At the time of writing, the Green Fins initiative is active in 11 countries around the world with several more awaiting launch when travel restrictions allow. In each country, Reef-World and the UN Environment Programme coordinate Green Fins supported by local in-destination partners. While each country has its own story, they often face similar sustainability challenges. So, by learning from each other, we can speed up our conservation progress in different locations around the world. That’s why the team at Reef-World is sharing the stories of active Green Fins countries around the world and how the programme is helping each destination improve its sustainability. Today, we hear from one of our more recent destinations: Green Fins Dominican Republic…
Green Fins Dominican Republic was established in June 2018 with support from the Regional Activity Centre for the Protocol on Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW-RAC). The initiative is overseen and managed in the country by Reef Check Dominican Republic in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and the Auxiliary Navy. Reef Check Dominican Republic took on the Green Fins initiative to address the increase in tourist numbers engaging with the marine environment and the associated threats that come with this.
Reef-World’s Director JJ Harvey visited the Dominican Republic in June 2018 to establish the Green Fins national assessor team who will be overseeing the programme in the country. During his visit, JJ trained four new assessors to oversee the programme’s implementation. He also conducted a gaps and needs analysis of the industry to ensure Green Fins is as effective as possible in providing relevant environmental solutions. Particular issues included responsible disposing of used oil, solid waste and using chemical cleaning products for marine toilets and boats.
In November of the same year, Reef-World returned to provide further training to the Dominican Republic’s national team. With assistance and support from the Coastal Biodiversity and Tourism Project (Biodiversidad Costera y Turismo – BCyT), Reef-World trained four new assessors to support the existing Green Fins national team.
During 2019, Reef-World and its partners in the Dominican Republic were able to make good progress with the implementation of Green Fins. Towards the end of the year, JJ Harvey visited Santo Domingo and Boca Chica to meet with Reef Check Dominican Republic for an update on the programme, build on its existing successes and establish some exciting next steps. In particular, they planned out next steps for an exciting new project to inspire a generation of marine conservation Youth Ambassadors and strengthen marine environmental education in the national curriculum. This project, supported by TUI Care Foundation, will engage over 1,000 teenagers across 15 schools with the ripple effect reaching approximately 1,800 community members and over 2,000 family members.
They also developed plans for a recruitment drive to attract new Green Fins members in the Punta Cana region: one of the most popular tourist destinations within the Dominican Republic. As capacity building to empower local communities is key to the success of the programme, buy-in from government and private sector stakeholders is crucial. As such, Reef-World hosted productive meetings with the Ministry of Environment, as well as local dive centre owners, to discuss their continued support of the programme. The tangible conservation impact of Green Fins were also being seen with more exciting plans in the pipeline for the following year.
At the onset of the outbreak in March 2020, tourism activities came to an abrupt halt which meant all Green Fins activities and assessments had to be put on hold. Despite this, there was a surge in interest from dive centres in the Dominican Republic wanting to join Green Fins. While plans to conduct Green Fins training and assessments had to be put on hold, they had started to get underway again by the end of the year. In the meantime, moving environmental awareness raising sessions from in-person to online significantly increased the number of people reached: from dozens to hundreds.
In January, Reef-World and the TUI Care Foundation launched a new TUI Junior Academy to support environmental training and inspire a generation of Youth Ambassadors for coral reef conservation. The initiative – part of the international TUI Junior Academy programme – will deliver tailored marine environmental education courses to Youth Ambassadors, inspiring them to champion coral reef conservation projects and lead activities within their local communities. The project aims to significantly reduce any direct detrimental impact to coral reefs by building awareness of, and facilitating, environmentally-friendly best practices for diving and snorkelling activities.
The partnership encourages environmental stewardship by bringing together key members of the community to focus on the protection of coral reefs and other sensitive ecosystems. Over 300 people from a variety of local reef-based businesses would receive specialised training on how to work more sustainably. More than 65,000 tourists would receive information on coral reef protection and over 2,000 members of the community would learn about reef protection through the environmental activities of the Youth Ambassadors.
A state of emergency was declared in Dominican Republic just months later (16 March 2020) with measures such as curfews, border closures and school cancellations being enforced for several weeks. As a result of these measures, planned delivery of the Youth Ambassador curriculum (including marine conservation lectures and field activities) for the Youth Ambassadors were put on hold immediately. The Green Fins team worked hard to adapt to the current situation and reach the children. Due to restrictions on large gatherings, in-person solutions – such as reaching the children through community groups and local churches – were no longer possible. Instead, projects that the children can be involved with in an independent manner – such as home plastic detective projects and making reusable masks and environmentally friendly soap – replaced the beach cleanups, workshops and community art projects that were originally due to take place.
In August 2020, a new President (Mr. Luis Abinader) was elected and came into office and a new Minister of Environment and Natural Resources (Mr Orlando Jorge Mera) was appointed. Thankfully, the new officials showed overwhelming support for both the Green Fins initiative and the TUI Junior Academy. In collaboration with the Director of Education within the Ministry of Environment, the team also started to deliver educational marine conservation content to children using easily accessible and free digital platforms. The Education Department within the Ministry of Environment also requested Reef Check and Reef-World partner with them to deliver the Green Fins curriculum to children across the country via webcam. Five daily 40-minute lessons about the marine environment have now been delivered for approximately 500 children.