The Reef-World Foundation – the international coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins – recently announced there was not one but three winners of the Green Fins Award 2020: Bubbles Dive Centre, Pulau Perhentian, Flora Bay Divers and Tioman Dive Centre.
This Sustainability Interview series helps dive and snorkel operators learn about improvements they can make to sustainability by hearing about the successes of other dive shops. So, who better to hear from than one of the Green Fins members with the lowest environmental impact in the world?
That’s why, today, we’re hearing from one of the three winners: Bubbles Dive Centre in Malaysia’s Pulau Perhentian. The resort was founded in 2004 and has significantly improved its environmental practices since joining Green Fins five years ago. To hear more about their sustainability journey, we spoke with co-owner Peisee Hwang: a PADI MSDT, Reef Check instructor and co-founder of Bubbles Turtle and Reef Conservation project.
First of all, congratulations to you all at Bubbles Dive Centre for winning the Green Fins 2020 Award alongside Flora Bay Divers and Tioman Dive Centre. How does it feel to have won?
We are thrilled to know that we have won and we are glad that our effort is being recognised. We hope that more operators aspire to join us in pledging for the environment.
What changes have you made to improve sustainability at your dive centre since joining Green Fins and what are you most proud of?
We have been practicing most things that are advised by the Green Fins Code of Conduct and it is great to get recognition from our effort. What are we proudest of? To be ranked the world’s number one!
How have the staff at bubbles dive centre reacted to the Green Fins practices?
It’s not been hard to implement because it is what we always preach them to do. So, we were happy when Green Fins came and gave us official guidelines to follow.
The staff and crew were fantastic. For example, they never throw cigarette butts into the sea anymore. Before their Green Fins training, they would only do it if I was around to tell them. Now, they realise why it’s important. Because it’s not just for me or for Green Fins. They realise that it’s for their children and they actually started to appreciate it and you see them take those behaviours when they go back to the village too.
Have you noticed a change in your staff and crew?
Yes. Green Fins has helped my crew understand more about the importance of looking after the environment. Less educated members of staff would throw cigarette butts in the sea without thinking but they are now keeping their trash to dispose in the bin when they are back.
That’s great to hear! Were there any changes that were more challenging than others?
Implementing an ocean safe sunscreen policy has been challenging. We are a family resort and it is hard to get the kids to stay protected using ocean safe sunscreen. The products can be hard to get and expensive to purchase. I have hand made the sunscreen for my crew but it isn’t easy to keep in our climate. Our crew has all stopped using sunscreen.
How have your guests responded to your sustainability efforts?
They appreciate it. Guests return or recommended us because of how we care for environment and how they feel that we are walking the walk and not just talking the talk! We have converted them to stop using straws, refilling water bottles and learning to use environment friendly cleaning products. But the current pandemic is making this part tough because the recommended disinfecting agents are not environmentally friendly.
The pandemic has been a huge challenge for dive shops around the world. How has it changed things for you?
Because of the pandemic, a lot of the more environmentally friendly solutions like cleaning products and things like that are not being used this year. So it was, it was breaking my heart that I have to buy Clorox which is not good for the environment. We’ve been using the Green Fins guidelines on how to disinfect chemical cleaning products with minimal impact to the environment. We actually use pine gel – so we can dilute the Clorox – because pine gel has natural disinfection properties.
We are also working on no-single use masks. Our crew all get a cloth mask and are encouraging their family members to stop using disposable mask. You can see us wearing them here – I’m in front, the guy is green is Ah Gan and the one behind is my husband Ronnie.
Any other environmental projects you’re particularly proud of?
Yes – we run a turtle conservation project on site. This year, between March and September, we collected 15,299 eggs from 162 nests on our beach and released 9,446 hatchlings into the sea.
That sounds like a lot of work! How many people were involved in collecting the eggs and releasing the hatchlings?
We have a team of between 2-4 staff members and some of our guests who volunteer to help. It is a lot of work. We joke that they are vampires: work at night and sleep all day!
Wow! That’s amazing! Do your guests get involved in other ways too?
The turtle conservation project is open to all guests. They can participate by making a small contribution to the project. Meanwhile, we host a nightly talk so all guests who stay with can learn about turtles, the environment and our war against plastic. During the talk, the guests are briefed on the dos and don’ts when seeing a turtle on the beach. We also explain the correct way of observing a wild animal in nature: no touching, no cuddling and no riding. We also explained to our guests the right way to deal with turtles. Now, if they are visiting places that have turtles coming up to them for food, they know what the right thing is to do.
Our main customers are families so we get a lot of parents with kids coming to the resort. When the kids come and listen to the talk, they go home and make sure their parents don’t use single use plastics and will get bamboo or metal straws from us instead. That’s really cool.
It seems like awareness raising is really important to you at Bubbles?
Yes that’s our approach here at Bubbles. We believe that spreading awareness is the most effective way to conservation. The Green Fins materials help with that too.
That’s why we have our turtle talks: to help guests learn. I cringe when seeing picture of tourist holding babies in their hands and take photos. I don’t blame them, they were not informed. Many guests gasp when they learn the don’ts and felt bad that they were doing them before. But at least then will not do it again. And will spread the awareness to their friends and family.