Happy New Year, scuba friends! Have you made your resolutions yet? As we dive into 2017, now is the perfect time to set our intentions and create our ideal vision of the year to come.
Project AWARE’s vision? A return to a clean, healthy and abundant ocean planet. No group has greater potential to influence positive change for our big, blue world than scuba divers do. Time and again, Project AWARE’s global network of dive volunteers has proven that when we work together, big change is possible. As we prepare to make a splash for ocean conservation in the upcoming year, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on all that Project AWARE divers accomplished in 2016.
Together, we made giant strides for shark and ray protection at the world’s largest wildlife conference: the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP17), taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa from September 24 to October 5, 2016. In the months leading up to the conference, hundreds of divers from around the world submitted photos to Project AWARE’s #Divers4SharksNRays campaign, urging CITES parties to “Vote YES” to increase trade controls for vulnerable sharks and rays. Project AWARE staff and volunteers teamed up to present CITES officials with both science-based evidence for species protection and an overwhelming groundswell of public support, resulting in CITES Appendix II listings for 13 new species of sharks and rays, including the silky shark, thresher sharks and devil rays.
2016 also marked a year of significant progress against marine debris. Project AWARE launched its newest initiative in the fight against ocean trash: Adopt a Dive Site™, which urges scuba leaders to engage in ongoing, local protection of dive areas through commitment to its flagship citizen-science marine debris data collection program, Dive Against Debris™. More than 185 dive sites have been adopted so far, with over 1500 participants from more than 50 different countries across the globe removing and reporting close to 45,000 pieces of marine debris. This widespread increase in commitment to Dive Against Debris surveys not only makes an immediate positive impact in local marine environments, the growing data set from marine debris surveys helps contribute to policy change and long-term solutions.
The accomplishments of Project AWARE divers in 2016 shows that when we come together for a common cause, we have the power to make a huge impact! But, our work is far from over. Marine debris continues to permeate unprotected marine environments, and many sharks and rays still face threats like finning, bycatch and overfishing. Now more than ever, our ocean depends on divers coming together to speak out and take action for its protection.
This is the year to secure a brighter future for the health of our ocean planet.
Happy New Year! With another 365 days of Dive Against Debris on the books, we’re taking a look at our Dive Against Debris map to see what volunteer divers around the world have discovered during their underwater marine debris surveys.
Each year since Dive Against Debris’ launch in 2011, marine debris survey data has revealed that plastics are the most prominent and pervasive material found in underwater environments. This past year was no different: 97,898 pieces of plastic debris were reported in Dive Against Debris surveys in 2016. Yuck!
With more than 250 million tons of plastic estimated to make its way to our ocean by 2025, it’s become urgent, now more than ever, that we take collective action against this Ugly Journey of Our Trash. Passionate and dedicated ocean activists around the world are stepping up to the challenge, whether through Dive Against Debris surveys, local advocacy efforts, community education or awareness campaigns.
“Blind Spots” by performance artist and documentary filmmaker Christine Ren, uses stunning images and video to highlight the realities of consumer choices on the health of marine ecosystems. Her underwater-themed dance photoshoot produced in collaboration with Brett Stanley Photography is both breathtaking and alarming. Plastic food containers, bags, bottles and debris swirl through the water surrounding the subject as she blindly pushes a shopping cart, suggesting that plastic has become so ubiquitous in our everyday lives that we hardly notice it.
Ren’s use of a blindfold personifies society’s apathy toward the impacts of plastic consumption. Out of sight, out of mind – right? Not so fast. By exposing the connection between our consumer choices and the deteriorating health of our ocean environments, the piece urges us to think twice before we carelessly reach for another plastic bag, utensil or container in a store.
Over the years, we’ve been astounded by the commitment and dedication of our dive volunteers in the fight against ocean trash. Since launching Dive Against Debris in 2011, over 600,000 pieces of marine debris have been removed and reported by more than 25,000 divers around the world. Each quarter, we’re proud to honor our most outstanding dive volunteers – those who have demonstrated leadership in local communities, and who remain steadfast in their commitment to Dive Against Debris.
This year, we launched the Adopt a Dive Site initiative to supercharge our Dive Against Debris efforts. By encouraging dive instructors and dive centers to engage in ongoing local protection and monitoring of their dive sites, we’ve getting closer to closing the marine debris data gap. More than 185 dive sites have been adopted so far, with over 1500 participants from more than 50 different countries across the globe removing and reporting close to 45,000 pieces of marine debris. With so many dedicated divers engaging in monthly Dive Against Debris surveys and taking action to eliminate waste within their dive centers and daily lives, it’s hard to choose just one Dive Against Debris Hero… You’re all heroes!
With that in mind, this month we’d like to honor a group of Dive Against Debris Heroes whose passion and collaboration are igniting a wave of ocean stewardship in their local community: the staff at Rainbow Reef Dive Center in Florida Keys, US.
With the world’s third-largest barrier reef system just outside their doorstep, the staff at Rainbow Reef Dive Center in Florida Keys have an innate enthusiasm for ecosystem preservation and wildlife conservation. As the region’s largest and busiest dive center, they take pride in sharing Florida’s natural wonders with their guests and they work hard to provide easy and engaging access to practical marine conservation to the local public. So, when Project AWARE launched Adopt a Dive Site, the staff at Rainbow Reef committed to adopting not one, two or three… but 23 local dive sites! With twice daily trips to the local reef, an incredibly precise, organized dive schedule, and a large group of passionate staff, they have been able to organize consistent surveys in multiple locations throughout 2016. Each staff member chose an area that appeals to his or her interests, and then led the charge to protect that area with the help of other staff, dive guests and local volunteers. Together, Rainbow Reef have removed more than 1000 pounds of trash from their dive sites since May 2016.
Leading this incredible effort is dive instructor, Jack Fishman. And since he’ll credit his wonderful team members and friends at Rainbow Reef for all that the dive center has accomplished through Adopt a Dive Site, we’d like to take a moment to provide a special shout out to him here. Thank you, Jack, for your outstanding Dive Against Debris leadership in the Florida Keys and across the globe! Through your ocean stewardship and conservation outreach, you’re a powerful force for ocean protection. Project AWARE is so proud to have you helping us lead the movement to protect our big blue planet.
Happy holidays, ocean friends! It’s the most wonderful – and unfortunately, most wasteful – time of the year. Whether you’re jet-setting to visit friends and family afar, attending parties or exchanging gifts galore, you’re bound to encounter a little more trash than usual this season. And we’re here to help!
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, American household waste increases 25% between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day, or an extra 1 million tons each year. During this time, increasing amounts of food waste, shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper, bows and ribbons all add up to an additional 1 million tons of trash per week. As divers know all too well, much of this rubbish never makes its way to proper waste management systems – instead, debris is carried down city storm drains, rivers and streams to our oceans, polluting marine environments and endangering wildlife.
So how can we stop this Ugly Journey of our Trash? The holiday season provides a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness and reduce our consumption and interaction with debris-related items.
Follow these “ocean friendly” tips to keep your holiday celebrations ocean friendly and debris-free:
1) Gift Mindfully.
Gift meaningful experiences, purchase from environmentally responsible businesses, and donate to causes you, your friends and family care about. You could:
2) Minimize Gift Wrap Waste.
Try alternative gift wrapping methods. Upcycle old newspaper, reuse old ribbons, or try the Japanese Furoshiki technique with reusable fabric instead of disposable wrapping paper. Want to go completely zero-waste with your gift wrapping? Use the old “hide it behind your back” method – it’s fun and completely trash-free!
3) Practice Ocean-Friendly Travel.
Research eco-conscious tourism providers and make sure to book your trip with responsible vendors. And when you travel, remember to pack reusable items like a stainless steel water bottle, cloth napkin and bamboo eating utensils so you can say “No, thank you” to the single-use plastic items offered to you in airplanes, convenience stores and travel rest stops.
4) Share the True Meaning of the Season – Give Back.
Celebrate the holidays mindfully. Spend meaningful time with loved ones – take them diving, share your love for the ocean with them, encourage them to join you and take action for conservation. Volunteer your time or make a donation to ocean protection.
Make every dive you take this holiday season and year-round count for conservation. Dive Against Debris to remove and report any trash that makes its way to the ocean this holiday season. With your help, we’re working to keep trash out of underwater environments to reach our vision of a clean, healthy ocean planet.
Photo courtesy Liquid Dumaguete - Christmas Hat Marine Debris