthier environment = increased business = increased
> political support Additionally I hope that this will increase the demand
> for services which assist Marine parks, governments, resorts etc with
> management advice, monitoring, reef restoration and more because reef
> quality would be more directly related to tourism demand. This could
> increase marine conservation effectiveness and decrease protection costs.
> And decreased costs of protection would lower the barrier to the
> implementation of more marine protection. *Thank yo!
> u *If you read my whole idea I wou
> ld first like to say thank you. So what do you all think of this a good or
> bad idea? how technically feasible is this idea? what questions do you all
> have for me and etc? Regards, Bastiaan Vermonden
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