Protect coral reefs

How tourists and operators can protect Egypt’s coral reefs?

Following the recent announcement of UK flight restrictions to Sharm el Sheikh being lifted, and the subsequent rush of operators to resume selling holidays to the region, The Reef-World Foundation and Chamber of Diving & Watersports (CDWS) are calling for tourists and operators to remember the actions they can take to protect the country’s precious coral reefs.

With UK flights to Sharm el Sheikh restarting, business from the UK to Egypt, which increased by 30% between 2017 and 2018, is now expected to rise even further. As a result of this expected influx of tourism to the region, Reef-World – the international coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative – and CDWS – which implements the initiative in Egypt – are urging people to remember the importance of protecting the reefs they visit.

Chloe Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We’re proud to be working alongside CDWS helping protect Red Sea coral reefs through Green Fins – but we can’t do it alone. Everyone has a part to play, which is why we’re asking tourists to reduce their negative impact on coral reefs by following a few simple guidelines, as outlined by the Green Fins Code of Conduct. Reducing diving and snorkeling-related damage to coral reefs helps make them more resilient to other stressors such as those associated with climate change. If we all make an effort to act as a responsible tourist, we can protect Egypt’s beautiful coral reefs for many years to come.”

The Green Fins guidelines recommend that divers and snorkellers:

  • Don’t step on coral: Divers and snorkellers can easily break coral with their feet or fins. This can cause injury and kill coral reefs
  • Don’t touch or chase marine life: This can lead to stressed and scared animals that will swim away, leaving nothing for guests to see. Sharks species, in particular, should be left alone as our presence can influence and disrupt their natural behavior  
  • Don’t stir the sediment: Careless divers and swimmers who stir up the sand can cause damage and spread disease on reefs
  • Do not buy souvenirs of shell, coral or other marine life: This encourages people to take marine life from the ocean, removing the beautiful creatures people have traveled so far to see
  • Do not take marine life – dead or alive: Removing species that would normally break down and be recycled into the sea leaves other animals without nutrients and elements they need for growth. Even empty shells on the beach play an important role in the wider ecosystem. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bubbles.
  • Don’t litter: Throwing trash in the ocean kills marine life, poisons seafood and can cause injury – minimize your use of single-use plastics and recycle or dispose of your litter properly. You can also pick up any litter you see in the ocean or on the beach
  • Don’t wear gloves: Gloves can encourage tourists to touch things underwater, which could cause fatal injury and damage marine life. In Egypt, the use of gloves is not permitted
  • Don’t feed the fish: This can make fish sick or aggressive, especially with sharks, causing them to attack and injure humans. Fed fish are also more likely to leave their nests empty and vulnerable to predators
  • Dispose of litter responsibly: Throwing trash in the ocean kills marine life, poisons seafood and can injure tourists. Encourage recycling and proper disposal
  • Wear reef-safe sunscreen: Some chemical components in sunscreen – including Oxybenzone and Octinoxate – may have a negative impact on coral reefs. Help protect coral from harmful chemicals by using alternatives which are reef-safe and covering up with clothing when in strong sunshine.
  • Report environmental violations: If you see any destructive practices or violations of environmental laws, tell your dive guide, dive operator or government officials. By informing key authorities, you are being part of the solution as your actions can lead to appropriate action.
  • Participate in conservation projects: By taking part in conservation projects, you can have a positive effect on the environment and help educate others.

The Green Fins initiative aims to protect coral reefs through environmentally friendly guidelines that promote sustainable diving and snorkeling. The only internationally recognized environmental standards for the diving and snorkeling industry, it has a robust assessment system to measure compliance.

Green Fins was piloted in South Sinai Governorate in September and will be expanded to be available to all dive and snorkel operators nationwide by March 2020. Egyptian marine tourism operators who sign up to the programme are playing their part in protecting coral reefs from the negative impacts associated with diving and snorkeling. The CDWS is rallying more dive centres to join the Green Fins initiative to help improve their sustainability and prove they are following environmental best practice as a way of attracting eco-minded tourists. Interested operators in the region can sign up by contacting the Green Fins Team at CDWS ([email protected]).

Hesham Gabr, Chair of the Chamber of Diving & Watersports, said: “We are lucky to be the custodians of a naturally rich and beautiful environment. It is so important that we protect and preserve the Red Sea’s exquisite marine life for future generations. As such, we’re appealing to Egyptian dive and snorkel operators to learn how to improve their environmental best practices and reduce their negative impact on coral reefs by signing up to Green Fins.”

The Reef-World Foundation leads the global implementation of the UN Environment’s Green Fins initiative, which focuses on driving environmentally friendly scuba diving and snorkeling practices globally. If you’re interested in supporting The Reef-World Foundation in its work to protect coral reefs around the world through the Green Fins initiative, consider donating now.

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