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

Chad Scott marineconservationkt at gmail.com
Wed Nov 30 03:36:40 EST 2011

In response to the talks on the sustainable coral reef/dive operator
certification discussion:

Many of you have raised some very valuable and important points pertaining
to this debate. I currently work with dive schools on the island of Koh Tao
in the Gulf of Thailand. Our island of only 19 square kilometers has over
42 dive schools, and issues over 40,000 PADI certifications each year (plus
we also have SSI, BSAC, and CMAS schools, but I lack data for them). 5
years ago when I came to the island it was obvious that most dive schools
had no idea how to protect or help the reefs, in fact most instructors I
worked with couldn’t even tell live coral from dead ones.

While I don’t want to reiterate the points already stated, I hope to add to
them with my experience. In order to set themselves apart and join the
‘eco’ trend, many of Koh Tao’s dive schools are promoting themselves as eco
friendly just by doing the things any responsible business should do
(recycling, planting around the resort, using natural lighting, maintaining
boats to prevent oil leakage, etc.) While these actions are commendable,
they should not justify receiving an ‘eco award’. Our group, the Save Koh
Tao Marine Branch, looks past all of these types of actions to real actions
which are more difficult to obtain, but still within reach of dive

The following list is the standards and guidelines which must be adopted by
the schools to be endorsed by our group:

   - Conduct regular reef checks. (The Save Koh Tao/SSI EMP, ReefWatch,
   Greenfins, or Reef Check International methods are all acceptable for this
   - Require that all instructors/DMs learn to do a reef check
   - Instruct all boat and shop employees as to proper safety and
   environmental care techniques
   - Participate and donate boats/equipment to at least 60% of the Save Koh
   Tao Marine Branch monthly clean-up events.
   - Conduct monthly or weekly clean-ups independent of the group monthly
   - Attend at least 60% of the Marine Branch Monthly meetings
   - Provide environmental briefings to all snorkelers and divers, do not
   provide fins or shoes to snorkelers
   - Provide recycling at dive school and from the boats (including
   - No fishing, spear fishing, or collecting of organisms from dive boats

Furthermore, each dive school that wants to be recognized by our group must
adopt a reef site, which the requirements are:

   - Being the representative for a reporting system of illegal
   fishing/collection or other threats to reef health. Meaning that if you or
   somebody else sees a problem in your 'adopted reef' that you would be
   responsible for passing that information of to the Deparmetn of Marine and
   Coastal Resources or Marine Fisheries Dept.
   - Once per month your business would need to conduct a simple transect
   survey to count giant clams, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and other commonly
   collected organisms.
   - After being trained, your school can construct cheap and easy to build
   coral nurseries (mid-water, mineral accretion, etc) to rehabilitate broken
   or damaged corals, and maintain those nurseries at least once per month.
   - When necessary, removing fishing nets/cages that have drifted into or
   caught on the reef
   - At least once per month organize a beach/underwater clean-up with the
   business around you
   - Monitoring/maintaining mooring buoys at your site

Although these actions are sometimes difficult for dive schools, they are
all achievable. We have about 8-9 dive schools which continually meet or
exceed these requirements.  Most of them require no outside funding, but
maybe a bit of assistance to get them started and ensure that they
continue. I would not say we have solved all of the issues you have raised,
but I think through these and similar programs we have made great strides
in protecting reefs and putting an end to the boom-bust cycle described by
Monika and others. While these don't address the issues of resort
construction, we do have separate initiates pertaining to that, and anyways
by training the divers those types of initiatives follow close behind.

Divers are involved in these programs every step of the way, and the main
value of the programs is increasing the awareness and knowledge of the
professional divers and their students. In fact, many of the school’s base
diver training programs around these requirements so that doing things like
monitoring, installing mooring lines,  and building coral nurseries
actually creates an income stream for them. Instead of divers paying a tax
that may or may not go towards good projects, the divers pay to be trained
in conservation techniques and help with the actual projects.

I know that Koh Tao still has a long way to go, but I hope that others can
learn from our mistakes and our achievements. For more info on our group
check out www.marineconservationkohtao.com. And to see how these models can
be put into action, without outside funding, check out these dive schools


http://www.ecokohtao.com/   (@Crystal Dive Resort)



Chad Scott
Marine Project Coordinator
Save Koh Tao Marine Branch

Find more information on our webpages
Save Koh Tao <http://www.savekohtao.com/>
Save Koh Tao Marine Branch <http://marineconservationkohtao.com/>
New Heaven Reef Conservation

Or our Facebook Groups:
Save Koh Tao <http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_172985656080008>
Save Koh Tao Marine
New Heaven Reef Conservation

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