We had just touched down in Amman at midnight and were about to start the five-hour car journey across the country to get to the coastline. Even at night, I could make out the desert landscape as our car sped down the highway. I knew that now was the opportune time to try and get some sleep before the busy eight days ahead, but I was too excited. Finally, after months of careful preparation, we were on our way to participate in my first Green Fins country launch: Jordan!
Aqaba is the only dive location in Jordan, and the main authority there, Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA), is determined to make it one of the top dive destinations in the world. Excitingly, the key decision-makers in Jordan are aware of the importance of including environmental sustainability within plans for economic growth. Alongside ASEZA’s ambitious marketing strategy to attract more tourists, they have been including several environmentally friendly certifications in order to monitor the negative impact on marine ecosystems, including the Green Fins initiative.
For every new country launch, The Reef-World Foundation (the UK charity that spearheads the Green Fins initiative globally) must gain on-the-ground experience of the local dive and snorkelling industry. This is in order to best understand the current environmental solutions in place, as well as identify the current gaps and needs for a dive or snorkel shop to succeed in minimising negative impact. Scoping takes two days – one day for the land assessment and the second day to experience the diving industry on a real dive trip. It was my first country launch, joining one of the Reef-World Directors, Chloe, to investigate what environmental solutions Aqaba has already established and where we can offer our expertise and advice to make some essential improvements to protect the local marine environment.
The first day of scoping took me back to my journalism days – we were on the hunt for information! With the advice from our main contact at ASEZA’s, Thelma, and help from our speedy driver, Hassan, we visited and gathered information from local ports, marine protected areas, garbage facilities and even had a chat on the phone with Aqaba Water about the local sewage treatment process – proving that with some conservation work, you’ve got to get your hands dirty. Luckily for us, only metaphorically!
On the second day, we finally got into the water. The purpose of the diving aspect is to understand what a location has to offer to its tourists, what dive sites look like and how divers can potentially impact it, but also to get to grips with the logistics of a diving day: is it common to use a boat or mostly shore dives? How long is the usual dive trip? How popular are the trips?
The majority of my dives have been in the coral triangle, so it was really interesting to explore what Aqaba has to offer to tourists. Boasting the first “underwater museum”, many of the wrecks were just a short swim from the coastline, meaning that all the dive sites can easily be reached from shore. We had a brilliant dive at the TriStar passenger plane, one of Aqaba’s most famous wrecks.
After the scoping days, we were ready to begin training with a group of individuals from local authorities that will make the Green Fins programme their own. Reef-World believes in the power and knowledge of local coral reef communities. It was a real rush being part of the creation of an entirely new Green Fins team, especially watching them all be empowered with a way to utilise their knowledge to create real change. During the six-day training, we had a lot of opportunities to exchange ideas and expertise, as well as have a few laughs along the way. A top highlight was after the skills training dive, we all got together to have a team photo underwater.
This training was also a very important milestone for my career – being able to say that I was part of an all-female trainer team. Everyone at Reef-World strives to always put equality and inclusivity at the heart of all the conservation work we do as part of our Culture of Care. For example, in 2022, over half of the Green Fins assessors trained were female. As a woman, it can feel challenging to take on a leadership role in many countries where we work, but I have always been encouraged and supported to take that next step up. I want to note that the Aqaba leadership team at ASEZA does provide some inspiring female representation, and the next step here is to have women within the assessor teams, too – which means putting resources into dive and conservation training for women in Aqaba. Watch this space!
It’s a wrap!
As part of the launch, we attended not one but two ceremonies. I usually sit behind a computer in order to fulfil my work, but this time there were cameras in front of my face! Fortunately for me, Chloe did most of the presenting for the ceremonies and managed to do an inspiring speech off the cuff to a room full of industry professionals when there were technical difficulties loading the presentation slides. It was thrilling to have the entire dive industry all in one place. We announced and applauded the first Green Fins assessors and Certified Members of Aqaba and took many photos together. All in all, it was a roaring success and a real pleasure to witness my first country launch!