I was going to write this blog about the plethora of achievements the team here has had in the last couple of weeks. I feel like, Christmas festivities aside, we’re powering through as a team, full speed ahead. The team is so proactive; it’s hard to keep up! Tiff and Sharon arrived safe and sound and have slipped seamlessly into Team MB ZEP life. We’ve had assessments and trainings galore, an inspiring day snorkelling with the teachers, sweaty runs about town delivering battery recycling tubs and ‘Say No To Plastic’ posters. But for me, the proof of the pudding was last night’s dive guide accreditation Seminar. The whole team blew my
socks flip flops off with how they helped each other run briefing workshops and group discussions.
You see, we’re in a special place called Moalboal. On the surface, one might think it is plagued with the expected short-comings of developing-country bureaucracy. But beneath the surface is a melting pot of passion for environmental protection and governance. It’s a jumble of ideas and opinions and I think we might be witness to the first steps of that energy forming the first rung on the ladder to Conservation.
Call me naïve, I’m sure similar situations of personalities and abilities crashing together into something almost productive fall apart all the time. But I’m hopeful here. Let me try and explain. There exists an ordinance regulating the diving industry, penalising destructive diver behaviour and practices. It mandates that all guides that dive the in the waters of Moalboal must be accredited. In order to become so, they must obtain environmental training. Until recently, it hasn’t been acted on.
Last year, Green Fins awareness raising sessions with member dive centres was counted as the training. This year we’ve been working with the Coastal Resource Management consultant, Romel, to put together an official training seminar. Not only is this a huge success for the project, but the LGU (Local Government Unit) is one of the first to implement such ‘quality’ control on its diving tourism industry. Team MB ZEP has held it’s own as a significant part of the first accreditation seminar in Moalboal. The work we’ve done will help to shape this annual event, and has set in motion an evolving opportunity for education and awareness, and I’m proud of everyone.
Whilst only a small proportion of the dive guides showed up for a number of reasons which we can all learn from, it ended up being a perfect number to pilot the training and the productivity of the session more than made up for it. Passionate discussions about local environmental ordinances and law enforcement issues warmed the group up, but in the end we’re all on the same page, and we saw a line of communication pry itself open between the LGU and different stakeholders. LGU officials learnt more about the difficulties people have in reporting environmental crimes, and the participants learnt about the difficulties of budget, manpower and bureaucracy. They also learnt about the help that should be on its way from the different projects related to Coastal Resource Management. All agree things need to change, and this meeting was the first step towards it, with the local government recruiting divers as partners in effective reporting, enforcement and management.
The oceans face many problems, and most are bigger than diver damage to reefs. However, that is something the diving industry can do something about, which is one of the reasons Green Fins exists. I presented on the importance of briefings and correcting customer behaviour and the group broke out into two and discussed the ICONS – a visual representation of the do’s and don’ts of environmental diving –showing off practicing environmental briefings to each other. Last but not least was a discussion on the Ethics of Diving; Romel’s idea to reconnect people with why they joined the diving industry in the first place and instil a sense of priority towards sustainable environmental practices. These discussions were all led by Team MB ZEP who all excelled, proving how much they have absorbed over the past six weeks, be it in terms of understanding a complicated project like Green Fins, or how to manage people and shape discussions.
To me, the room was buzzing with enthusiasm and ideas. Guides used the cut-out ICONS (a genius idea from five weeks ago!) to give their versions of environmental briefings, other dive shop staff spoke to Romel about shaping the accreditation in line with the diving industry’s needs, and the discussion on ethics brought out the warm and fuzzy ocean loving stories that everyone in the room seemed to share.
I’ll let the team correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like two normally opposing stakeholders left the room with a better understanding of where each was coming from, and how a local government and it’s diving industry can start to fight together, instead of against each other. And to me, self-confessed conservation dork, it was a privilege, and amazing to be a part of.