Dive in, make a difference

Campaign aimed at cleaning plastic under sea: The divers begin their day with an undersea clean-up

Dive in, make  a difference
Two months have passed since Bond Safari planned and organised an underwater wedding at Grove Beach in Kovalam near Thiruvananthapuram. The January 26 wedding – of Nikhil Pawar, a diving instructor from Maharashtra and Eunika Pogran, a Slovakian national – had hit headlines across India for its unique staging and the potential for what the organisers themselves called a “product” to add to Kerala’s diverse tourism experiences.

Bond Safari, a company that provides scuba diving and snorkelling services to tourists in Kovalam, has since taken up a campaign that goes beyond the cheer of personal highs and tries to address an issue that poses a serious threat to marine life and beaches – piling plastic waste.

The campaign, titled Ocean Love, was launched on February 14. The idea was to make a departure from the Valentine’s Day staples of red roses and surprise declarations, and on the sidelines, have Bond Safari divers and students from a local school – run by an NGO, Sebastian Indian Social Projects – collect plastic dumped under the sea, segregate and dispose it.

 As six couples dived four metres under the ocean for their proposals of love on a specially arranged platform, tourists and locals gathered around on the beach to be part of the no-plastic campaign.

Local fishermen have been discussing with members of Bond Safari about the rampant dumping of plastic in the sea, leading the company to take up the campaign. Jackson Peter, Managing Partner of Bond Safari, acknowledges the importance of building awareness on the issue through innovative campaigns but disagrees on suggestions that the campaign could also be about brand-building.

“This is an initiative that we run parallel to our existing services which are pegged to tourism. It’s not really about us or a brand; I look at it as an important effort to address an issue that threatens marine life in this region,” says Jackson.

It was the Valentine’s Day event that set the tone for the  campaign which also involves local organisations but Bond Safari divers have always been collecting plastic from under the sea. The divers, as practice, begin their day with an undersea clean-up.

The 2016 United Nations Environment Project Report traces the severe impact of a “growing presence and abundance of microplastics” on human health and marine ecosystems. Studies have detected presence of plastic debris and textile fibre in seafood.

Reports have also stated that India is among countries that contribute most to plastic debris under the ocean. Jackson stresses on the need to kick-start concerted efforts to offset the damage caused by dumping of plastic waste – an estimated 10 to 12 million tonnes every year – in the ocean and mobilise funds to launch extensive campaigns.

He points to the alarming number of sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals dying after ingesting plastic. The efforts, however, have to start with awareness; Jackson says that for a state with a 540-km coastline, Kerala doesn’t appear too concerned.

“Traditionally, we are probably not aligned to the idea of marine conservation. These are times in which countries are coming up with dedicated services to collect plastic waste dumped in the ocean. The government of Maldives held a Cabinet meeting underwater (in 2009) to highlight threats the country was facing from global warming. We need to send out a similar message of intent on the issue of plastic as well; and we need to do it soon,” says Jackson.

A couple of months, diving instructors at Bond Safari have noticed a rise in the amount of plastic being dumped in the sea. The company is lining up beach and underwater clean-up activities as part of the campaign by involving local communities and school students.

As part of the International Women’s Day celebrations, the Ocean Love campaign saw eight women diving in for an underwater clean-up. Bond Safari is tagging the first leg of the campaign with popular festivals and special events but it also becomes imperative to bring local administrators and stakeholders in to ensure that the efforts translate to results.

“It’s an interesting initiative – tagging scuba diving, something that is widely seen as part of leisure or adventure tourism, to an environmental cause of this nature. But it also takes the policy-makers to make that crucial difference when it comes to actual implementation of these plans,” says Jayakrishnan M, a traveller and adventure sport enthusiast.

Jackson believes that scuba diving, despite being relatively new in these parts of the country, could provide the right platform for a campaign like Ocean Love. “Tourism the world over is shifting from the sight-seeing drills to experiences and activities. And wherever beach tourism is being promoted, scuba diving is a key feature,” he says.

Bond Safari was launched in 2016 in partnership with the Spain-based Cool Divers SL. Apart from offering services like Sea Life Safari, the group conducts courses in swimming and diving. “My experience in Spain had me planning for a similar set-up in Kerala. The state was also losing out to other destinations because it didn’t offer scuba diving services,” says Jackson.

His team members are taking more enquiries on the Ocean Love campaign and collating feedback on social media. For inspiration and that push to deliver, perhaps they can always revisit the message on a placard one of the campaigners held during the Women’s Day event – “There’s no Planet B”.

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