As coral reefs all over the world become more vulnerable to the growing impacts of global climate change and regular, mass bleaching events, it is more important than ever for divers to stand up for the protection of their precious reefs. Ginette Bariteau and the Scuba 6 Eco Diving team in Panama are doing just that by following Green Fins environmental practices.
This is the third, and final, chapter in their story, following a demanding journey towards a sustainable future. Scuba 6 Eco Diving faced trials and triumphs but Green Fins assessors from The Reef-World Foundation have immensely enjoyed supporting them every step of the way.
Now we want to share Ginette’s journey; the good, the bad, and the ugly.
We want to show other business owners that a switch towards environmentally friendly practices isn’t a drain on resources; it can result in a more thriving business, resilient to global market fluctuations and privy to healthy coral reefs. By adopting Green Fins best practices, dive centres reduce their environmental impacts and protect the key asset that their businesses solely depend on.
As the awareness grows, more and more dive centres around the globe are requesting to be part of the Green Fins community, but unfortunately not all of them are located in areas where Green Fins teams can access them to provide environmental performance assessments and tailored support.
Reef-World wanted to make sure no one was left out and that the support of the Green Fins network is available to as many dive centres as possible for greater protection of coral reefs. And so in 2016 the Green Fins Dive Centre Operational Handbook was released, as an option for remote support. This is an e-book packed full of guidance, tips and solutions to implement the Green Fins Code of Conduct seamlessly within a diving operation, gathered over more than a decade working with the industry. Created by divers for divers!
Ginette purchased this Handbook and started using the step-by-step guidance to help her to begin small actions towards implementing the Code of Conduct within her daily business operations. Since Green fins isn’t the first environmental programme they are part of this initial process wasn’t so difficult. Ginette’s passion towards environmental protection is reflected in every aspect of her business. In her own words, “I would love to go back to school and study marine biology, study the interconnections of all species. It’s amazing to see how everything works together!”
The second step brought her closer to the traditional Green Fins environmental performance assessment.
Reef-World’s Chloe Harvey, who has been helping the dive industry ‘Green their Fins’ for over 10 years, guided Ginette to compare the daily practices of her dive centre with the Green Fins Code of Conduct. Together they created the first ever Green Fins system for self-assessment. This gave Chloe the opportunity to provide three actions for Ginette to focus on to address the greatest threats being posed to the environment by the Scuba 6 Eco business operations. These actions would help to reduce their impacts on the marine environment and protect coral reefs. The actions agreed upon were the following:
- To provide environmental training for dive staff to streamline role model diver behaviour through the dive operations;
- To identify alternatives to sending used oil to landfill;
- To find alternatives to sending used batteries to landfill.
The third and final step was to be visited by a certified Green Fins assessor. This was the finale of this unique process, aiming to evaluate the effectiveness of both the use of the Green Fins Handbook and the remote support of the novel self-assessment system. Juliana Corrales, Reef-World staff and certified Green Fins assessor, had the pleasure to meet the passionate Scuba 6 Eco team and assess their hard work recently on the 3rd of February 2017.
Through the Green Fins assessments the assessors get the chance to really immerse themselves in the day-to-day life of the dive operator. This was no exception during Scuba 6 Eco’s assessment, it provided the opportunity for Juliana to meet the team, see the famous Panamanian archipelago and get to grips with the challenges and opportunities facing Scuba 6 Eco Diving and the rest of Isla Bastimentos. Situated in the Bocas del Toro Province, the Bocas Archipelago covers an area of 4,643.9 square kilometres along the Caribbean coast and offers divers and snorkellers thriving coral reefs and mysterious wrecks.
It is no coincidence that Scuba 6 Eco was the first dive centre to be assessed in the Americas; they are definitely no ordinary case. Scuba 6 Eco Diving is managed by Ginette Bariteau and Michel Lavoie, a wife and husband who decided to run a dive centre as their ‘retirement project’. Avid divers, environmentalists and lovers of the ocean, they recognise the monumental task they embarked on by choosing to run a dive centre. However, they really value the opportunity to use their business as a way to raise awareness towards marine and coral reef conservation. They truly believe that scuba diving is one of the best ways to communicate scientific knowledge to the general public. “We use our Eco-briefing as a way to channel all the knowledge that we gather from research into a way that can be easily digested by our guests. It gives a whole new perspective to their diving experience,” Ginette mentioned.
Both Michel and Ginette have been in the industry for more than 20 years, they have seen the changing trends, and recognise that now the ‘eco-diving trend’ is peaking. “Before, people used to make fun of Ginette and her ways”, Michel said. She is a dive instructor who is passionate about protecting the marine environment and she makes sure to pass on that passion to every guest they have. For her, there’s no such thing as a bad dive; she says “there is always something interesting to see”. Michel is a PADI course director, and supports Ginette to give their customers something more than just the diving, to raise awareness and use the opportunity they have as instructors and business owners to share their passion and knowledge.
Staff member Roberto Downer is their local gem and within the Green Fins community he would be easily qualified as an environmental ambassador. He grew up in Bocas and has seen the negative impact that development has had on the marine environment and sees the urgency for change. “You can see mattresses, even kitchens; locals throw everything in the ocean, they don’t know better. I try to talk to my family and friends to open their eyes, but it is difficult to change their way of thinking”. Being so far from Panama’s capital, he feels that the area has been forgotten. As a boatman and dive guide, alongside Michel and Ginette he is now a central part of Scuba 6 Eco’s team, aiming to have a positive impact for lasting environmental awareness.
The local communities live in very close proximity to the marine environment they depend on, placing that essential commodity under further threat. Beautiful wooden houses on stilts hover over the ocean, allowing rubbish and debris to be discharged into the water every single day. Lack of environmental awareness is evident in the area, despite the breath-taking scenery. As you step closer to the water you can see a lot of waste and contamination coming from the land. For this reason, and because they are aware of the severity of this situation, the Scuba 6 team uses every opportunity they have to pick up trash from the ocean. On route to and from the dive sites, there is always time for a quick stop to fish some marine debris out of the sea.
The only way of moving from one island to the other is by using boat taxis, and some of the locals also have their own. This results in a lot of water traffic, boats moving from island to island 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Where does all this associated used oil go? Do they have a way to re-utilise it or safely dispose of it? The answer is no. This is one of the biggest challenges Scuba 6 has to deal with and probably one of the biggest environmental impacts in the area. At the moment, the majority of the community disposes of their used oil by burying it in holes inland. This will still directly impact the marine environment, as the chemicals leach into the groundwater.
Previously, Ginette found a solution; a local vendor who collected and recycled used oil. Unfortunately, he could not keep up with the demand and had to close. At the moment, Roberto stores their used oil at his farm because there are no environmentally responsible options for disposal. This may not be a long-term solution but at least the risk to the environment has been mitigated.
To work with Scuba 6 Eco Diving during the assessment and awareness raising session was very smooth and enjoyable. It was evident to Juliana that the team were already implementing most of the feedback points provided by Chloe, only a few months before. Ginette and her team really valued this experience and made everything as easy as possible, from supporting Juliana during the logistics for planning the trip to being very responsive and helpful during the day of the assessment.
Thanks to the use of the Green Fins Dive Centre Operational Handbook and the support of The Reef-World Foundation, the team were no strangers to the Green Fins Code of Conduct. However they found the assessment process very valuable. They identified it as a way to see their business practices through another set of eyes, helping them to shed light on the everyday practices that could be improved. Ginette implemented and changed everything she had control over but local infrastructure for hazardous waste disposal, such as for used oil and batteries is non-existent, which makes finding a solution very difficult. Following Chloe’s recommendation, they are slowly moving towards the use of rechargeable batteries. At the moment they are collecting the disposable batteries and asking their guests to take them back to their countries where they can be properly disposed. This is an excellent option for businesses who cater to environmentally conscious guests who have better options for disposal at home.
At the end of the Green Fins assessment, dive centres are given an environmental impact score, which is confidential between the assessor and the member. For Scuba 6 Eco it is a clear indication that all of their efforts to make their dive centre more environmentally friendly are paying off. Usually, when Green Fins is implemented in a new site, all local stakeholders are rallied together to form a collaborative network, encouraging everyone to play their part to support sustainability in the tourism sector. It is more difficult for dive centres to work independently, without the support of other local stakeholders, such as local governments. Nonetheless Ginette and her team are taking outstanding steps to lessen their impact in every area they can.
According to Ginette, tourism dropped by 40% in Panama last year alone, but they managed to keep their business, not only up and running, but even busier than their competition. They truly believe their guests choose them because they follow environmental best practices and help raise awareness, giving that extra wow factor to their divers’ experience. Now, they are the first fully certified Green Fins member in the Americas and very happy to be part of the global Green Fins community! The final assessment proved that this process of remote support and self-assessment was a huge success, and who knows, this may be the first story of many more to come.
Photo credits to The Reef-World Foundation & Scuba 6 Eco Diving