Master Divers Life Contest Blog by Holly Allard

We are pleased to present our next Master Divers Life contest blog by contestant Holly Allard

Fish Are Friends Not Food

For all of you “Sex And The City” fans out there, have no fear. This will not be the written equivalence to Samantha getting fake blood thrown on her fur coat by an activist shouting MURDERER. This is simply an alternative perspective to look at the way you eat. It is for those of us who no longer wish to turn a blind eye to the damaging effects our everyday behaviours are having on oceans and marine life. If you feel like your current efforts to help the environment may not be making enough of a difference but you aren’t quite willing to go full on activist and chain yourself to a tree in protest, why not meet in the middle and make any number of small changes towards adopting a plant-based diet?

Samantha

A whole food plant-based diet (also known as a vegan diet) means you do not consume any animal products (meat, dairy, fish, eggs) and fill yourself up on veggies, fruit, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. This has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to help our largest shared worldwide resource, the ocean. It can be a daunting transition to do all at once though, so to create lasting changes it is best to start small and progress at your own pace. Below there are a couple suggestions on how to get started.

When I initially became vegan, the environmental benefits ranked third with ethical and health reasons topping my list for making the change. But the more I learn the more it has become an equally important reason to continue with this lifestyle. People frequently ask how I live without cheese but seafood was what I missed most. I, as many of you can probably relate, did not feel connected to fish the way we tend to towards mammals and birds so admittedly cared less about their well being and growing rates of extinction. Now it is clear though, that our lives on land significantly depend on the oceans health.

Everyone learnt in school that water runs in a cycle. Polluted water gets displaced around the planet and disrupts these cycles which then causes harmful effects to marine life. Researchers predict that by 2048 all fisheries will have depleted due to overfishing, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification. Approximately 80% of our oxygen comes from the sea (so if you enjoy breathing, the ocean’s health should matter a great deal to you). Social, cultural, political and economic variables make whole food plant-based diets less attainable for some populations of the world, but for the majority of us it is quite easy to achieve.

So how does a plant-based diet help our oceans?

By removing (or even minimizing) animal products from our diets we reduce the need for industries that supply us these products. Less demand = less supply. The environment-related harmful effects caused by these industries are:

  1. Animal agriculture produces massive amounts of waste that run off into rivers and oceans.
  2. Methane emissions from factory farms contribute to climate change and ocean acidification.
  3. Target marine life (tuna, salmon, lobster, crab) are being overfished and by-catch (dolphins, whales, sharks, sea lions, sea turtles) are killed in the process of catching the target fish.
  4. Plant-based diets decrease our water footprint as they use ~400 gallons of water per day while non plant-based diets use ~1000 gallons per day.
  5. Fisheries disrupt the ecosystem and cause extinction and dead zones (no wildlife or plants).

So where do you start?

  1. Educate yourself so that you are properly motivated to make lasting changes. There are loads of reliable sources that provide credible data and evidence on this way of eating.
  2. Understand the undeniable health benefits. Going plant-based has been proven to greatly decrease your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory arthritis, and erectile dysfunction (is this not reason enough gentlemen??). It has stopped progression and even reversed disease symptoms in some cases.
  3. Know that there’s no shame in not going completely plant-based from the start. Holding off on the “vegan” title will probably help you avoid some friendly harassment at family gatherings anyway! Small dietary changes really do add up to big health and environmental impacts.
  4. Ignore the myths about not being able to build muscle and being protein deficient. Gorillas, rhinos, elephants, bison and the strongest man on earth Patrik Baboumian (pictured) are all plant-based eaters.
  5. Collect fun and simple recipes. Despite the misconception, this lifestyle does not have to be inconvenient or expensive and it doesn’t mean you’ll be living off of salads the rest of your life.

To improve the environmental crisis, social change has been slow. Fortunately, unlike overpopulation, overconsumption and dependance on fossil fuels, moving towards a whole food plant-based lifestyle is something we can do overnight. When we don’t directly see what’s going on it’s a lot easier to maintain the ideology of there being no dire problems in the rest of the world. For example, people who live in the prairies, like myself, never see garbage floating in the oceans so it is harder to relate to the damages caused by that kind of pollution but we cannot deny it happening.

Taking control of your individual impact is not about doing what myself or others say is the right way to live. It’s about doing what makes sense to you and once you’ve done the research about what’s on your plate and where it came from it’s hard to ignore the facts. It is crucial that we stop neglecting those with whom we share the earth.

Master Divers Life Contest Blog by David Howlett

We are pleased to present our second Master Divers Life contest blog by contestant David Howlett

TURNING THE TIDE ON PLASTIC POLLUTION

 

Posted on June 18th, 2018

By David Howlett

Welcome to my blog, my mission is to dive into the current epidemic of plastic waste to highlight how we are contaminating the seas, choking our aquatic wildlife and poisoning ourselves! Hopefully we can use this information to create something that can turn the tide on plastic pollution.

Living in the UK has taught me that unless you have taken part in beach or tidal river clean ups, your only contact with plastic pollution besides avoiding plasters at the leisure centre is likely through the news or social media. Therefore I need to start by raising everyone’s awareness so that we can perhaps create some empathy; so what’s the big problem with plastic waste?

  1. THE SCALE

The Scale

 

Source: https://www.sas.org.uk/our-work/plastic-pollution/plastic-pollution-facts-figures/

  1. THE SUFFERING CAUSED

The Suffering Caused

 

Sources: https://www.sas.org.uk/our-work/plastic-pollution/plastic-pollution-facts-figures/ http://awesomeocean.com/whales/plastic-trash-beached-whales-stomach/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozBE-ZPw18c&t=166s

THE ALBATROSS TRAGEDY

Albatros Chick

Chris Jordan’s film ‘Midway’ captures the plight of Laysen Albatross as they are plagued by ingesting our plastic waste. Parent Albatross are feeding their chicks brightly colored plastics such as bottle caps as they swoop down to find food for their young. These birds live on the Midway Islands thousands of miles away from any significant landmass; if it wasn’t for Chris Jordan’s efforts we would still be blind to the problem.

Albatros with cap

 

Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsJqMmuFWO4&t=387s

‘MIDWAY’ TRAILER BY CHRIS JORDAN

“Do we really need to package something that takes five minutes to eat in a material that takes hundreds of years to break down?” asks Vegar Ottesen

Eclectus

The Laysan Albatross tragedy particularly shook me having grown up with endangered species of parrot including varieties of Cockatoo, Caiques and Eclectus. It’s an absolute travesty that items I use every day are ending up in the bellies of such intelligent creatures.

WHO’S CHAMPIONING THE CLEAN UP?

Plastic pollution has been headline news for the best part of 5 years now, Sky has invested £25 million into their Ocean Rescue Campaign, and the Daily Mail got behind the Micro-Bead Ban and recently backed a Deposit Return Scheme on plastic bottles. The common approach has been to implement the 3 Rs:

The 3 R's

THE UNFLUSHABLES

The Unflushables

City to Sea, a UK charity was setup on the principle that 7% of plastics polluting the ocean comes from people’s homes, particularly their toilet. Their mission is to stop the general public from flushing the natural world down the pan; which is a respectable goal considering that 3 in 10 adults flush away single use plastic products (Marine Conservation Society).

The team discovered that millions of plastic stemmed cotton buds are being flushed away each year; these pass straight through the sewer filters into the ocean. They determined that influencing 9 supermarket executives would be easier than changing the behavior of 50 million adults in the UK. In 2016 their #SwitchTheStick petition secured the signatures of over 150,000 consumers. They used this consumer power to bombard supermarket Christmas campaigns on social media, calling for retailers to switch to paper stem buds. These efforts were a success, in December 2017 all 9 UK retailers made the switch; stopping 320 tons of disposable plastic at source each year.

Source: https://www.citytosea.org.uk/

I PROPOSE WE #CAPTHEBOTTLE

Plastic Bottles

Data Source: https://www.banthebottle.net/articles/8-most-common-types-of-garbage-found-in-the-ocean/

It is time to focus on the number one single use plastic product polluting our seas and cap the effect plastic bottle pollution is having on our marine wildlife.

EverBlue

To symbolize their efforts to cap plastic waste, soft drink companies could use the Everblue branded cap. With an aquatic color palette and minimalist logo, the cap would be easily identifiable for consumers following the ‘Choose to Reuse’ movement. A blue hue would enable the cap to blend in with the sea; reducing the likelihood of it being seen and eaten by animals such as the Laysan Albatross.

WHAT WOULD IT BE MADE FROM?

The cap would be made from a Bioplastic such as PHA providing a host of benefits:

  1. Bioplastics are 100% degradable and just as resistant / versatile.
  • A shorter lifespan will reduce the likelihood of the bottle cap being ingested by animals.
  • The quicker the caps degrade, the faster the bottle will fill with water and sink to the sea floor. There they will be buried in sand where they can degrade safely, out of reach from marine wildlife.
  1. They reduce carbon footprint & energy consumption during production.
  2. They do not contain non-degradable contaminates or additives that are harmful to health; such as phthalates or bisphenol A.
  3. They are safe to use for packaging food and beverages.

 

Source: https://www.activesustainability.com/environment/what-are-bioplastics/

WHY NOT USE PHA FOR THE BOTTLES THEMSELVES?

Biopolymers such as PHA are not suitable for blow moulding due to low melt strength and thermal stability. Although this can be resolved by blending in another bioplastic (e.g. Ecovio), it makes the process extremely expensive.

 Source: http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/publications/Documents/1436/20121436.pdf

HOW WOULD THE CAMPAIGN BE MARKETED?

I imagine the Everblue Cap to be marketed using a social media campaign to gain momentum for a petition. Graphic video similar to that seen in the Midway film could be used alongside brutal statistics to shock the audience. If we could leverage enough consumer power then it would give us the spotlight needed to call supermarkets to #CAPTHEBOTTLE.

Master Divers Life Contest Blog by Alex Martin

We are pleased to present our first Master Divers Life contest blog by contestant Alex Martin

Imagine with me if you will, a forest underwater. Silent, save for the sound of the rolling waves above. Sunlight creeps through the blades of kelp floating on the surface, a yellow brilliance that blocks out direct sunlight until a ray shines through and catches your eye. Under the canopy of kelp stalks, an eerie silence takes hold as you make your way through a forest covered in a blanket of thick fog. The murky existence is breathtaking and beautiful to those willing to embrace the chill that comes with exploring this environment.

Kelp

Now close your eyes and lets travel to another part of the world. As you open your eyes, you look to the left, and to the right. Along the 100-foot span of a steep underwater wall a large ecosystem of coral, soft and hard alike, covers everything you can see. It is alive with thousands of organisms. The sound of something like cereal crackling like you’ve just poured milk in the bowl is audible. It is a metropolis of underwater life. You want to race around and see everything you can, but there is no prize for first place. If you take your time and look closely enough, shrimp, plankton, and even maybe a sea horse can be found hiding in the multitude of coral species they call home.

Team Bonaire

I have had the joy of spending 300 or so hours in this world. It has brought me closer to nature, and I have found beauty in the smallest nooks and crannies within the ocean. Moments appear and disappear with the currents. It is a place that gets you as close to being an astronaut floating weightlessly in space as possible. A world so different than the one we walk in day to day, yet so similar. These creatures live in tepid harmony, some in symbiotic relationships of peace, some as predator and prey.

This world and its global ecosystem has the same degree of symbiotic life. Our oxygen comes more from the ocean than anywhere else. It is as vital to our existence on this earth as any other resource. It is the cradle of creation where life began in this world; where the first organisms emerged and began their evolutionary journey to where we are today.

Jelly Fish

Anemone

Many of us try to give back to what got us to where we are today; to our parents, our schools, our friends, our community. Yet for some of us it is hard to give back to something we don’t see as particularly related to us, even though it is the origin of life on this planet. There is so much that makes us who we are that it is hard to think of it like this, but we must try. In all facets of life we must attempt to do better, to be better.

Back under the waves, a group of divers is on a daily mission to clean up an area of the Caribbean that has brought them much joy over their trip. A bag full of bottles, plastic, and other miscellaneous garbage in tow. A young juvenile sea turtle swims up to the diver and tries to nip at the bag, looking for food. It is a very adorable moment, an awesome moment for the diver holding the bag that has the opportunity to have a turtle so close and so friendly. It is also a reminder of how much of what we manufacture, how much we consume and discard, can affect what we don’t see on a daily basis.

A possibility of a new path has opened up. Koh Tao is considered by some to be one of the most environmentally conscious islands in the world. Also known as Turtle Island, it is major hub of diving certification, it is a brilliant display of knowledge and understanding to what it means to be not only a safe diver, but an informed diver. Concerned with conservation, the team at Master Divers look for individuals that share in their love of the ocean and hope of preserving it to join their ranks. It is a place that I have never been to before, which brews excitement. The possibility to learn in a new place, with new conditions and new adventures. I hope that soon I can be included among them. A chance to continue my education in diving has been on my horizon, and this opportunity is welcomed with joy and resolved that no work is a simple task. We all have a further opportunities to take in life, and I hope that this can be my next step.

This ecosystem has brought me so much joy, so much excitement, and has taught me more than I can ever hope to retain. In my travels, I have only learned that there are more places I want to go. More experiences I want to have. My desire to share that with more people is a dream I’m willing to go the extra mile for. There is so much beauty everywhere we go. There is so much more to learn.

Sea Plane

                So please, follow along with me as I journey this world to discover new places to dive, new ways to explore, and new ways to communicate and share this world. It is a beautiful place. One that will be here long after we are gone, one way or another. I hope you come along with me and share in the joy that this underwater world brings.

 

Master Divers Zero Plastic week

The challenge

Last week (4th-11th June) saw the whole Master Divers team take on the Zero Plastic challenge and it was tough! All of us made a real effort to look at our habits and record how we got on so that we might be able to make changes in our own lives, and try to push for bigger changes that will be driven by traders, producers, supermarkets and governments. I have to offer up a big thanks to the team for getting on board with the challenge and taking the time out of their busy schedules to note and take pictures of their efforts. Everyone agreed that when we really started looking, plastic was everywhere!

 

The things we couldn’t change

There were a couple of areas that came up as ‘repeat offenders’ where we found it difficult to make any habitual changes in order to cut out the plastic. One of these was with dairy products- milk, yoghurt and butter packets in restaurants. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the island where you can get milk in a glass bottle! Sadly, I’m old enough to remember the milk delivery days so know that this is definitely how it used to work!

The other was with takeaways. Of course, we could cook at home but it’s not possible for all of us, I have an outdoor kitchen with one gas ring, so when it’s raining I’m pretty limited. Also after a long day diving, eating in a restaurant is a bit much and we want the comfort of our own home and to finally finish that episode of Netflix that we keep falling asleep to! Plastic bags were the big issue, with plastic forks sometimes being ‘hidden’ in card food containers, and sauces being individually put into smaller bags. It takes changes on both sides for us to make sure we are taking Tupperware to the restaurant when we order, or for places like Enjoy in Mae Haad that give you your takeaway in Tupperware and you get your ‘deposit’ back when you take it back.

There is also a massive lack of savoury snacks that aren’t in plastic. There is a no plastic shop where we can get nuts and cereals, but it’s expensive and therefore too easy to reach for a bag of crisps/chips or nuts all wrapped in plastic. Another thing that will need to come from producers and retailers for us to change. The same applies to toiletries and feminine hygiene. There are alternatives out there but they aren’t easily accessible on the island and the cost is higher.

 

Above shows where we struggled to reduce plastic

The things we changed

On the plus side we all made great efforts to change things and had some great successes. Refusing plastic bags and straws was the easiest thing to do, and at Master Divers we have made great efforts to change our local restaurants to switch to reusable straws. Still more work to be done though! We were also able to reduce and for some eradicate plastic water bottles. A real challenge on an island without safe drinking water. We used glass water bottles and water refill stations based around the island to stay hydrated. Although more of each would definitely help!

There was also a massive change in people taking their own containers for takeaways, refusing chopsticks in plastic wrappers, and making different choices at meal times to not use plastic.  Everyone tried really hard and we all saw how tough it was to have a completely plastic free day. This is definitely going to be an ongoing project for us all as we have had our eyes open to how much plastic we are going through on a daily basis.

Water delivery on Koh Tao

 

It doesn’t have to be zero plastic week for you to try it out. Take some time to look at your options and try and go plastic free!

It’s Never Too Early to Learn About the Perils of Plastic!

It really is never too early to learn about single use plastics, and how we all need to be aware of our plastic consumption and waste production. So we’d like to say a big thank you one of our favourite returning customers Catherine, for educating her students at Holy Trinity Primary School in London about the perils of plastics.

Catherine is a regular diver with us, having originally visited to take her PADI Open Water Diver course in the summer of last year, but has returned recently to complete her PADI Advanced Open Water and PADI Wreck Diver courses. All three courses were conducted by our full time Conservation Instructor, Hayley, so it was pretty impossible not to leave with a new found appreciation of our fragile environment, and the steps that can – and should! – be taken to protect it.

padi-wreck-divers
Catherine with buddy Caroline, and Instructors Hayley & Kiri

 

Catherine set a contest at her school for students to design a poster to promote saying no to plastic, and 54 students aged between 4 and 11 entered. We were delighted to learn about the competition, as we are always up for spreading the word about environmental issues. So when we heard about it, we were of course happy to offer a prize to the winning student.

say-no-to-plastic
The winning poster! We love it!

 

Congratulations Julia, who is 11 years old and currently in year 6. Her winning entry won her a pack of great eco goodies to help her and her family reduce their plastic consumption. Julia received a set of eco straws, a Master Divers reusable shopping bag, a Trash Hero reusable water bottle with Master Divers cooler jacket, and 2 Shark Guardian books – one for her, and one for her classmates to read. She will also receive a free PADI PADI Junior Open Water Divers Course!

Julia with her winning poster and Master Divers goodie bag

 

Very well done Julia, we loved you design and we can’t wait to make a PADI Junior Open Water Diver out of you!. We are also very happy to hear that the Shark Guardian book is a firm favourite and always in use at break times. It’s fantastic that we have a group of young people so enthusiastic about protecting our oceans and its inhabitants already!

Special thanks to Catherine for setting up the competition, and for being environmentally aware and dedicated in spreading the word to the next generation of ocean warriors. Education is the key, and its amazing to see this school of youngsters getting a head start in environmental awareness!

 

 

Ocean News in Review – Part 2: New Discoveries

 

Welcome back to my review of last years oceanic changes and trends – part 2: New Discoveries! In part one, we considered tropical storms, the single-use plastic epidemic, and the impact of global warming on the world’s coral reefs. While all of these topics are important, they can be a bit depressing, which fortunately isn’t the case for the entirety of this entry! Read on to learn about some fascinating new inventions and discoveries that scientists  made in 2017, including a few new species and even whole new animal civilizations that were formed right beneath our noses!

 

One such type of civilization that we didn’t know existed until so recently is the concept of octopus cities! For the longest time, scientists believed octopus were solitary creatures, only meeting up with others to mate. This was proven wrong in 2017, when not one but two different civilizations of Octopus were discovered. Dubbed “Octlantis” (mapped below) and “Octopolis”, these octopus-made cities consisted of a collection of dens nestled together among shells and other junk the animals had scavenged in the area. While this behavior seems to be derived from a social cue, scientists think that the area was initially a naturally productive area for scallops, a favorite food for the octopus that leads to multiple octopuses building dens in a small area, which scientists believed lead to a social circle being formed over a period of time. With so many octopuses living in such a close area, the potential for high predation was there, however it wasn’t observed while the scientists were studying these unique cities. This finding goes to show how just how little we know about the oceans, where entire civilizations could be hiding right under our noses. Who knows what else we’ve been missing?!?!

 

FRAMED-Octlantis

 

With one amazing discovery of the happiest proportions, comes one that is a bit more humbling. Both the North Atlantic Right Whales and Vaquita porpoises experienced a continuing decline in populations during 2017. With only an estimated 100 breeding females left of the Right Whale species and only 30 individual Vaquita porpoises remaining on the planet in total, it is surely only a matter of time until these two species join the list of extinct species. But….while the odds look tough, especially for the Vaquita, they aren’t gone yet! Scientists are working tirelessly to provide as much protection for these animals and are working on ways to try and increase their populations. Both species have been negatively impacted due to human causes, with numbers declining mostly due to ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement. Therefore, if we can lower such impacts on these species, then they still stand a chance of surviving, along with some special help from our keen-minded scientists!

 

2017 was also a big growth year in terms of human inventions based on the physical characteristics of animal. However, acknowledging the magnificence of the animal kingdom and trying to mimic its many ingenious designs isn’t a new revelation. In past years, inventors have manufactured more efficient fan blades for collecting wind energy based on whale flippers, while others have designed new car panels that are stronger yet lighter than ever before, based on the design of a bill of the Toucan! Furthermore, underwater adhesives were created, with researchers hoping to mimic the method in which a remora is able to attach itself to its bigger counterparts. Not only that, but Tuna’s ability to quickly turn due to its ability to raise and lower small fins on the top and bottom of its body has lead scientists to investigate a way to allow future robots to swim! These continuing studies just go to show that humans as a species have so much to learn from all the other animal species on this magnificent planet; all we need to do is open our eyes and listen!

 

Octopolis-octopus-city

 

While the previous points are very interesting in their own regard, the fact that researchers are continually discovering new species every year is also remarkable, with 2017 being no different. Last year saw the revelation that instead of the previously believed three species of sunfish residing in our oceans, it was determined that there is in fact 4 species, with Mola tecta being officially confirmed as the additional genus. The word tectus in Latin translates to hidden, which just goes to show you that scientists can have a sense of humour too! Additionally, a new species of surgeonfish was discovered in the Philippines. This particular species of fish (Acanthurus albimento) has a bright orange face, with iridescent blue streaks located on its body. This was a surprise to the scientific community as the Philippines has been a site of surgeonfish research for many years, yet this new discovery was made at the heart of the existing study area!

 

Acanthurus albimento- a new species of surgeonfish discovered in 2017
The new species of surgeonfish discovered in 2017: Acanthurus albimento

 

Apparently, humans have much left to learn, which is what makes this upcoming year so exciting. Who knows what could be swimming along (or in hiding!) waiting to be discovered at this very moment?!

 

When environment means community as well

Keeping it local

The environment is really important to us, it’s our job, our life and also our community as well. Here on Koh Tao we are really lucky to have a group of like minded individuals that are all doing their best to make changes in habits to preserve the planet, dive in a safe and environmentally friendly way and also look after wildlife and animals a bit closer to home.

 

We are not alone at Master Divers having a menagerie of animals that we all adore. Anyone that has visited Koh Tao has seen the dive shop pets, the dogs piggy backing scooter drivers and the cats lazing on the spirit houses outside homes.

Meet our crew below!

Fatty, Greedy, Sandy and Sky

 

It’s because we love them so much that we wanted to show our support to the Koh Tao Noistar foundation animal clinic, and this morning went for a visit to donate 5000 baht raised from selling off unused equipment and a variety of eco presentations and evenings. They do such an important job on the island looking after our 4 legged family members. We would be lost without them and wanted to show our appreciation.

 

Donating 5000 Baht to the Koh Tao Animal rescue

 

From everyone at Master Divers past and present, thank you. Thank you for keeping our animals healthy and being such an important part of our Koh Tao community.

 

Ocean news 2017 in Review – Part 1: The Changing Earth

During 2017, we experienced some highs and lows when it came to ocean-related news. New discoveries mixed with natural disasters of the greatest proportions riddled our timelines throughout the past year, so I figured it would be an interesting topic for a 2-part blog series. With this entry: The Changing Earth, I’m going to discuss the various threats to the oceans and Earth as we know it, with the next installment focusing on the positives that came out of 2017, including exciting new discoveries! So, without further ado, let’s discuss some of the interesting ocean-related events of the past year, starting with the numerous devastating tropical storms….

 

2017: The year of “once in a lifetime” storms! While hurricanes and strong tropical storms are not uncommon events, last year we witnessed some of the strongest storms in history. The Caribbean was hit by not one, but two huge hurricanes back to back in late August. Hurricane Harvey initiated the onslaught on the region, dumping up to 150cm of rain over a 2 day period. This lead to insane flooding causing large scale personal and property loss that is estimated to reach $100 Billion US dollars. Hurricane Maria followed around a month later, which caused the near annihilation of Puerto Rico, whose inhabitants just got their power back within the last month! Unfortunately, these weren’t the only storms of note. A post-tropical cyclone made its way north and hit both Ireland and Great Britain. Stronger-than-usual typhoons were experienced in south-east Asia, and a seldom heard of Medicane occurred in Greece. Have you ever heard of a Medicane? These storms are the Mediterranean equivalent to a tropical storm, much like a cyclone or typhoon. However, since the Mediterranean isn’t big or warm enough to sustain the storm’s energy, it can’t be classified as a tropical storm, despite sharing tropical storm characteristics. Hence the creation of the title “Medicane”.

While this past year was a bad one for storms, it is a sign of where we are going with future years. Thanks to global warming, we can come to expect these types of storms to become part of the norm.

 

Before:After pictures of the damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico
Before: After pictures of the damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

 

In addition to the storms, 2017 will also be known as the successive year where we documented the further demise of our coral reefs. A mass bleaching event occurred throughout the world in 2016 due to the El Niño weather pattern causing water temperatures on the coral reefs to increase. This initially started back in 2014, however due to the sustained higher-than-usual water temperatures, 2016 was the year we saw the most bleaching and coral die-off. While this isn’t an immediate death sentence for the corals, if the higher-than-usual temperatures are sustained, the corals will become stressed, expel their symbiotic algae with whom they coexist and use as a food collection source, and slowly starve.   All is not lost though! Marine protected areas (MPA’s), coral nurseries, pollution reduction, as well as the discovery of “super corals” have all played a valuable role on helping reefs bounce back after this very trying time period.  These super corals are species that are able to withstand a greater temperature variation than other species of corals, which means that these El Niño events aren’t impacting them nearly as much as the regular corals. Pollution, while down overall, is still a major threat to the health of the oceans. It includes anything from oil spills, fertilizer runoff, and the subject of the year: Plastics!

 

Coral Bleaching: Before and After
Coral Bleaching: Before and After

 

Plastics, plastics, plastics! It seems like this is a never-ending topic of discussion among environmentalists the past few years and 2017 is no different. The issue has become what most would describe as an epidemic, to the point where scientists have estimated that there is a literal tonne of plastic rubbish located in the oceans from each person on Earth. What’s worse is that the majority of this plastic enters the water through only 10 rivers across the globe. On a slightly brighter note though, scientists discovered that some species of corals actually eat plastics! It appears that the corals enjoy the taste of the plastics, however, scientists have yet to figure out what chemical or component of the plastic makes it so desirable to the coral. Humans are learning something new every day and will hopefully use this newfound knowledge in a positive way! Here at Master Divers, we try to lead the way on Koh Tao, and take every step possible to reduce our plastic consumption. You can read more about Master Divers commitment to the environment on our previous blog post.

Eco Straws

 

Given all that has happened in the past year, it is easy to be sad, but don’t be! Channel that passion into energy to help solve the problem! With the biggest issues all being due to global warming, we can all start with trying to lower our carbon footprints.  This includes carpooling, walking, cycling, or using public transit to get around instead of driving everywhere. Another step you can take is to limit your meat intake. I’m not going to preach to you and say you need to cut out meat 100%, but if you can limit the amount you eat in a given week, it would do the world of good. Forests are cut down in order to make pastures for cattle and create food for other animals raised for human consumption. Finally, I implore you to try and cut down on the amounts of single-use plastic you use. Excellent alternatives to popular single-use plastic items exist, such as metal or bamboo straws and canvas shopping bags. The Earth needs our help if it is to be saved, and only a change in what has become our “norm” will do. Tune in to my next blog post to see what other changes 2017 brought to the world for ocean lovers!

Master Divers Commitment to the Environment

If you’ve already visited Master Divers, or have been following us on Facebook, Instagram, Google+, or reading our blogs for a while, you will have noticed we take our environmental responsibilities very seriously.

As ambassadors for our underwater world and also Koh Tao in general, we are passionate about doing everything we can to minimise the environmental impact we have, as well as implement programmes, policies and events to educate others too. This is something that we are incredibly passionate about – and its not just paying lip service with us, when it comes to environmental awareness, we’re the real deal!

Beach Clean up in Koh Tao, Thailand

Thankfully, we are not the only business on Koh Tao that is becoming more environmentally aware. We do, however, offer a lot more than the bare minimum when it comes to doing our bit. Some other dive centres get together once a month for a clean up day. Every little helps, so this is a great initiative, but we believe more than 1 clean up a month between half a dozen businesses is required to really make any impact.

So….What does Master Divers Do Differently?

We employ a full time Eco instructor, Hayley, who organises weekly beach and roadside clean ups for staff and guests to help remove garbage that has washed ashore, and prevent any further trash from being taken by the sea.  Having just a few people volunteer an hour of their time to spend cleaning up the beachfront or road area makes a huge difference. This year, we plan on weighing and tracking how much trash we collect, so we can keep a tally of how much trash we’ve removed.

Beach and Ocean Clean

Hayley also works with the Koh Tao local government and local businesses to educate and encourage others to be more environmentally friendly in their practices – for example how to reduce plastic bags in local stores, and looking at solutions to reduce plastic waste from cups and straws in bars and restaurants too.

We run regular snorkeling and scuba diving clean ups at various dive sites (depending on which are the most in need), and have championed the abandoned beach of Laem Thien as our responsibility too.

Environmental-Policies-Master-Divers

We have environmental policies in the shop and onboard our boats. We do try to educate those outside the island as well as our own customers and those who live here.

We’ve written several blog posts on the topic on environmental initiatives, such as the ‘top 10’ things to reduce your plastic waste, and how to make natural household cleaning products to reduce your chemical waste.

The emblem for the no-plastic movement on Koh Tao

We sell reusable straws as well as reusable drinking bottles and cloth shopping bags and encourage our guests to reduce their usage of plastic – and single use plastic in particular.

We are heavily into recycling. In the corner of the reception area, there is a custom made collection bin in which our customers – and even passrs by – can dispose of their recyclable goods (water bottles, batteries, aluminum cans, and paper or cardboard products).

Master Divers sells eco-straws as an alternative to the single-use variety that are often used in restaurants

We offer Marine Conservation Packages and Marine Conservation Adventure Dives with our courses, which provide customers with a deeper insight into the issues that face the ocean environment. This includes a presentation evening and a marine conservation dive.

We run Coral watch dives to monitor and report on the health of our reefs, and also report into the DMCR (Department of Marine and Coastal resources) on any sightings of any species of rare/endangered/protected marine life that our divers or staff spot.

Coral-Watch Framed

We have created and deployed structures which have increased the scope and size of artificial reefs.

We sell natural and environmentally friendly sun screen and mosquito spray.

Sunscreen is important for skin health

We have strict no feeding and no touching policy for all of our dive and snorkel trips, and display codes of conduct for interactions with marine life at the dive centre and on our vessels – and ensure this is covered in our boat and dive briefings.

We are an official Shark Guardian Dive centre, and run regular events and presentations to educate divers, other tourists and local residents on how they can do more to protect marine life.

Be a Whale Shark Guardian

We don’t throw any waste into the ocean. Even biodegradable waste like leftover fruit gets brought back to last and disposed of properly (we use it for compost!).

Our smaller boat is 100% no smoking to eliminate accidental littering. There is a designated smoking area on the bigger boat, and while our customers are welcome to smoke on the larger of our vessels, you wont find our staff smoking on either of our boats.

We are heavily involved in local government meetings on conservation policies. We are committee members in planning the annual Save Koh Tao Festival, organise special events for all Ocean Days, and we are one of the founders and main organisers of Koh Tao Earth day.

Earth-Day-2017-framed

We have a free water refill station, so our customers don’t need to buy plastic bottles every time they need a drink. We are also an official refill station for Trash Hero bottles. So anyone who has one of the metal trash hero reusable bottles can come in and refill for free!

We have reusable cups and mugs both in the dive centre and out on the boats. In the dive centre we also have reusable plates and tupperware containers our customers can use on their lunch breaks so they don’t need to get any food in plastic bags or in single use containers.

Koh-Tao-Eco-Bottle

We use environmentally friendly cleaning solutions so as not to add chemicals to the water supply. We flush our toilets with salt water which preserves the sometimes scarce ground water supplies.

We ensure that both sides of every piece of paper is used, and old/discarded paper is used for scrap/to do lists etc.

We offer PADI eLearning (online), PADI Touch (app based) and digital manuals, all of which replace the need for physical books. This not only offers divers convenience but also saves on the paper used to create the book

PADI-digi-materials

We try to reuse or re purpose everything we can – even the most obscure things can have a second life. Right now for example, we are saving up all of our old fins, and hope to be able to build an artificial structure with them, or even fashion them into slates to make a roof for a shelter at our local animal clinic!

You can read more about our environmental activities by looking at the environmental category on the blog.

The Eco-conscious Island of Koh Tao

 

Exciting news….Koh Tao could soon be known as one of the most eco-conscious destination of South East Asia! Many businesses, including most dive shops, are working together to try and ban single-use plastic items on Koh Tao, including plastic straws and plastic bags. On top of this, efforts are being made to install a recycling program for businesses to have their recyclable goods picked up rather than throwing them in with their everyday rubbish. This was all made possible by Koh Tao’s inhabitants having an eco-conscious mind set and the determination to fight for change.

Koh Tao is full of postcard worthy beauty
Koh Tao is full of postcard-worthy beauty, such as Koh Nang Yuan.

 

The term ‘eco-conscious’ is floated around a fair amount in the media these days, but what does the term really mean?

An eco-conscious individual or business has a way of thinking where they look at how their actions and choices impact the natural world. Dubbed eco-warriors, these people/companies are both very aware of the threats faced by our fragile world, and also work to reduce and ultimately eliminate their impact on those threats. Where plastic is concerned, this largely revolves around ‘The Three Rs’… Reducing  plastic use, Re-using any plastic that is used, and Recycling whenever possible.

Here on Koh Tao, with diving being the primary activity that draws tourists to the island, many inhabitants are already far too aware of the global plastic problem, ans its impacts on our oceans and marine life, and have been puching for changes for some time now.

As an island, there has already been some success in previous years. Just over 4 years ago the local government banned the use of styrofoam boxes, which were commonly used as takeaway containers from restaurants. This milestone showed that the community was willing to make sacrifices when alternatives are present, and when it was in the best interest of the island. Once a few people come around to a more sustainable way of living, it soon catches on, and now we have several key figures in the municipality on board, including the Mayor of Koh Tao! He understands that the island’s natural beauty (both above and below the ocean’s surface) is one of the main reason people choose to spend their vacation here, so it is worth making rulings to help protect it.

The emblem for the no-plastic movement on Koh Tao
Emblem of the no-plastic movement on Koh Tao

 

The latest introduction to Koh Tao to reduce and eliminate plastic waste is the sale of reusable straws (paper, metal and bamboo), with the hope that if the alternatives are available, single-use plastic straws will be phased out entirely.

So, first it was styrofoam, now plastic straws and the next step will be to remove plastic bags from our little island paradise. Its a huge goal, but with enough people involved and the right mindset, we’re not alone in pushing for change and committing to making it happen!

So, what can you do to help?

In short, the best thing you can possibly do is STOP USING PLASTIC as much as possible in your day to day life! And especially single use plastic. The great news is that alternatives are already available. Master Divers is proud to be a vendor of paper, bamboo and metal straws, and our retail section is well stocked with reusable water bottle and cloth shopping bags, meaning you’ll have no need for plastic bottle or cups, plastic straws or plastic bags. And the best bit? You get to take them all home and spread the word!

Please do join us in considering the environment, and not just in Koh Tao. It does not take much effort to live with less plastic in your life, it just takes a little more planning and forethought, but the results are well worth it!

If you’d like to know more about environmental initiatives and events on Koh Tao, feel free to follow us on Facebook or drop us an email 🙂