While each of the 11 active Green Fins countries are at a different stage on its sustainability journey, they often come across many similar challenges. Because of this, it’s helpful to share insights into Green Fins’ development around the world so different countries can learn from each other. Today, we’re learning about one of the newer countries to launch the initiative: here is the story of Green Fins Antigua and Barbuda so far.
The government of Antigua and Barbuda had been requesting support from The Reef-World Foundation since they first become aware of the Green Fins initiative at the 5th International Tropical Marine Ecosystem Management Symposium (ITMEMS 5) in February 2016. During this event, the government of Antigua and Barbuda expressed the same concerns as other similar sized countries in the Caribbean regarding the vast increase in the number of tourists in the region and the direct consequences on the marine environment.
The main impacts from the large number of tourists taking part in activities in the marine environment in Antigua and Barbuda came from a variety of threats. The main concerns were: diver and snorkeller behaviour; fish feeding; anchoring; marine debris; chemical discharge; and the potential threat from toxic sunscreen.
By 2018, Antigua and Barbuda had been requesting Green Fins training for a number of years. Its tourism industry had been growing steadily for many years and there was a real need for a sustainable approach to manage the country’s marine tourism industry.
Essentially, the levels of growth were deemed unsustainable and specific management approaches were needed to tackle a variety of threats from the tourism industry that outstrips the country’s small population (96,286 people in 2018). 2018 saw 268,949 air arrivals with 247,320 visitors the year before. The majority of the visitors to the country were involved in marine water sports with snorkelling and scuba diving often high on the agenda.
Significant budget and capacity is required to launch Green Fins in a new country and the Reef-World team continued to find ways to meet demand for the initiative in the country. We didn’t know it yet but the pieces of the puzzle had started to fall into place. In late 2018, Reef-World was approved as a non-profit partner for the 1% for the Planet programme. The charity’s inclusion in the directory of non-profit partners was key to Green Fins Antigua and Barbuda finally becoming a reality in the following year.
In 2019, tourist arrivals to Antigua and Barbuda were at an all-time high: there were 300,990 arrivals by air with an additional 752,600 visitors arriving by cruise ships. The need for Green Fins was clear.
So, everyone at Reef-World was hugely excited when a new partnership with French cosmetic company Caudalie enabled us to finally launch Green Fins Antigua and Barbuda. This partnership with Caudalie came about thanks to our involvement with 1% for the Planet and the consultative advice Caudalie received from PUR Project. Caudalie generously provided funding to enable Reef-World to begin implementing the Green Fins initiative in Antigua and Barbuda.
So, in May 2019, Antigua and Barbuda became the first English speaking country in the western hemisphere and the 10th government worldwide to officially adopt Green Fins. The Reef-World team established a new Green Fins management team comprised of the following leaders:
- Hon. Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez, Minister of Tourism and Investment, Ministry of Tourism and Investment).
- Vashti Ramsey-Casimir, Senior Tourism Officer – Sustainable Tourism Unit, Ministry of Tourism and Investment;
- and Tricia Lovell, Senior Fisheries Officer, Fisheries Division;
Reef-World also trained three Green Fins assessors. These assessors, who were certified to conduct dive and snorkel centre assessments, were Trevor Joseph – Fisheries Division, Sophia Steele – Environmental Awareness Group / Fauna and Flora International and Akeem Daley – Ministry of Tourism. During their training, three new dive operators – Antigua Reef Riders, Dive Carib and Jolly Dive – became the first in the country to be trained and certified by the Green Fins initiative.
A major outcome of this project was establishing a formal mechanism by which any current and future businesses that provide diving or snorkelling activities will be registered with the Ministry of Tourism and Investment. Before this, tourism providers didn’t have the option of registering under a specific marine tourism activity (e.g. diving or snorkelling). This meant the Ministry of Tourism and Investment was unable to establish the full scale and size of the marine tourism sector. A new mandatory registration process will overcome these issues.
Also, the government put forward a motion to refer to the Green Fins Code of Conduct in the development of a new Act regulating the tourism industry, specifically where there is a threat to the coral reefs from stakeholders.
As well as training the new national team in Antigua and Barbuda, Reef-World identified new materials. The threat from sunscreen had been identified as the one key threat common across all activities. To help tackle this threat, Reef-World developed two new awareness raising posters. The sunscreen infographic explains why chemical sunscreens pose such a threat to coral reefs. This, alongside the supporting “no sunscreen” poster, can be used to directly educate tourists while supporting the dive guides to implement a ‘reef safe sunscreen’ policy within their diving or snorkelling tours. These posters are available for free online and were directly provided to all Green Fins members both in Antigua and Barbuda and around the world.
With the arrival of 2020 came the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the momentum of Green Fins Antigua and Barbuda has slowed. Six of the estimated 30 diving and snorkelling businesses had become Green Fins members and had their assessment. However, since the Coronavirus outbreak (February 2020), on-the-ground activities associated with the project had to be put on hold due to travel restrictions. The country received a major decline in the number of tourists visiting with the majority of tourism businesses operating in the country closed until further notice. This meant it was impossible for the government to work face-to-face with them. This included all plans to reach out to potential new Green Fins members as well as any on-site training and assessments.
The Green Fins national team is ready and waiting to return to the existing Green Fins members and the many others who have signed the Green Fins membership form who are awaiting their assessment and training. We hope they will be able to get back in the field very soon.
Thankfully, the pandemic has not completely stopped Green Fins’ conservation activities. The national team has maintained communications over the phone with existing members. Through their regular chats, the Green Fins assessors are helping members improve their sustainability. They are also creating a short video to raise awareness of what Green Fins is, what the benefits are and why they should join.
The government remains hopeful that visitor numbers will increase so that businesses can participate in Green Fins in 2021. Plans to train two new assessors will resume when it is safe to conduct training activities in the country.