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Pandemic causes a surge in interest in Green Fins Dominican Republic

Caribbean DTA Team

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Going digital is helping to boost the programme’s conservation impact

 The Reef-World Foundation – international coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative – and Reef Check Dominican Republic have adapted to the new situations caused by the pandemic in order to reach even more dive and snorkel operators with their conservation messaging.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruption for the global travel industry and resulted in environmental concerns; for example, through the increased use of single-use plastic items such as gloves and masks. However, for the Green Fins initiative in the Dominican Republic, the pandemic has also brought some positive conservation effects, such as coastal water quality improvements due to the drastic reduction on human activities.

Green Fins Dominican Republic receives a surge of interest

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. Plans are underway to conduct training and assessments of these businesses once they are fully operational again.

Tourism businesses have been operating at around 30% capacity since July; however, with plans for many of the hotels and resorts to open even further for high season in November 2020, Green Fins assessments could be underway again by the end of the year. Moving the programme’s environmental awareness raising sessions from in-person to online has helped significantly increase the number of people reached: from dozens to hundreds.

Marine conservation lessons in the Dominican Republic

Government of Dominican Republic shows ongoing programme support

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. There has been overwhelming support for the Green Fins initiative and the Youth Ambassador programme from the new officials. In addition, a new law in the Dominican Republic mandates the inclusion of environmental education in all levels of the national education curriculum; making the Green Fins content even more relevant.

TUI Junior Academy determined to continue providing conservation education for children

In January 2020, 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. 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 has 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 – are 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 – will replace the beach cleanups, workshops and community art projects that were originally due to take place.

Youth Ambassador’s T-shirt

In collaboration with the Direction of Education within the Ministry of Environment, the team started to deliver educational marine conservation content to children using digital platforms. However, many children currently do not have access to a computer, tablet or the internet which makes this solution challenging at present. The new government has pledged to help install internet access and provide children with access via computers and tablets which will help resolve this challenge and reach an even greater public.

The Education Department within the Ministry of Environment is keen to continue education for all school aged children in the Dominican Republic. As part of this, they have 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 are now being delivered for approximately 500 children.

Ruben E. Torres, Ph.D., Reef Check Dominican Republic, said: “Being forced to go online with our activities has helped us reach out to many more people than planned. We recently reached over 150 people in a single afternoon using Zoom® compared to a few dozen over a couple of weeks when we ran in person training sessions some months ago.”

JJ Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “It’s great to see interest in Green Fins is stronger than ever in the Dominican Republic. It’s unknown exactly why we’ve seen such a surge in interest recently. However, with sustainability key to the travel industry bouncing back, we believe marine tourism operators are looking to gain a competitive edge by obtaining Green Fins environmental certification. Reef-World has noticed this trend globally – not just in the Dominican Republic – as businesses look to improve their chances of surviving a potential financial shortfall in the coming months and years. We’re delighted to see the programme continuing to have a tangible conservation impact despite current disruptions and we welcome enquiries from other interested dive and snorkel operators.”

Youth Ambassadors in the Dominican Republic

Orlando Jorge Mera, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of the Dominican Republic, said: “Addressing the environmental issues such as the climate change and the pollution of our oceans, this administration’s agenda has environmental education as a priority. We want to imprint a legacy by educating future generations. We need to raise awareness as a society. It is not just about who occupies the Ministry of the Environment, it is a legal and moral commitment, this is everyone’s job. We thank the REEF World Foundation, Reef Check Dominican Republic, TUI Care Foundation and TUI Junior Academy for promoting environmentally friendly initiatives in favor of the Dominican Republic. Education can’t stop. Count on us!”

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. Further expansion is being supported through the TUI Care Foundation.

For more information, please visit www.greenfins.net

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Cayman Bogue swim fundraiser adds sister island event for 2023

Caribbean DTA Team

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Swimmers from around the world invited to traverse ‘The Bogue’ in this 10K swim from Cayman Brac to Little Cayman for CCMI.

In September 2021, 16 local swimmers took on the challenge of swimming from Cayman Brac to Little Cayman, an open water swim of approximately 10 kilometres, to raise money for local non-profit the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI). After a very successful and fun initial experience, the organisers plan to make this an annual event to help bring endurance swimming events to the Sister Islands.

With such interest after the inaugural event, the 2023 Cayman Bogue Swim has increased the number of available registrations to 50 swimmers, has opened registration to swimmers both locally and abroad, will include several categories of registration, and will feature an expanded weekend of fun and activity in Little Cayman. Participants and their supporters can plan to join other Bogue swimmers for a welcome drinks/packet pick up event on the Friday evening, Bogue Bash: Band and BBQ celebration dinner on the Saturday evening, a tour of CCMI, and more. The weekend will begin Friday, 28th April 2023, with the actual swim starting at 8 am on Saturday, 29th April. The swim starts at Scott’s Dock, Cayman Brac and finishes at Point of Sand on Little Cayman.

Swimmers can choose to register in the competitive ‘race’ category, open water swim category, or as a relay team of two or four persons. No matter the race registration category, the Cayman Bogue Swim is an opportunity for swimmers of all ages, backgrounds, and mixed ability to share in a unique physical and mental challenge that has only been completed by a small number of swimming enthusiasts.

Swimmers can register for the event at https://donate.reefresearch.org/BogueSwim2023. Registration is US $325/person, and it includes event registration, welcome pack, event shirt, event swim cap, entry to welcome drink event/packet pick-up, locally made finisher medal, entry to the Bogue Bash: Band & BBQ event, tour of CCMI, transport via boat to the start line from Little Cayman, in-water support, and include a donation to CCMI in support of their work. Flights, lodging, all other meals, and incidentals are not included in the registration fee and are the responsibility of the participant.

The organisers of The Cayman Bogue Swim once again selected CCMI as the beneficiary of event proceeds, and unlike last year, swimmers will not have to engage in significant fundraising as part of their commitment to swimming in the event. However, anyone wishing to support the participants and their efforts to swim across the Bogue are welcome to donate to the online fundraising page: https://tinyurl.com/Bogue2023.

All donations support CCMI and their work to protect and restore coral reefs in the Cayman Islands through impactful research and innovative marine education experience for students.

For more information about the swim, please visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/caymanbogue.

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Halloween Special Part 2: PADI’s top 7 wrecks to dive in Bermuda

Caribbean DTA Team

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Just in time for Halloween, we’re back with Part 2 of our deep dive with PADI into spooky Bermuda… 

  1. The Mary Celestia

Also known as the Mary Celeste, this Civil War-era paddle steamer hit a coral reef and sank to her watery grave 1884. She’s known as one of the oldest wrecks in the area and is well-preserved considering: divers can view both her intact paddlewheel and engine, plus her bow, stern, boilers, and anchor. Resting at 55 feet below the surface, a little piece of Mary Celestia made its way above water in 2015 after a few bottles of 150-year-old wine were discovered and delivered to sommeliers for sampling in Charleston, South Carolina.

  1. The Cristóbal Colón

This enormous ship is the largest wreck in all of Bermuda. Coming in at a whopping 499 feet long, the Cristóbal Colón was a Spanish luxury liner that crashed into a coral reef off the north shore in 1936. With an abundance of marine life that’s settled in and around the wreckage strewn across 100,000 square feet of the sea floor, she’s visited by snorkelers and divers alike. Today she can be found at depths of 15 to 60 feet, but she used to peek out the surface of the water when she first sank, up until she was used for target practice in World War II.

  1. The Iristo

Only a year after the Cristóbal Colón went down, the Iristo (also known as the Aristo) followed in 1937. The captain of the Norwegian freighter is said to have been startled by the Cristóbal Colón’s wreckage, which ultimately led to the Iristo’s own untimely fate. He ordered the crew to change course but the Iristo struck a submerged reef and went down too! Her wreckage remains to this day with engine, boilers, and propeller visible amongst spectacular coral.

  1. The North Carolina

Looking for an extra spooky dive? Check out the North Carolina’s ghostly “deadeyes” in rows along her deck railings – the uncanny sailing riggings look just like cartoon skulls. At depths between 25 and 45 feet, she makes for an eerie visit whether taking a shallow dive as a beginner or diving into the deep. Hailing from Liverpool, this 250-foot English iron hull sank on New Year’s Day in 1880 when she ran aground southwest of Bermuda. Despite attempts to raise her, she remains in the depths of the sea sitting upright with a collapsed mid-section.

  1. The Montana and the Constellation

Get a two-for-one dive in when you visit the Montana and the Constellation, uniquely stacked on top of each other to the northwest of Bermuda. The Montana wreck dates back to 1863 – the Civil War era blockade runner hit a shallow reef and down she went. The Constellation followed eighty years later in 1943 and some reports state that the Montana’s bow took her down! The American cargo ship was carrying building materials and scotch when she went down, so divers can view stacks of cement bags and glassware when they explore these shallow waters.

  1. The Hermes

Explore the outside or inside of Hermes, a freighter that experienced engine trouble and was abandoned by her crew. Built in 1943, the lonely ship was deserted until 1984 when she was acquired by the Bermuda Dive Association and turned into a sunken artificial reef. She’s known as a highly photogenic beauty with fantastic visibility. Fully intact with her mast pointing to the surface, Hermes has come a long way from desertion as one of Bermuda’s most popular dive sites.

  1. The King George

Another lonely and ghostly ship left to sink to the bottom of the sea, the King George is a large dredger that was built for the Bermuda Government. After arriving on the island in 1911, she served a few years before being towed out to sea and left to sink in 1930 when she was no longer needed for harbor operations. Fully intact and upright, divers can circle her from end to end on the quiet ocean floor.

Ready for a Spooky Dive in Bermuda?

If you want to dive into the spooky depths of Bermuda’s water, there are several different types of PADI certification to get you there.

Formal training for wreck diving is especially important for your safety as it involves special procedures, techniques, and equipment. The PADI Wreck Diver Specialty Course covers all the fundamentals and includes four scuba dives to give you practice in the open water.

Enrolling is simple: you must be at least 15 years old and have earned your PADI Adventure Diver certification or higher. PADI’s wreck dive certification covers the basics, from navigating the inside and outside of a wreck to the appropriate gear you’ll need for wreck diving. You’ll also learn how to plan and map a wreck site along with special techniques to protect the site’s integrity.

You complete your certification after four wreck dives with an instructor, and away you go! The eerie deep blue of Bermuda awaits…

Images: DIVE BERMUDA

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