The Reef-World Foundation, the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) and Misión Tiburón have announced that Costa Rica has joined 13 other countries globally to implement the Green Fins initiative — a UN Environment Programme initiative.
Green Fins is implemented in Costa Rica by Misión Tiburón through the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) with support from Cynthia Barzuna Gutiérrez, Vice Minister of Water and Seas. Green Fins is being piloted in Guanacaste province, the North Pacific of Costa Rica, a major hub for scuba diving and snorkelling, as the first step in a national process.
In North Pacific Costa Rica itself, there are around 50 sites with ideal conditions for snorkelling and recreational diving. Scuba diving tourism is a source of employment for many families in communities such as Playas del Coco, Brasilito or Tamarindo. Ensuring the sustainable use of these dive and snorkel sites is essential so that they continue to be a source of employment for current and future generations.
Over the last ten years, the tourism industry in Costa Rica has seen a steady increase. The implementation of Green Fins in Costa Rica responds to the national and international goals set to reduce threats to biodiversity. One of its goals is to increase the number of marine tourism companies with sustainability certifications to promote a sustainable diving and snorkelling industry in the country. The adoption of Green Fins in the country also contributes directly to the Sustainable Development Goals 12 and 14, established by the United Nations and adopted by Costa Rica.
Following a week of training by Reef-World in November 2021, Costa Rica now has a national Green Fins team comprised of four fully certified Green Fins Assessors from Misión Tiburón and one Green Fins Co-ordinator from the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC). They will be responsible for recruiting, assessing, training and certifying dive and snorkel operators to become Green Fins members in the country. This involves providing training about the ecology and threats to coral reefs, simple and local everyday solutions to these threats and Green Fins' environmental standards to dive and snorkel operators. Green Fins membership will help marine tourism operators improve their sustainability and prove they are following environmental best practices as a way of attracting eco-minded tourists.
James Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “Marine tourism in Costa Rica is growing fast with high demand from both national and international tourists coming to visit the incredible marine species that the country has to offer. Implementing best practices and guidelines through the Green Fins approach with support from the government of Costa Rica is critical to ensure that this market is sustainably managed, protecting valuable marine ecosystems for years to come. The national team of SINAC and Misión Tiburón have set out ambitious yet realistic targets to achieve a high level of uptake of Green Fins amongst dive and snorkel operators across the country. This will reduce local threats to the marine environment and increase corals and other marine life's resilience to wider global impacts, including climate change.”
Diving and snorkelling related damage to sensitive marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, is becoming an increasingly significant issue. This damage makes them less likely to survive other local and wider stressors, such as overfishing or plastic debris and the effects of climate change, such as rising sea temperatures. Based on robust individual assessments, the Green Fins initiative helps identify and mitigate these risks by providing environmental consultation and support to dive and snorkel operators. Through Green Fins implementation in Costa Rica, Reef-World aims to reduce negative environmental impacts in the region by reaching 14 marine tourism operators, training 70 dive guides and raising awareness of sustainability best practices among 14,000 tourists in the first year.
Ilena Zanella, Director of the Misión Tiburón, said: “The diving and snorkelling industry is an important ally to promote conservation practices on our marine and coastal ecosystems. Thanks to the industry's natural involvement with these ecosystems, threats can be mitigated, and a more sustainable diving and snorkelling industry that follows Green Fins international standards can be established.”
The Green Fins approach includes proven assessment criteria to identify and mitigate high-risk practices above and below the water. Green Fins members are evaluated annually based on a 15-point code of conduct, which measures the company's impact on coral reefs: of a possible score of 330, the lower the score, the lower its impact. The robust assessment then enables Green Fins Assessors to provide one-to-one consultation to help the business develop and implement best practice to improve the sustainability of the marine tourism industry.
The individual feedback from the assessments of the pioneering Green Fins members in Costa Rica and support provided includes practical, low-cost alternatives to common threats to the marine environment such as anchoring, provision of single-use plastics such as plastic bottles and lack of awareness of existing rules and regulations – is based on each company's area of highest negative impact on the reef, as determined by the assessment.
To date, four Costa Rican dive operators have already joined the global network of 600-plus trained and assessed Green Fins members. These are Deep Blue Diving, Kraken Divers, El Refugio Guanacaste and Rich Coast Diving. There has also been significant interest from other operators who have signed the membership form and are looking forward to their training and assessment.
Mauricio Méndez, Technical Director of National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), said: “Green Fins serve as an important tool for local diving communities to move towards a more sustainable use of their dive sites; so that they can maintain their scenic beauty and biological richness to provide livelihoods for many generations to come.”
The launch of Green Fins Costa Rica was made possible thanks to financing support from IDB Lab under the Beyond Tourism Challenge. The Beyond Tourism Innovation Challenge was run by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) through its innovation laboratory, IDB Lab, and in collaboration with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).