Jack Fishman Project AWARE Community Conservation Officer
Action Plan for Change
Here in the Florida Keys, our passion for marine conservation is something more than an avocation, it is our job. Rainbow Reef Dive Center is privileged to be able to share the passion so many of our hard working staff have with the public, and those interactions in turn generate positive action for our cherished environment.
The story of how the Upper Keys Unite Against Debris came to fruition is a journey of discovering our community, of how passion leads to positive and feasible change, and, of course, what a lot of hard work can accomplish.
The first day is the hardest day as they say…. So you have a passion, you have a dream, and you care about something bigger than yourself -- so that’s a great start, but where do you go from there?
Organizing something that involves a community takes a community. But don’t worry, the wish to make things happen is the first step, and with hard work and community outreach you can accomplish great things. Let’s start with the basics. Say you want to organize a local beach clean-up because you have great memories of walking the beach every day when you were younger. Sadly, with the passage of time, that beach you once knew and loved is overwhelmed with trash and debris. You know that it is time to act but you also can’t clean up the entire beach yourself! Those many personal and meaningful moments you cherish are a strong driving force. Put them into action as you think about how best to engage the community at large.
First, do your research. That beach or site that you know and love may be a protected area. If so, you will have to secure the permits and licenses necessary to organize community action in an otherwise protected area. It is also important to register your site with the Project AWARE Adopt A Site program, to ensure consistent entry of data. An understanding of the data, meaning changes in the health of an area, helps officials and participants understand the seriousness of the issue, and builds respect for the commitment to effect change. Data gathered can be used before and after events to inspire the public to take further action, and to help provide concrete evidence to support an environmental claim or help influence policy.
Once you are granted access, contact your local waste disposal authority. Discuss with them any fees that may be involved with having a proper disposal unit available to remove the debris and see if they will wave it for the environmental benefit of your activity. This step is especially important, as you do not want to be left with overwhelming amounts of debris to dispose of yourselves.. Next, plan for the day and event. You want to make it exciting and interesting so the public can rally around your cause. Where possible, in addition to providing crucial educational information, think about arranging entertainment, food for purchase, raffles, silent auctions or other creative outreach methods to engage the participants and raise money for the cause. Having trained educators on hand can really make a difference. Look into and contact local sources to add that much more meaning to your event.
So you have the permits, the educational support and the passion and the disposal plan. Great job! Now what??
Publicize. Publicize. Publicize. Get the word out to all those people who share your passion with you! Sometimes the best way to accomplish big dreams is to start small. Contact your local community center, especially the local schools, generate support and even donations from local businesses. Kids are easy to engage, and there is a good chance their participation will satisfy some required community service hours! All those involved stand to gain on the positive action your help will bring! Create a formal event on social media, use lots of photos from the beach to catch people’s attention. Once people see someone taking action, they usually find it easier to join in!
Now you have successfully prepped for you event, it’s time to prepare the participants. Offer a training session that engages the community, explain the roles that will be delegated and explain how the tools needed for the job will be used. This portion of the planning process is exceptionally important with respect to a scuba diving clean up. Task loading and underwater supervision must be addressed with PADI Professionals (or the equivalent) supervising the participants. Use the Dive Against Debris Guide to Teaching Manual to reinforce your points during this session. The training portion should be completed before the start of your event, either the evening before or morning of! The Dive Against Debris lesson guide is also a useful tool to helping create an organized presentation for your participants. If possible, use hands on practice with required tools like shears and knives to carefully remove line and debris in a controlled environment before the real deal!
Next, time to execute the event! Make sure all activities are supervised correctly. If you are conducting a diving clean up, try to engage trained PADI professionals with a Dive Against Debris Specialty to help conduct the event. This is really helpful for safety and task loading, or taking on multiple responsibilities while diving underwater. If despite their good intentions, someone is doing more harm than good to an environment, it is best to let a professional take over. If no PADI Professionals are available and you want to take the initiative into your own hands, learn more information about handling and participation from the Dive Against Debris Lesson Guide, available through the PADI Dive Against Debris Specialty. Diving Against Debris should only be done by certified divers. If diving is not accessible in your area, focus on the land and beach side of cleanups!
So, you were able to finalize, plan, and get support from local businesses and line up community participation. Fintastic!!! Now you are really on your way to making waves of change. To ensure the maximum impact and support from the greater community, document your event with lots of videos and use testimonials to your advantage. If people came from far distances to support your event, document their experience and ask them why they joined in! It is especially important to document the event carefully, in a manner that supports responsible removal practices.
For Special Events, we were able to garnish support and action from the community by following these steps and creating awareness for marine debris issues. Thanks to the support of Project AWARE, PADI and the local community, you can help make a difference! The ocean is life… our very existence depends upon it. Without it, we won’t have a world to live in. Its vastness, beauty and mystery create the cornerstone of our earth. We must protect it and all its inhabitants so that future generations can continue the task, and feel inspired to take action and be part of something greater than themselves.