World Ocean Day 2023: How travel can champion marine conservation

Our blue planet is under threat, but there are copious ways we can use travel as a force for good and play our part in protecting the world's oceans. Let's dive in...

3 mins

World Ocean Day is celebrated annually on the 8 June, uniting activists and raising awareness of the increasing threats facing our underwater ecosystems today. From climate change causing sea levels to rise at alarming rates and warming waters bleaching coral reefs, to plastic pollution and suncream chemicals harming marine wildlife, it's a bleak time for the health of our oceans. However, hope is not yet lost, with pioneering organisations dedicating their life’s work to create a more positive future, and governments starting to step up and pledge their support. 

We know Wanderlust readers care greatly for our oceans, whether keen scuba divers and snorkellers, or lovers of a coastal walk or balmy beach hideout. And that’s why we want to encourage you to give back to our blue planet on your travels. Here, we share a few ways to champion ocean conservation efforts around the world, and highlight a handful of the wonderful hotels and companies who are driving change...

Choose ocean-friendly accommodation

The Indian Ocean is home to a healthy population of Manta Rays, with researchers studying from the InterContinental resort (Shutterstock)

The Indian Ocean is home to a healthy population of Manta Rays, with researchers studying from the InterContinental resort (Shutterstock)

Nowadays, many beachfront hotels claim to be ocean-friendly with an inhouse marine biologist, but it is always worth double checking that this isn’t just for show by looking into the work they have achieved. 

For example, the Maldives has some of the world’s most impressive sustainable resorts dedicated to marine conservation. In 2019,  the major hotel chain InterContinental partnered with the Manta Trust, and now provides researchers a place to stay while they study the healthy population of rays that surround Maamunagau Resort. Recently launched, the Manta Ray Experience package invites guests to be immersed in the world of mantas with talks by marine biologists and responsible manta-seeking excursions.

Elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, Blue Safari Resort on the Seychelles’ Alphonse Island invites guests to get hands-on and pick up litter as part of the Island Conservation Society’s organised beach cleans, as well as the chance to hear talks from biologists. Better yet, a levy of your stay goes towards the Alphonse Foundation, who fund vital conservation work on the island.

Over in the Caribbean, the legendary Jamaica Inn near Ocho Rios has sustainability woven into its DNA, proven so with their partnership with White River Fish Sanctuary. In 2018, they together set the goal to increase the local environment’s fish biomass by 500% in five years – a target they knocked out the park.

In St Lucia, guests at Jade Mountain can participate with coral planting efforts when booking the Coral Kaleidoscope Scuba package. For dinner, opt to order from their restaurant’s Lionfish menu: this ‘conservation cuisine’ is part of the resort’s efforts to protect the local ecosystem, as lionfish has become one of the Caribbean’s most destructive invasive species.  

Visit and support marine conservation initiatives

Coral restoration off Key Largo in the Florida Keys (Alamy Stock Photo)

Coral restoration off Key Largo in the Florida Keys (Alamy Stock Photo)

With ‘sustainability’ being the buzzword of 2023, try to stay vigilant of the organisations who fall foul to greenwashing – whether they realise it or not. However, there are plenty of authentic and inspiring companies who put ocean conservation at the helm of their work, and you can support them on your travels.  

In the Bahamas, Coral Vita is the Earthshot prize-winning organisation fighting to restore the world’s dying coral reefs by using the power of science. The team here grow resilient corals that can withstand the higher temperatures caused by climate change, and outplant them into degraded reefs. Book a guided tour at the centre and the experienced coral technicians will teach you about the incredible work which takes place. You can even adopt your own coral fragment and be a part of its journey as it grows. 

Coral conservation projects are also underway in the Sunshine State. With the Florida Keys’ inviting waters being home to the world’s third largest barrier reef system, it’s no wonder they’re prioritising efforts to protect it. The Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) are raising more than 20 different species of coral in nurseries, and replanting them into damaged environments. The CRF also work with a local dive programme that allows visitors to get involved with their restoration programme. While in the Keys, it's worth nothing that Marathon is home to the world’s only designated Turtle Hospital, taking in injured turtles, treating them, and releasing them back into their natural habitat. Visitors are welcome to tour the facilities.

Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, the Red Sea’s 28,000 sq km coastline has been relatively unspoilt for years – and it plans to stay that way. Red Sea Global is developing only 1% of its land for tourism, while 75% of its islands will be preserved for conservation. They plan to grow more than 25 million plants, and enhance the existing underwater ecosystem of mangroves, coral and seagrass.

Learn to scuba dive responsibly

PADI have recently launched their Eco Centres, helping customers to dive sustainably (Shutterstock)

PADI have recently launched their Eco Centres, helping customers to dive sustainably (Shutterstock)

Those of us with an affinity with the ocean enjoy spending time underwater. In a recent study conducted by The Reef-World Foundation, they discovered 95% of divers are looking for sustainable operators when they book a trip. And that’s why their long-term partner PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, decided to launch its Eco Centres. So far, 11 of its diving schools have received this prestigious credential, exhibiting continued commitment to conversation efforts and teaching ocean lovers how to dive responsibly. PADI has teamed up with The Reef-World Foundation and their United Nations Green Fins Initiative to make sure their scuba diving centres measure up to standard.

The current PADI Eco Centres includes Oceans Unlimited in Costa Rica, who run a coral restoration programme alongside local non-profit Marine Conservation Costa Rica and provide education for visitors. Sea Voice Divers in Malaysia keeps its dive groups small and manageable, and encourages all their diving customers to earn their AWARE Specialist Certification. And Mexico’s Dive Ninja Expeditions teaches citizen science skills to its divers, so they can personally drive ocean change into the future. Other PADI Eco Centres can be found in places such as Spain, the USA, and even the UK. Find out more on PADI's website.

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