Beyond the Diving

Mike Ball Dive Expeditions is committed to integrating best practices into our environmental management strategy. Best environmental practices are an agreed code of conduct developed by GBRMPA with the marine tourism industry designed to reduce human impacts on the reef by promoting environmentally responsible behaviour.

Why our plan is important:

Scuba diving offers a fantastic passport to explore the underwater world and we provide visitors with the opportunity to explore one of the world’s greatest living treasures and play a crucial role in teaching visitors about the Great Barrier Reef’s incredible ecosystem and World Heritage values. We have a commitment to ensuring staff and operations adhere to and develop best environmental practice. At Mike Ball Diving Expeditions we believe that marine tourism operators can play an essential role in helping to protect the reef, via EMC contributions to GBRMPA and through the sustainable use of reef by operations which include visitor education and monitoring impacts on the reef.

An environmental management plan is needed to identify the potential negative effects our business may cause to marine ecosystems in order that management strategies to minimize adverse effects and assess impacts can be in place.

Our environmental management policy:

Extracurricular Activities

A Mike Ball Dive Expeditions trip is much more than a ‘dive’ trip. Each passenger is able to partake in Coral Reef Surveys or Minke Whale behaviour monitoring and research, attend lectures by trained crew on the ecology of the reef, further their diver education, visit historic Lizard Island and learn about the history and culture of the area and participate in low key photo competitions. During Minke Whale season, passengers are able to discuss all facets of Minke Whale behaviour, biology & research with dedicated JCU research volunteers.

Advanced Ecotourism

The definition of ecotourism adopted by Ecotourism Australia is: “Ecotourism is ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation”.

Eco-tourism: The Ecotourism Society defines it as “responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of the local people”. On the 6th November 2007 Mike Ball Dive Expeditions was awarded an Advanced Ecotourism Certification through the Nature and Ecotourism Accreditation Program (NEAP).

The Eco Certification Program has been developed by industry for industry, addressing the need to identify genuine ecotourism and nature tourism operators in Australia. The Certification allows: industry; local communities and travellers to distinguish those operators who have made a commitment to provide product that is environmentally & socially sustainable.

The Advanced Ecotourism certification cements Mike Ball Dive Expeditions commitment to best practice in the vital areas of ecological sustainability; education and interpretation; working with local communities; cultural history and responsible marketing. A wide range of policies are in place to meet and exceed the stringent criteria required to gain and retain the Advanced Ecotourism Certification.

Peace on the Reef

Mike pioneered ‘Peace on the Reef’ awareness with a simple hand signal that allows crew & passengers to remind fellow divers to be aware of wayward fins, hands and equipment that may damage the reef.

Climate Change The phrase ‘Climate change’ refers to long term changes in the average weather patterns (temperature, rainfall, wind, etc) for a place or region due to natural or human-induced causes. Mike Ball Dive Expeditions has taken steps to reduce our carbon footprint through various initiatives.

Currently we recycle cans, batteries, printer & toner cartridges, paper & card. We purchase our goods in bulk as much as possible to reduce packaging waste and source as many supplies locally as possible to reduce the emission associated with transportation.

In 2008 we conducted a large scale review of our operations and itineraries and have modified these to become more fuel efficient. All of our vehicles and vessels are regularly serviced and maintained. Customers are provided with courtesy transfer services to and from the vessel where appropriate. Energy is conserved whenever possible on vessel: we have energy efficient white goods and the air conditioner levels are set for optimum efficiency and energy conservation.

Our suppliers & package partners also have made positive changes to their operations to reduce their impact on the environment. For example our diesel supplier (BP Reliance) have low sulphur diesel and are continuing researching & refining bio-diesels and fuel alternatives whilst our transport company (Sun Palm) have a stringent policy for the service, maintenance and replacement of their vehicles.

Guests are able to estimate & reduce their Climate Change footprint at home & when travelling through various means. The following websites have footprint calculators that enable you to asses your impact and all offer hints and tips to reduce your carbon usage.

http://www.carbonneutral.com.au/calc/

http://www.climatechange.gov.au/

http://www.epa.qld.gov.au/

http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/

Most airlines offer passengers the chance to fly carbon neutral by purchasing credits that offset the estimated carbon emissions from the flight.

Supporting Local Community & Charities

Mike Ball Dive Expeditions recognises the value of our local community. We support local businesses as much as possible for our supplies and equipment. There are a number of local and international charities that are supported on either an ongoing basis or with one-off donations.

Our souvenir items, offers of free expeditions and monetary donations have been given to health organisations (eg Movember, Make-a-Wish), Dive industry supporters (eg Divers Alert Network, L.A. Underwater Photographic Society), environmental causes (eg Coast care, Reef Check Australia), community aid (World Vision, Red Cross, St Vincent’s) and local schools & businesses.

Research & Monitoring

Eye on the Reef

Crew members have been trained to collect and record information on reef health indicators, protected and iconic species and emerging issues on selected dive sites. As we visit the same sites on a regular basis, the total data collection over months and years allows researchers to gain valuable insight into the impact of visitations, the health of the reef and fish numbers.

GBRMPA

Reports are compiled for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on any coral bleaching occurrences and Crown-of-Thorns starfish sightings.

PADI Project Aware – Coral Watch

Passengers are also given the opportunity to be involved with reef monitoring via PADI Project AWARE Coral Reef Surveys, an international program collating data on Coral Reefs worldwide using a standard reporting system. Since 2004, passengers completing courses with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions have donated over $1,400 to PADI Project AWARE.

Project AWARE is the dive industry’s leading non-profit environmental organisation dedicated to conserving underwater environments through education, advocacy and action.

Coral Watch is a simple, non-invasive method to assess and monitor coral reef health with respect to coral bleaching. Mike Ball Dive Expeditions regularly visits certain sites and the information collected will assist scientists to answer questions such as how long it takes for reefs to recover from bleaching and if the health of the is in decline.

Minke Whales

In conjunction with leading cetacean researchers, government agencies and other operators, we have evolved a diving and snorkeling protocol that has minimal impact on the whales and allows them to approach divers within their own comfort zone. This protocol combined with the Minkes’ natural curiosity provides passengers with very close encounters and spectacular opportunities for close up videos and photography. In the past, Minke Whale Researchers from JCU were given a berth onboard the vessel whenever possible to assist them in data collection, we are now proud to be able to offer a berth throughout the entire season. In 2014, MBDE crew and passengers contributed over $6,900 and thousands of photos to the ongoing Minke Whale Project research team.

How can you help?

A Mike Ball Dive Expeditions Minke Whale trip is much more than a ‘dive’ trip. Each passenger is able to partake in Minke Whale behaviour monitoring and research, attend lectures by trained crew on the ecology of the reef and discuss all facets of Minke Whale behaviour, biology & research with dedicated JCU research volunteers.

The Minke Whale Researcher can normally be found sitting on the Sundeck, surveying the waters for Minke Whales. Every Minke Whale sighting needs to recorded on a special form detailing the location, time, number of whales & behaviours exhibited. Passengers are encouraged to lend their eyes to the cause and look out for whales.

Whilst enjoying an in-water encounter there are many different ways to help the researchers. Since 1998 thousands of photographs have been donated to the Minke Whale Project to aid in identifying each whale spotted. To assist further with identifying the whales, passengers are encouraged to donate as many photos as possible. The researchers are not after the best photo – they just want clear shots of identifying features, making donating a very easy & achievable goal for even the beginner photographer.

After each encounter an Interaction Behaviour Diary can be completed. This diary assists the researchers in monitoring the behaviour of the whales and to adapt & improve information sessions. All passengers are encouraged to complete an Interaction Behaviour Diary after each encounter.

At the end of the trip, the crew will distribute Minke Whale Questionnaires. These questionnaires help the researchers to monitor visitor trends, personal interpretations of the experience, economic value and sustainability objectives over a number of years.