Scuba Projects: Bringing Ocean Conservation Awareness to Local Communities

Photo by Scuba Projects

Photo by Scuba Projects

Have you heard about the #trashtag challenge? Around the world locals and tourists have come together to clean up parks, rivers and beaches, giving them new life.

This week, we’ll be featuring Scuba Projects, an initiative to spread awareness about ocean conservation while engaging the local community to lead the charge towards stopping plastic pollution by taking part in cleanups! If you haven’t already, check out their viral cleanup video here, which was one of many cleanups that they hosted across the country of Vietnam.

Keep reading to hear more about how Scuba Projects was founded, what their reception has been like so far and their future ambitions and projects!

What inspired you to start the Scuba project and how did it come together?

SCUBA was launched in November 2018 and was born out of my longing to finally start a project of my own and to take me one step closer to achieving my 'career goal' of running an sustainable tourism outlet coupled with a marine conservation project and educational outreach program. I believe in ‘Ocean Education for All’.

To Launch SCUBA in Vietnam I decided to create the #picuptrip:

The #picuptrip was essentially the 'launch event' for SCUBA whereby me and my good friend and camera-man Duncan Kenning traveled across the length of Vietnam hosting plastic pollution cleans. Plastic is a global problem and particular in Vietnam. I decided to start the #picuptrip because plastic is a huge problem out here in Asia and I wanted to raise the awareness of that in Vietnam. Vietnam is in the top 5 of plastic pollution producers in the world and its Mekong River in within the 6 top polluting rivers. However, my trip isn't to highlight the negative aspects but to document the amazing organisations making a difference out here and to be apart of this inspiring change.

During the trip we hosted 15 cleans between HCMC in the south and Hanoi in the North cleaning beaches, reefs, cities, forests, parks and tourist hot spots. Including out epic Vinh Luong clean we removed over 150,000 kgs of plastic pollution over the space of our 2.5 month trip. We also mobilized over 600 volunteers and partnered and worked alongside local and national businesses, local and international clean organisations, local and regional governments, schools and local and international volunteers. We estimate that 80% of our volunteers were Vietnamese which is awesome! My aim was to always partner up with local groups so I could network and i believe people should always work together.

I know that cleaning beaches should be the last thing we do to protect the ocean (as we should be tackling the issue at source with businesses and governments) but cleans show that people are willing to take action. People do want change. And our mandate on this trip was to simply stop the plastic and waste from reaching the ocean and inspire others to clean with our actions.

For my entire career (11 years!) I have worked within the charity sector in fundraising, within the marine conservation sector specifically protecting marine turtles and within the nature related tourism sector (wildlife park tour guide, scuba diving Divemaster). I have traveled across the planet and for the past 8 years and have seen some truly amazing places but equally some places destroyed by humans impact. This time I wanted to help protect the ocean on my own terms and with my own ideas. I still currently work for one of the most well known Marine Conservation Charities in the U.K.

What is the mission of Scuba Projects and how do you promote ocean conservation?

SCUBA is a marine education and conservation project focusing on reconnecting everyone with the ocean and creating passionate stewards within the coastal tourism industry.

Thus far our projects; namely plastic pollution clean events and school talks and workshops aim to inspire and mobilize grassroots movements to inspire new behaviours around the consumption of single-use plastic and to gain momentum around gaining enough people to start to question business and government actions related to the protection of oceans. The main aim is that we can reconnect populations to the ocean (through study or sustainable business practices) and empassion them with love for it (marine environments and species) so that they may steps in the future to protect it.

I also try to work with as many different organisations and help promote their causes as if all conservation organisations can be recognised by everyone; they’ll stand a better chance of protecting our planet.

In the future I will be starting our extra curricular marine education programs for schools and I have just launched my ambassador program which will see regional and student volunteers carry out plastic pollution cleans and educational talks to continue the momentum of change in Vietnam. We will work closely with business to encourage single-use plastic free initiatives and eventually begin my vocational training courses whereby we teach local Vietnamese people swimming skills and training within the coastal tourism industry.

How have you been received so far in Vietnam by both locals and backpackers?

In Vietnam the reception has been simply amazing. During our #picuptrip about 85% of all our clean volunteers were local Vietnamese and we worked with 10’s of Vietnamese businesses, charities, community groups, government and individuals who all played their part to make this one of the most successful clean event tours across the country. I really wanted to engage locals because at the end of the day I wanted them to take ownership of the clean events and continue to clean the spaces they love. Clean events are all about nurturing a community; not simply a quick fix. Education around these issues takes time, you have to work with communities; not call them out on the issue.

Backpackers were also behind the movement and of course as they travel through certain countries they have to be willing to give back to the countries and act responsibly. They have to be sound environmental ambassadors; and some are; but certainly some aren’t.

It has really blown my mind at the level of support and just how much Vietnam has got behind the cleaning side of plastic pollution, now it’s got the countries attention, it’s time for big education campaigns and addressing individual’s single-use plastic footprint.

You’ve done some amazing cleanup efforts in Vietnam, do you plan on scaling these efforts and continuing the cleanup tour in any other countries?

The scaling of these efforts comes with the Ambassador Program; It’s much simpler to have an army of passionate volunteers who really care about the cause and who want change to happen. They will also be the leaders of their communities and be on the ground when I cannot be. It also depends on how much time I have as SCUBA is run in my free time!

The whole idea of SCUBA actually was to grow something and when the time came to pass it on to a Local to be the project co-ordinator of that country. SCUBA is meant to be a mobile marine education program as it is my aim to live and work in different countries. I do aim to run other clean up tours in different countries to again raise awareness and again inspire a nation. I guess you could call me a ‘influencer environmental change’.

Tell us more about you ambassador project? How can we all get involved in spreading your message?

I have just launched our Regional Ambassador Project and in fact we have some Ambassadors from as far as Sweden and Tasmania!

Our Ambassadors (for the time being) help to spread the message of Ocean Conservation through running clean events and holding school talks in the hope of inspiring the next generation to take action and encourage their schools, parents and friends to make better choices regarding their intake of single-use plastic.

If you want to help then join a clean up near you (with which ever clean organisation is in close proximity), sign petitions in your country to aid government make the right choices to protect oceans, study science and conservation, go diving and explore the underwater world for yourself, watch documentaries, reduce your single-use plastic or live zero waste and think long-term about the actions you take that may impact the environment.

You must remember that you are the first generation to see the oceans in this state and the last generation to do something about it.