[Coral-List] Reassessing Coral Reefs

Julian @ Reef Check julian at reefcheck.org.my
Sun Mar 29 06:13:58 EDT 2015


>From 2000 to 2006 I ran my own small dive centre on Tioman island, off the
East coast of Malaysia. The philosophy of the dive centre was "fun, safety,
conservation"; we put RM 10 (US$ 3) of the revenue from each customer into a
kitty to pay for things that had to be done but weren't being done by others
- net removal, etc. Most customers would top it up from their own cash. This
way we managed to put aside some cash flow for petrol, etc., instead of
having to pay for it all out of day to day cash flow.

At the time, I was completely astounded at the apparent total lack of
concern demonstrated by fellow dive operators for the health of the marine
environment - and I still pretty much am today. They didn't seem to equate
reef health with good future business - and they still don't today. I tried
to explain in different ways but failed (eg., if Ford motor company were to
stop servicing its main asset - production line - it would quickly stop
running; if an airline company were to stop servicing its main asset -
planes - they would quickly stop running; so with the dive industry - our
main asset is reefs; if we don't look after them, they will "stop running").

No response. But we did what we could and fortunately the local Marine Park
authority picked up on some of it (like Crown of Thorns clean ups).

Leaving the island, in 2007 I found myself involved with Reef Check
Malaysia, which I now run. After 8 years, I see little difference in
attitude of the industry. One or two operators, yes. But most? Not
interested. Money seems to be all that counts. Typical is Perhentian island.
They have basically a 6 month season, and they are full every day of that
six months. So why bother with conservation? People still come. Why bother
setting yourself up as an "environmentally friendly" dive centre (such as
Green Fins) when customers are not demanding it - and we are still full
every day?

In 2012/13, RCM was involved in a research programme to assess the economic
impact on dive tourism of the 2010 bleaching and  possible future bleaching
events. The programme was run by Heidi Schuttenberg, and had representatives
from NOAA, CSIRO, James Cook uni, etc. A good team. 

The project talked to dive operators and relevant institutions in three
locations in Malaysia, two in Thailand and three in Indonesia. After
listening to some of the results from Malaysia (and I think they were
similar elsewhere), some of the conclusions I came to were:

- in most places there had been little economic impact from the bleaching
- in many of these locations a significant part of their business is basic
diver certifications; trainees don't know what a reef looks like anyway, so
reef condition is not a decider in whether they decide to dive
- the overwhelming attitude seemed to be that if reefs die and get taken
over by algae - people will still dive; partly to see what an algae reef
looks like, partly because they love to dive.

So the industry sees little to concern themselves. Frustrating, right?

I believe that chasing climate change is a lost cause - certainly here and
perhaps other developing markets. There are just so many other priorities
(economic development) that are much more important. The message just isn't
getting across. We had flooding here early this year - probably partly due
to climate change...but no response from government or anyone; no linking it
to climate change.

Our focus has turned to resilience type concepts and local impacts. We are
working with local authorities to assess local impacts to reefs, in order to
meet Aichi target 10 on eliminating anthropogenic (we call them local)
impacts. This gets the management authority involved, which is a good thing;
it is also a national obligation, which gets some attention; and it allows
us to do a lot of work on the ground with various stakeholders - including
the dive industry. So we are pushing Green Fins as a way to reduce diver and
snorkeler impacts, for example. 

(I don't want to get involved in a debate here about whether or not divers
and snorkelers have an impact: my own observation tells me they MUST - you
only have to go to some islands here and watch up to 500 snorkelers - most
of whom can't swim - enter the water and crawl all over the place...fish
feeding...etc. There's an impact.) 

Using GF provides a framework for introducing various measures - not just
user impacts but sewage treatment, fishing access, etc. It also provides the
opportunity to push for improving regulations - requiring resort operators
to improve infrastructure, training snorkelling and dive guides in
eco-friendly guiding, etc.

Using resilience I have found is a useful tool in giving local people a
simple explanation about reef health - compare to a healthy human, rested,
no stress - illness bounces off; but if that person is (like me!) - less
healthy, not enough rest...then the illness has a major impact. Same with
reefs - healthy, no impacts - bleaching "bounces off" - it's not quite that
simple, but that's the gist of it. Talk to them about bleaching - no
response - they don't get it; talk to them in terms they can understand,
more of a response. It's a starting point. And usually the local communities
are responsible for a large proportion of those local impacts.

But at the end of the day, what I am realising (this may be a developing
country issue) is that people STILL won't take action until pressed to do so
by government; back to the Aichi targets, which can be used as a bit of a
stick at all levels - government signed up for it, there's national pride at
stake, so we have to get on and do it.

Sorry for such a long response; but I hope it's useful. I fully support what
you are doing, I think the dive industry has been using the oceans for free
for far too long without any responsibility for their health, and want to
help any way I can. But I think the scuba industry is just in it for the
money; they don't really care about conservation (except for individual
operators). So for our part of the world, I'm sorry to say I think we are
going to need more sticks; hopefully user-friendly ones like the Aichi
targets, but sticks nonetheless.

Best regards,

Julian Hyde
General Manager
Reef Check Malaysia
03 2161 5948
Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rcmalaysia


"The bottom line of the Millenium Assessment findings is that human actions
are depleting Earth's natural capital, putting such strain on the
environment that the ability of the planet's ecosystems to sustain future
generations can no longer be taken for granted."

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Steve Mussman
Sent: Thursday, 26 March, 2015 2:54 AM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] Reassessing Coral Reefs

   Dear Listers,

   I'm working with others to try and encourage the scuba diving industry to
   get more proactive
   with regard to it's policies on coral reef conservation. As you know,
   has been no progress
   within the industry on addressing climate change.. That issue is and has
   been a non-starter for
   years. Now the question arises as to whether or not to even focus on that
   concern going forward.
   Many of you seem to be resigned to the fact that that ship has already
   sailed. Recent comments seem
   to indicate a shift in focus from avoidance to mitigation and adjustment
   a new reality which envisions
   coral reefs as a manifestation of the concept of "novel ecosystems". If
   is in fact the case, on what
   issues should the industry be focusing if and when it ever becomes
   to become seriously involved
   in developing effective measures designed to conserve the reefs of
   whatever their composition
   may be? Do we shift entirely to land-based pollutants, sedimentation and
   over-fishing or do we continue
   to press for action or at least policy objectives related to
   and carbon emissions? I need input.
   Contact  me  off-list  if necessary, but exchanging ideas openly seems
   appropriate and even beneficial.
   It would certainly be refreshing to witness a free flow of ideas.

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