Aligning with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative

The Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) is the first global alliance working to solve the worldwide problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear, known as ghost gear. Founded by World Animal Protection in 2015, the GGGI works to reduce the volume of ghost gear, remove and recycle it, and rescue entangled animals. By aligning with the GGGI, the PADI® family can help mobilize divers to look for and report harmful ghost gear that annually entangles and kills marine life including hundreds of thousands of whales, seals, turtles and birds.

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PADI joins GGGI as a member of its global solutions group to help develop new ways of mitigating the ghost gear problem. This complements the efforts of Project AWARE®, which actively works as a GGGI member to build evidence through its Dive Against Debris® program. Working together, the goal is to develop and implement projects to reduce and remove ghost gear from the ocean. This includes equipping PADI Divers with the knowledge and techniques to identify, report and, with proper training, safely remove ghost gear from waters, creating a global movement of millions of underwater eyes on the lookout for ghost gear.

More than 640,000 tons of fishing equipment is left in the world’s oceans each year, with reports showing that this debris affects more than 800 species of marine life. Many nets lost in global waters are enormous – often far bigger than football fields – trapping and killing marine life under the surface. Mostly made of plastic, ghost gear is also highly durable and can persist in the oceans for up to 600 years.

“We are happy to team up with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative,” says Drew Richardson, PADI Worldwide President and CEO. “PADI is committed to protecting the ocean planet and, with our unique underwater vantage, the dive community can play a significant role in locating marine debris. Along with Project AWARE, we look forward to working with the GGGI to empower and mobilize PADI Divers to join the fight against ghost gear.”

“We are proud to welcome PADI, with its millions of underwater eyes around the world looking out for ghost gear, as a pivotal new member for the GGGI,” says Elizabeth Hogan, U.S. Oceans and Wildlife Campaign Manager at World Animal Protection, the GGGI’s founding participant. “Ghost gear is a true global problem that knows no borders, and PADI will surely play a crucial role in helping us to locate, remove and recycle ghost gear, which causes such immense suffering for marine animals.”

To learn more about ghost gear and the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, visit www.ghostgear.org.

Be Best. Be PADITM. The Way the World Learns to Dive®.

 

Positivity and Keys Strong After Irma

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Written by PADI AmbassaDiver, Jack Fishman

Much like the thick limestone structure of a bountiful coral reef ecosystem in the face of a Category 4 Hurricane, the resilience of the people in South Florida is powerful.  When I moved to the Keys three years ago, I was struck by the passion and dedication those living here have for the beauty of the land and sea surrounding us. Even before Irma, this spirit offered endless opportunities to forge community bonds and joint efforts to sustain and preserve the Keys and environs.

We certainly need that commitment now. Now that the storm waters have cleared and the winds subsided, we are left with damaged infrastructure and homes, vegetation scattered across roads and property, and debris tossed everywhere by the storm. The damage varies and each section of the Florida Keys fared differently – sometimes by mere blocks. The media has portrayed vast destruction and loss and sadly that is true – just not everywhere. Key Largo, where I live and work, suffered the effects of Hurricane Irma but luckily escaped the full weight of the storm. Oceanside homes and businesses felt the effects of flooding and high winds, but structures in Key Largo and the Upper Keys generally are still standing proud, with much of the damage quickly assessed and repaired as we eagerly await the return of residents and tourists alike.

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Sadly, so many in the middle and lower Keys (and even in the upper Keys) were not so lucky. My good friend Caitlin Scott is one of them. Nonetheless, she expresses hope, which she sees every day in how the community has come together. As she says:

“Marathon, a little island just under 10 miles long, was full of tropical lush scenery, until September 10th when Hurricane Irma tore through this little slice of paradise. I headed down several days after reopening, almost a week after the storm, and was met with a sight that brought me to tears. My beautiful island I’ve called home for the better part of four years was now in shambles. Where beautiful palm trees used to stand is now replaced by brown remnants of the tropical environment. Driving around the town quickly opened my eyes to what type of power Mother Nature really has; homes in ruins, business destroyed and people left with nothing. Through all of this devastation and some of the saddest scenes I’ve ever witnessed I saw something even more important, strength.”

Stronger than any hurricane has been the force of the community and first responders coming together. Responders from every corner in the country flocked down to the Keys to help corral debris, restore power and help residents make their way back to some state of normalcy.  Some left the safety of their own homes to come here and live in temporary arrangements to aid in the repair of our infrastructure. At my own home, an electric crew from Wisconsin was able to restore our power, while I was sorting out debris in my yard. I got the chance to personally thank them and offered to take them diving; thankful that even in a small way I could show them how much we all appreciate what they have done for us. We in the Keys owe a huge debt and thank you to all the emergency personnel who have dedicated their time and incredible effort to help the Florida Keys start to work its way back from the wreckage. As Caitlin so eloquently notes:

“The Keys community is something anyone would be lucky to be a part of, and after this storm I’ve never been prouder to call this island home. Everyone quickly banded together to help each other in whatever way they could, even when they themselves had nothing. First responders came from all over the country just to offer assistance in any way they could. The phrase “Keys strong” has quickly caught on during this rebuilding process and that could not be more accurate. The Keys community is made up of some of the strongest individuals I’ve ever met, and together we will rebuild our home into the tropical paradise we are known for. Phoenixes rise from the ashes and are reborn: well, Phoenixes have nothing on the Florida Keys, from the ashes we will rise, stronger.” 

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Now that the storm has passed, with fingers crossed that we (and everyone) stay out of the paths of the alphabet of hurricanes that continue to devastate, we at Rainbow Reef, the Key Largo-based dive center where I work, have been determinedly shoring up the dive center, getting things ready to take people back to the beautiful waters we love. As I am writing this, we are fully operational as are so many other tourist destinations and shops in throughout the Upper Keys, with rebuilding slowly working its way through the harder-hit middle and lower Keys.  And all of us are paying particular attention of course to surveying the state of our reefs.

We are not scientific divers, but we are ambassadors to the sea and to reefs we have come to know better than ourselves. As anticipated, the ocean off the coast has changed after Irma. Myself, our Marine Conservation Co-Coordinator Shayna Cohen, and our teams of divers have observed the effects first hand. What we saw at first was truly heartbreaking, topography of the reefs changed significantly across the barrier system. A lot of recognizable coral structures we knew and loved had changed, or were simply not there. The sand has been displaced. Sea fans and soft corals are less plentiful; however, the substrate is there to support their return. Many high profile coral structures remain and offer ever new surfaces and ground for new life to flourish. Algae (at first stripped bare) has started to return, enough to sustain many bottom dwelling fishes. It will be important to see how that changes over time. Coral heads once again peak out from their tiny homes, raising their tentacles in the water eagerly awaiting their next meal. Some are bruised and battered, yet some life has returned to the reefs. As we move into fall, the water temperature should drop, helping to soothe the frayed nerves of the reef allowing for a faster recovery then would the heat of summer. It is important to acknowledge the destructive capabilities of a hurricane, and the reality of the changes in reef structure, coral density and fish life. Overall we were very lucky. The reefs fared remarkably well given a hit from a category 4 hurricane. The wrecks in the Upper Keys are still standing proud, a few dings and missing pieces from the surge, but otherwise unscathed. Every day more fish return, with Sharks turtles and Sting-Rays still cruising happily along the spur and groove formations of the reefs. When these amazing creatures welcome us back to their home, we should dust off our fins, make sure our buoyancy is peak perfect, and treat the reef like an old friend who is very tired, and needs some time to get back to their old happy state. Let’s all do our part and give the reefs and animals the respect they deserve as we dive back into that beautiful watery realm.

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The weeks and months after this life changing event will be critical. As the reefs heal and change, the communities will continue the healing process as well.  And we too will need to change in some ways. We need to be that much more careful to tailor our practices and even our livelihoods to protect our fragile ecosystems and prevent further decline of so many vital reef species. Shayna Cohen does a great job of describing the changes over time first hand:

“A month ago, in an article I wrote for Project Aware, I spoke about a brain coral I have seen wane in size and prominence over my time diving my favorite reef. The truth is, following the hurricane, that brain coral is no longer there, and the juvenile colonies I saw as a beacon of hope are less abundant, but that doesn’t mean hope isn’t still there. Hope now comes in the Ocean’s resilience and strength. However, hope also comes from the knowledge that humans, and especially divers, can play a role now more than ever to help heal our marine ecosystem. As visitors of the underwater world, it is our exciting duty to acknowledge and learn from the changes left by the hurricane, and to use that information to be more conscientious and contributing divers.

We have our work cut out for us. For the past year, we at Rainbow Reef and others have expanded operations to include teaching and spear-heading marine conservation efforts with a focus on safe and efficient marine debris removal efforts. We cannot predict all the changes and materials that have entered our ocean after this severe storm. With the help of PADIProject AWARE FoundationThe LonelyWhale4OceanStream2Sea The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration and many passionate individuals who make up our island family, we will be working hard to remove debris from locations throughout the Florida Keys. 4Ocean works very closely with our operation to ensure safe removals of marine debris, increased access for resources, and expanding perceptions across South Florida. We are endlessly thankful for their support.

Our well-trained and professional staff has already dived in many canals and lagoons to help remove odds and ends (big and small) and to restore accessibility to our waterways. This process will be ongoing, requiring time and dedication to ensure the debris does no further harm to our ecosystems. We will be coordinating with the community, government, professional and conservation organizations to use our skills to search for, aid in the logging of, and safely remove as much debris as humanly possible.

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We encourage you to come down and see it all for yourselves. See what mother nature is capable of. Get involved. Participate in the effort to haul, remove, sort and catalogue debris. Take the PADI Dive Against Debris Speciality with us and leave your experience with real meaning and training. On the reefs one must hone your skills. Make your dives count. The PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy course is an excellent start to ensuring the continued health of our beautiful reef structures as divers explore the depths. Learn about Project AWARE’s 10 Tips for Being a Good Diver which lay the groundwork to allow all of us to ease back into safe and productive diving practices that leave the reefs in better shape than we found them. These practices help us become more aware as we accept responsibility for our reefs and become part of the healing process, instead of simple observers.

Remember “Keys Strong,” our rallying cry for healing and rebuilding the Florida Keys.  We are stronger together, and even stronger when those outside the Keys join us. We rely on tourism. We love to share our beautiful home with others and to work together to preserve what we have here. Thanks to the incredible work by First Responders and infrastructure teams from all over the world, we are nearly there.

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The best way YOU can help is to come visit us in the Florida Keys.

Dive shops are carrying divers to the reefs and wrecks, restaurants are open, motels are open, gas stations are open, bars are open, roads are clear. With the healing of our reefs around us, and restoration of the lives of residents and businesses here in the Florida Keys, we eagerly await your return.

PADI and Project AWARE Celebrate 25 Years of Ocean Action

Project AWARE® turns 25 this year. It’s an incredible milestone made possible by the global dive community’s continued support for ocean protection and a partnership powered by a shared vision for a healthy ocean. As PADI® deepens its commitment to ocean health and marine animal protection through the Four Pillars of Change, Project AWARE’s 25th Anniversary is testament to what can be accomplished when people join forces and engage in meaningful conservation action.

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It was in the late 1980s when Project A.W.A.R.E. (Aquatic World Awareness Responsibility and Education) was born to harness each diver’s potential to advocate for and protect underwater environments. What began as a “project” transformed rapidly into a separate nonprofit organization – the Project AWARE Foundation, which has grown into a full-fledged movement of divers, marine activists and aquatic enthusiasts uniting to take action for ocean protection. In the early days, Project AWARE focused on working to advance environmental awareness through diver education. As the movement grew, Project AWARE shifted its focus to empowering direct community action and campaigning for ocean issues divers care about most.

“Over the past quarter of a century, Project AWARE has stayed at the forefront of emerging ocean issues, amplified divers’ voices on the international stage and brought together a worldwide community tackling some of the most pressing ocean challenges,” says Dr. Drew Richardson, PADI President and CEO and Chairman of the Project AWARE Foundation Board. “From its grassroots inception, Project AWARE has grown into a movement with strong initiatives that have a positive impact on the future of our ocean planet.”

With 25 years of ocean conservation successes fueled by an incredible network of supporters, governments, businesses, NGOs and conservation partners, Project AWARE has much to celebrate with PADI Members. You’ve helped secure historic protections for vulnerable shark and ray species. You’ve contributed to developing the world’s first and only marine debris database with more than 800,000 pieces of debris removed and reported from underwater environments. Using Project AWARE’s unique tools and resources, you’ve taught and continue to teach ocean protection to scuba divers, children, families and friends in local communities around the world, inspiring stewards for the ocean.

The past 25 years have created a strong foundation for Project AWARE to build its next wave of ocean protection. Now more than ever, Project AWARE is positioned to lead the charge by empowering the global dive community to be agents of positive change for the ocean, and engage ocean enthusiasts in meaningful conservation actions that the ocean desperately needs. Join the movement and protect our ocean planet – one dive at a timeSM.

Be Best. Be PADI – The Way the World Learns to Dive®

 

Protect Sharks and Rays with Your Dive Business

Project AWARE®, WWF and The Manta Trust are pleased to release Responsible Shark and Ray Tourism: A Guide to Best Practice, the world’s first-ever guidelines for shark and ray tourism operators. The Guide aims to provide practical, science-based guidance to help tourism operators, NGOs and local communities develop and maintain well managed tourism operations that help conserve shark and ray species, raise awareness for their protection, and benefit local communities.

Unsustainable exploitation of sharks and rays – mainly driven by overfishing – is widespread with one in four shark and ray species now threatened with an increased risk of extinction.

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Yet across the globe, shark and ray tourism is increasing in popularity. Currently, around 400 well-established tourism operations focus on interacting with species of sharks and rays, and it’s estimated that this number could more than double over the next twenty years, generating over $780 million USD in expenditures around the world.

Dr Andy Cornish, WWF says, “Shark and ray focused ecotourism has great potential as a conservation strategy. If properly designed and managed, it can provide alternative direct and indirect economic benefits to local communities and economies. Yet sadly there’s limited practical guidance out there.”

Industry, researchers, authorities and the nonprofit community largely agree that best-practice guidance is urgently needed to ensure that tourism sites are established and operated in a manner that benefits sharks and rays, and local communities, while also inspiring awe, respect and a greater appreciation of the need to conserve these animals.

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Isabel Ender, Manta Trust, adds, “Lack of best practice guidance can often leave operators confused about how to assess the impact and improve the sustainability of their operation. We sought advice from scientists and the industry to help bridge that gap and deliver a best practice guide – the first of its kind in the world.”

To support operators seeking to commit to best practice, a full suite of free, downloadable tools is available on all of the organizations’ websites.

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For further information or to download any of the tools visit Project AWARE, WWF and The Manta Trust websites.

Victory for Sharks & Rays at CITES CoP

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After 13 Species Listed in Plenary, NGOs look to implementation, remaining threats

Conservationists are delighted that CITES* Parties have officially listed devil rays, thresher sharks, and the silky shark under CITES Appendix II. The listing proposals were supported by more than the two-thirds majority required for adoption in Committee on Monday, and finalized today in Plenary.

“This is a big win for all these species of sharks and rays as governments around the world will now have to act to ensure that trade is from sustainable and legal fisheries,” said Andy Cornish of the WWF.

Nine devil rays, the three thresher sharks, and the silky shark were proposed by countries all over the globe for listing under CITES Appendix II, which obligates Parties to put in place international trade restrictions to ensure exports are sustainable and legal.

“We are elated by the resounding support for safeguarding the devil rays, some of the oceans’ most vulnerable animals,” said Sonja Fordham of Shark Advocates International.  Devil rays have just one pup every two or three years, leaving them exceptionally susceptible to overfishing.

Ali Hood of the Shark Trust noted, “While we’re pleased by this important decision to regulate trade in silky sharks, we stress that complementary fishing limits and measures to reduce incidental catch are key to the effective conservation of this species.”

“We are grateful that governments recognize the value of healthy thresher shark populations for both fisheries and tourism,” said Ania Budziak of Project AWARE.

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CITES Parties now have six months to implement the new international trade obligations for devil rays, and one year to do the same for silky and thresher sharks.

“We urge governments to put in place these vital international trade controls, as a matter of priority,” added Amie Brautigam of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Earlier in the meeting, Parties agreed steps aimed at improving the traceability of shark and ray products, which is fundamental to CITES implementation. Countries’ interventions reflected a growing recognition of the vital role CITES can play in shark and ray conservation by enhancing data, improving management, and ensuring sustainable international trade.

Project AWARE, Shark Advocates International, Shark Trust, TRAFFIC, Wildlife Conservation Society, and WWF are working in partnership to promote the ray and shark listing proposals, with support from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

*Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.

Media contact: Brittney Francis: +44 07508 979958 (UK) brittney@communicationsinc.co.uk

For species factsheets see: http://www.projectaware.org/publication/cites-cop17-fact-sheets

ReMember: Support Ocean Protection with your PADI Member Renewal

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The diving community, especially PADI® Professional Members play a critical role in leading ocean protection.

There are so many significant problems facing mankind, but as divers this is truly our cause. If scuba divers do not take an active role in preserving the aquatic realm, who will?” – John Cronin, PADI Co-Founder

Your renewed commitment to ocean protection with your PADI Member Renewal continues to give the ocean a voice, help secure important policy advancements to keep shark and ray populations healthy and protect marine life from the onslaught of marine debris.

Project AWARE®, PADI’s environmental partner, is dedicated to providing PADI Pros like you with the tools and resources to take action, advancing the health of the ocean for future generations. Your donation supports hands-on citizen science, education and local marine conservation actions tailored for the dive community across the globe.

Go to the PADI Pros’ Site to update your credit or debit card details and add your donation* to support Project AWARE’s critical conservation work today!

*Donations of $25 USD or more received during PADI Member Renewals will receive a new limited edition Project AWARE silky shark mask strap pad as a special thank you for your renewed support.

How Can You Adopt a Dive Site?

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Scuba divers are some of the world’s most passionate ocean advocates. With our unique underwater access and dive skills, we’re a powerful movement – one that seeks out action and mobilizes for change.

That’s why this Earth Day, we’re proud to support our nonprofit partner Project AWARE® as they launch Adopt a Dive Site™ – a unique and powerful program to involve dive centers, resorts and leaders around the world in ongoing, local protection and monitoring of our favorite underwater playgrounds.

ADS_icon_STANDARD_RGBScuba divers are fast becoming the caretakers of our ocean planet, and Project AWARE wants to help empower you – dive centers and professionals – to take ownership and increase your stewardship of the dive sites you visit regularly. Adopt a Dive Site is a unique opportunity to protect what you love.

Through Project AWARE’s flagship citizen science program, Dive Against Debris™, divers around the world are already narrowing the marine debris knowledge gap in policy and science. It’s an incredible effort that has helped save the lives of many ocean species and helped make our ocean cleaner, but the sad truth is that we know there is much more trash is the ocean, and largely, it goes unreported. Adopt a Dive Site is an opportunity for outstanding Dive Against Debris leaders to take ownership of their dive sites.

Participants will pledge to carry out monthly Dive Against Debris surveys, reporting each month from the same location. In return, you’ll be provided with survey tools to help implement your actions, a yearly report on the state of your local reef and recognition tools to share your stewardship with customers and the community.

Together, Adopt a Dive Site participants will help build a strong and vibrant community of Dive Against Debris activists. Visit projectaware.org to learn how you can Adopt a Dive Site!