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.