Opportunity to join eXXpedition Virtual Voyage

Commonwealth Blue Charter is working with eXXpedition, a UK-based company that runs all-female sailing voyages investigating ocean plastic pollution, to offer a bursary place for the next stage of eXXpedition’s Virtual Voyage programme.

For the past five years these missions have been at sea, but given the pandemic the experience is now being offered virtually. This means eXXpedition can continue to support a community of changemakers in taking action against plastic pollution.

From live scientific analysis to collaborative problem solving, the immersive leadership experience is designed to equip and support participants in enacting change in their own country. By bringing the best parts of the journeys at sea to life online, the chosen crew have a unique opportunity to network with talented women from across sectors, deep dive into the cause of and solutions to plastic pollution, and receive one-on-one mentorship from mission leaders to find their unique role in helping solve one of the world’s most pressing issues.

Each Virtual Voyage has a 12-person crew of women from all over the world who will be connecting through an online platform. The full programme involves six interactive sessions and some independent research. The condensed programme will be delivered over the course of a weekend.

Applicants – who must live in or be connected to Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu or Australia – are invited to complete an application form here.

Case study: Master Reef Guides Programme, Great Barrier Reef, Australia (launched 2018, on-going)

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is highlighting case studies from the Commonwealth and beyond, as part of a series to spotlight best practice successes and experiences. To share your own case study, please contact us

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“This programme is first class! It brings together the best tourism operators, who use sustainable practices, along with their crew. It not only brings their operations to the forefront of the tourism industry but also their well-trained crew are spread out through the community, teaching people all about our beautiful Great Barrier Reef. It is a fantastic programme for all involved, and the people who get to visit the Great Barrier Reef with these leaders are left with an above and beyond experience.” Sarah Vickory, Master Reef Guide.

Summary

The Master Reef Guides programme was launched in 2019. It builds the capacity of tourism staff working on the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia, to provide an appealing industry- and governmentrecognised qualification. Master Reef Guides pass through a comprehensive selection and training process.

These ambassadors can provide up-to-date information on the Great Barrier Reef, share stories on the World Heritage Area and explain what visitors can do to make a difference. Once qualified, they are recognised as worldclass reef guides, interpreters and story-tellers, well equipped to share the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area with the all who visit.

The Master Reef Guides programme is delivered by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO) and Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ). It is the first programme of its kind working on the issue of coral reefs. In 2018 and 2019, the first three cohorts of Master Reef Guides were trained in a range of areas, including public speaking, enhancing the visitor experience and the power of interpretation.

Coral reef tourism contributes $36 billion to the global tourism industry annually. Irresponsible reef tourism can put great pressure on coral health. However, responsible and informed operators can help educate and inform tourists, providing a more impactful, value-added experience with increased awareness. This case study describes one programme that is demonstrating success in contributing to the management and conservation objectives of the Great Barrier Reef, and that could be of interest for application in other regions.

The issue

The Great Barrier Reef tourism industry plays a vital role in presenting the wonders of this World Heritage Area to millions of people every year. Meanwhile, providing 65,000 full-time jobs, tourism is the largest employer in North Queensland. GBRMPA has worked on the Great Barrier Reef tourism industry for decades, with a focus on a healthy reef being equal to a healthy industry. Tourism operators represent not only the avenue for millions of people to experience the Great Barrier Reef each year but also the eyes and ears, the custodians and the interpreters of the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef tourism staff are in a unique position to share the wonders of the reef and interpret its complexity to a captivated audience. It has long been proven that people will protect what they know – and know what they experience. If we strive to connect each person who chooses to come and experience the Great Barrier Reef through sophisticated and memorable guiding and interpretation, then the global community can become involved in the future health of not only the Great Barrier Reef but also other natural places on which they rely directly.

GBRMPA encourages tourism operators to strive for the highest standards in protection, presentation and partnership towards the ends of environmental protection, reef resilience and tourism sustainability. Becoming a recognised High Standard Tourism Operator (an eco-accredited operator) comes with strong incentives, including longer-term operating permits (up to 20 years) and also being showcased by GBRMPA.

However, a 2015 audit of High Standard Tourism Operators showed up inconsistency and inaccuracy in some information delivered by tourism staff and highlighted an opportunity to improve interpretation and raise the bar across the entire tourism industry.

The response

The response was instigated in 2017, with the aim of developing “A highly desirable and internationally recognised guiding programme that builds the capacity, knowledge and presentation skills of the Great Barrier Reef tourism industry to deliver exceptional and memorable visitor experiences.”

The Master Reef Guides programme was launched in 2018 and provides training specific to coral reefs and the Great Barrier Reef. The programme was crafted from the experience of existing national and international guiding programmes, the tourism sector, protected area managers and marketing experts.

Once nominated as the best of the best within a company, potential guides are shortlisted, interviewed and then selected. Successful nominees are connected to others in a small cohort to complete both online and in-field training.

The comprehensive Reef Discovery Course has been developed as a free online resource that covers the A-Z of all things Great Barrier Reef – and how best to share this knowledge with visitors. The course consists of 10 modules and represents a one-stop-shop that synthesises and describes the World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef and the latest science and management information in a contemporary format.

For the in-field training, the cohorts visit sites and receive training from experts including leading scientists, body language and public speaking specialists, professional guides from other regions, Traditional Owners, Marine Protected Area managers and several other field guiding experts.

Once qualified, the guides all wear a uniform, so they are recognisable, and become the key contact point on their operations for information relating to species identification, ecosystem interpretation, protection of values, best practice visitor management and coral reef health.

Partnerships and support

The programme is a partnership between:

GBRMPA – bringing reef management and knowledge;

AMPTO – the industry association; and

TEQ – the government marketing and experience development department.

The programme is in the implementation phase. Up to 2021, the programme managers will learn from experience, feedback surveys, evaluations, research and guest reviews to continue to improve. The aim is for the programme to be sustainable by 2022 with annual regional training and quarterly master classes.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

Currently, 63 Master Reef Guides have been trained in four cohorts and are now working along the Great Barrier Reef. It is anticipated there will be around 150 Master Reef Guides trained by 2022.

Master Reef Guides are considered the best in their field in relation to reef interpretation, master story-telling and experience delivery.The Master Reef Guides programme includes on-going training, networking and leadership development to assist the guides and other staff along the Great Barrier Reef to further develop their knowledge and experience. Not everyone is selected to undertake the training to obtain the qualification; however, all Master Reef Guides will play the role of leader and mentor for other staff within their operation and across the tourism industry.

Master Reef Guides provide their tour operators with the capacity to raise the level of service and visitor experience – delivering benefits for the industry, visitors and the Great Barrier Reef itself.

The goal of the programme is to have a Master Reef Guide on every High Standard Tourism Operation that visits the Great Barrier Reef – setting the standard for tourists to receive the best possible experience. The programme is enabling the industry to play an active role in the protection of the Marine Park through the provision of reporting and compliance training.

The online Reef Discovery Course is available to guides and interested members of the public. Registration is possible by contacting [email protected]

Challenges

An audit of tourism operators highlighted inconsistency and inaccuracies in the information being delivered by tour guides. Improving the level of information provision was a critical element contributing to responsible, sustainable tourism practices on the Great Barrier Reef.

Adapting the content of the programme to evolve as knowledge improves is a challenge. It requires an adaptive learning approach that includes monitoring and evaluation of the different components to ensure the programme continues to provide the most relevant, upto-date information.

Managing the increasing demand from operators as the programme gains traction and becomes embedded in marketing and promotional strategies has required the establishment of a strong governance framework, open and transparent selection processes and quality assurance checks.

Ensuring the quality and knowledge of guides requires on-going management, engagement and training opportunities. Retaining staff and keeping the newly increased capacity within the Great Barrier Reef also represents a challenge. Key lessons learnt Developing a professional network and community of best practice has been vital. Maintaining a close network of best practice among the guides and trainers has been key and has been achieved by utilising social media and group communication channels. The training is developing a peer support and continuous learning network among Master Reef Guides, who continue to remain in contact after the training. Trainers also become part of the closed social channels and exchange knowledge, latest findings and advice via these and on their terms.

The programme has also developed a career pathway and opportunity for females in a male-dominated industry.

On-going training is important: the intention is to maintain a programme of master classes on different issues, to ensure the Master Reef Guides remain current as knowledge evolves. Master Reef Guides are kept abreast of the latest science to ensure they can address guest questions.

It has been found that wearing a uniform is important, both for the Master Reef Guides, in recognition of the professional qualification they have achieved, and as a visual message to visitors. The Master Reef Guides brand has enabled marketing bodies to support and promote a brand that represents quality and a focus on visitor experience delivery, without linking or promoting a specific business.

Retaining engagement of all partners is critical to ongoing success: the programme has to work with and for GBRMPA, individuals undertaking the programme, their employers and tourists.

Working with traditional owners is helping create links and reconcile conflict between traditional custodians of the reef and the industry that depends on it.

Ensuring all material related to the programme is developed with a quality lens is critical to the success of managing a shared brand: communication materials, media interviews and guide promotion and presentation are maintained through a central business manager. Given the global focus on the health of the Great Barrier Reef, responses to media must be timely but accurate and balanced. The establishment of key messages, talking points and media training has maximised reach and message delivery.

When people are the key to implementation of a programme, managing relationships is the way to success. Connecting and sharing among the network has allowed all to play a role in the development of the programme, and all feel a sense of ownership, commitment and pride in the Master Reef Guides.

Lead contact

Fiona Merida, Assistant Director Reef Stewardship, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Source

Materials provided by Fiona Merida – image credit Pablo Cogollos http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/our-partners/master-reefguides https://www.icriforum.org/news/2019/03/great-barrierreef’s-first-master-reef-guides

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Blue Charter group gears up to protect and restore ‘priceless’ coral reefs

Commonwealth countries devoted to saving the world’s coral reefs met in Townsville, Australia this week to outline immediate and long-term actions they can take to ensure the health of coral reef ecosystems.

Studies show more than half the planet’s coral reefs have suffered significant losses over the last 30 years. This could rise to 90 per cent within the next century, if current trends continue.

This harsh reality – mainly due to climate change – disproportionately affects Commonwealth states whose waters include 42 per cent of the world’s coral reefs.

In response, Australia, Belize and Mauritius are co-championing an action group made up of like-minded members that include Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Tanzania, the United Kingdom and Vanuatu.

The action group is part of the Commonwealth Blue Charter – a milestone commitment made by the 53 Commonwealth nations to cooperate on sustainable ocean governance.

Hosted by the Australian Institute of Maritime Science (AIMS) from 9 to 11 July, the meeting looked at how countries could make a difference by co-ordinating national, regional and global actions, building on each other’s experiences, and upscaling solutions for in-water action.

AIMS Chief Executive Officer Paul Hardisty said the enormous economic, social and cultural value of coral reef systems is worth the effort, adding: “It’s great to see all these members of the Commonwealth countries out here with a common purpose.  They are tackling how to turn the shared ambition of the Blue Charter into very specific actionable elements – that’s where the critical path to success lies.

“There are some fantastic ideas being shared, looking at values – not only for ecosystem services and economic value but also the cultural and indigenous values of our communities – to come up with tractable methodologies that everyone can share.”

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, for instance, supports 64,000 jobs and generates $6.4 billion each year for the country’s economy through tourism, fishing, recreational and scientific activities.

Globally, more than 500 million people depend directly on coral reefs for food, income and coastal protection. In fact, one square kilometre of healthy, well-managed coral reef can provide more than 15 tonnes of fish and other seafood each year.

Commonwealth Head of Ocean and Natural Resources Nicholas Hardman-Mountford said: “Coral reefs are priceless. They protect our coasts and populations from the devastating impacts of tsunamis and extreme weather disasters, they are home to a quarter of all marine species, and they provide for our livelihoods and well-being.

“For millions of people in the Commonwealth, especially in small island states, coral reefs are integral to their identity and local culture, centred on the ocean. Yet human activities and above all climate change are devastating reefs at unprecedented rates. This is why the work of this action group is vital.”

Delegates discussed ways to improve government policies, build awareness, and empower communities, while also tackling barriers such as lack of funding, limited capacity and weak governance structures.

They highlighted the need for the action group to monitor progress, share information and work with the right partners, including a strategy to engage scientific institutions, governments, private sector and civil society to support coral reef initiatives.

The outcomes of the meeting will contribute to implementing the short, medium and long term goals of the action group.

Commonwealth countries rally behind ocean action

A gathering hosted by the New Zealand High Commission at the Royal Academy of Arts in London on Monday, heard widespread support for the various action groups under the Blue Charter, which was unveiled by Commonwealth leaders at their last meeting in April.

Actions groups are led by ‘champion countries’ and focus on eight key areas: marine plastic pollution, blue economy, coral reef protection and restoration, mangroves, ocean acidification, ocean and climate change, ocean observations and aquaculture.

New Zealand Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage called the Blue Charter initiative a “model for bold, coordinated leadership.” As champion for the action group on ocean acidification,

New Zealand will focus on building a better understanding of the issue, identifying challenges, and connecting Commonwealth countries to ocean acidification networks.

“We are really impressed and pleased by the many Commonwealth countries that are involved in the action group [on ocean acidification],” said Hon Sage, acknowledging Australia, Barbados, Canada, Mozambique, Samoa, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and the UK.

Thérèse Coffey, Parliamentary Under Secretary at the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Areas added: “The Blue Charter is so important, not only for Commonwealth countries, but for the entire world… I’m really proud to be working with Vanuatu taking forward action on the Clean Oceans Alliance and I’m very proud that we’re also joining other action groups.”

Alongside Vanuatu, the UK leads the action group on marine pollution, which includes 20 members in total from all regions of the Commonwealth.

“This is something that the Commonwealth can celebrate. I’m really pleased the Commonwealth Secretariat is continuing to make sure that these things come through, but together as nations we really can be champions for something that is exceptionally precious to us,” she said.

Special guest at the event, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Oceans, Peter Thomson, commended the “wave of ocean action” in the international community, and encouraged collaboration with the United Nations Communities on Ocean Action.

Delegates from Fiji and Australia also made presentations on their countries’ ocean activities. Fiji leads the action group on ocean and climate change, and is planning an event on the Blue Charter in the margins of the UN Climate Change Conference COP24, to be held in Poland in December.

Commonwealth Director of Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources, Paulo Kautoke recognised the crucial role of the ocean in Commonwealth economies, cultures and communities, and called on governments as well as non-government organisations to join the action groups and intensify collaboration on ocean issues.

 

 

Strong partners will deliver on Commonwealth Blue Charter, says Secretary-General

Protecting the ocean today is the best way of ensuring prosperity for future generations, says Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland.

Her remarks came at a session on the Commonwealth Blue Charter on sustainable ocean governance, held on the margins of the 49th Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, which ran from 3 to 6 September 2018.

The Secretary-General applauded the leadership of Pacific nations and agencies on ocean and climate issues internationally, and Pacific regional agreements on ocean sustainability and governance, such as the ‘Blue Pacific’ framework for regionalism.

“The Blue Pacific Framework and Commonwealth Blue Charter go hand in glove as commitments that lead the world in working towards sustainable ocean governance,” she said.

She stressed that strong regional co-operation will be key to delivering on the charter.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter was adopted in April by Commonwealth heads of government and has eight action groups, including four that are championed or co-championed by Pacific countries.

Fiji leads the action group on ocean and climate change; Vanuatu and the UK co-champion the group on marine plastic pollution; New Zealand leads on ocean acidification; and Australia, along with Mauritius and Belize, leads the group on coral reef restoration.

“Now is the time to be reaching out to other governments and organisations to join action groups that reflect shared interests and priorities. This will only work if we work together,” said Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The session discussions highlighted a range of initiatives aimed at protecting the ocean and its resources, including from plastics in the waste stream.

A key example is legislation passed in Vanuatu to ban single-use plastic bags, plastic straws and polystyrene containers. The country began implementing the ban in July 2018. The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) assisted with nation-wide awareness building, while the local plastics industry was exploring ways to reduce their impact on the environment.

Participants stressed that good communication strategies were essential to raising public awareness and engagement, as a change in the usual practices could not succeed without a change in attitude.

Pacific regional agencies also pointed out the importance of linking commitments with action, as well as working through existing mechanisms.

The Secretary-General underlined the value of joint action, and said the Commonwealth was keen to collaborate with other partners: “Each of our members is a member of a wider family. This is an opportunity for everyone, led by countries but embracing all of our friends, to deliver something that is better than we can do on our own”.

Learn more about the Blue Charter

World Ocean Day 2018: A Blue Charter for a blue planet

International concern for the plight of the global ocean is at an all-time high. In April this year, the 53 countries of the Commonwealth adopted the Commonwealth Blue Charter, creating a bright blue beacon to guide cooperative action on ocean issues.

World Oceans Day has come a long way from 1992 when it was first proposed by Canada. Now the ocean has its own Sustainable Development Goal, thanks to the foresight of Peter Thomson and many others. SDG 14 commits countries to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

Our ocean and the coastal communities around it are receiving a lot of negative news coverage – about plastic rubbish, declining fisheries, acidification, rising sea levels, destructive hurricanes. But now countries recognise that time is of the essence and they are cooperating to achieve their goals.

In the Blue Charter’s own words, the time has come to “move from words to actions.”

Already, eight Action Groups are being established, led by Commonwealth countries. More are anticipated.

Innovation is key to this whole issue. We need practical new ideas for on-the-ground action – that’s what the Action Groups aim to deliver

For example, Australia, Belize, and Mauritius have stepped forward to co-lead a Blue Charter Action Group on coral reef regeneration. Just a few years ago, scientists were lonely voices sounding the alarm about coral. Now it is common knowledge that the world’s reefs are in peril.

Commonwealth countries realise that their work must go beyond protecting coral reefs to actively restoring them. And they are stepping up to the task!

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Likewise, Sri Lanka is leading a Mangrove Restoration Action Group. Cyprus is leading on sustainable aquaculture, and New Zealand is tackling ocean acidification. And the list goes on…

“To see Commonwealth leaders stepping forward for the ocean was a real ‘pinch-me moment,’” says Jeff Ardron, who coordinates work under the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

After years of being out of sight, out of mind, the ocean is now on everyone’s minds, and the Commonwealth Blue Charter is a good reason to celebrate World Oceans Day with a pinch of hope.

Mauritius expertise to back Commonwealth fight for coral reefs

The Republic of Mauritius will share valuable marine protection know-how with other Commonwealth countries, using the Commonwealth Blue Charter as a platform to exchange best practices, collaborate on research, and carry out training workshops.

As one of the ‘champion’ countries of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, adopted by 53 countries in April, it co-leads an action group on coral reef restoration along with Australia and Belize.

To highlight the issue of coral degradation and the need for ocean regeneration, the Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland took part in a coral-planting ceremony in Mauritius this week, together with the Minister of Ocean Economy, Marine Resources, Fisheries, and Shipping, Mr Premdut Koonjoo.

“Climate change poses an existential threat to our small island states, and has lasting impacts on marine ecosystems,” she said. “The vigour, energy and expertise expended in Mauritius to conserve and restore coral reefs is commendable.”

She also hailed the country’s actions in setting up voluntary marine conservation areas, promoting the blue economy, and hosting the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access hub. The hub helps small and vulnerable countries tap into international sources of climate finance for their adaptation and mitigation needs.

“Saving the ocean is a programme for the whole world and we have to work together. I believe if any nation or any person has knowledge, they have to share it, especially where the ocean is concerned,” added Mr. Koonjo.

Ministry officials cited coral reef monitoring, data compilation and analysis as areas where they can share experiences and best practices with other Commonwealth members, aiming to learn from each other.

Meanwhile, they are working to enhance their expertise in ocean-based coral farming, monitoring marine ecosystems, and good fishing practices, seeking also to raise public awareness on coral conservation.