Characters & Stories | Loong in the Sea, Better Blue for Ocean Bliss

Updated 4 days ago by SRP

The following article is from China Development Brief

China Development Brief:

Adhering to the principle of independence and professionalism, we have been trying to spread the concept of public welfare through information exchange and resource docking, provide opportunities for grassroots public welfare organizations to voice and develop, in a bid to promote the sustainable development of public welfare industry.

Author | Chen Shulin, Feng Kailin  Reviewer | Jiang Peiyao  Editor | Xu Aijing


Wang Miao was born in Liaoning province, near the Bohai Sea, on the rains (a solar term, Feb.18-20) of the year of dragon. Her grandfather said that loong (Chinese dragon) with water(“水“) augurs well, so “淼(miao)” was taken as her given name. That’s the beginning of her stories with water. At her younger age, Jinxi was called Huludao and the blue sea turned into the mud yard. She thought it was the sea. Until she has grown up and learned to dive in the Philippines, she found that the sea there was different from ours…

Now, Wang Miao is the founder of Better Blue, winner of the Young Earth Guard Award of the United Nations Environment Programme, outdoor sports enthusiast, and polar guide. She is ready to tell us her stories with the ocean.

Wang Miao(the third person from the left in the first row) and her team

1 /Dive into the “blue”

“ I didn’t realize my connection with the sea until I learned diving.”

In 2015, the idea of protecting the ocean came into her mind.

That year, after Wang’s graduation, she worked in the Australian Agency for International Development and was stationed in Tibet for a two-year program to carry out construction assistance in the field of health. One day, a man on couchsurfing came and lived in her house. The guest was a diving enthusiast. He shared with her many adventures in the sea, by which Wang was deeply fascinated. Soon, she went to the Philippines to learn how to dive, and then her strong yearning for the underwater world made her choose islands for every vacation.

“Staying with water for a long run, I have clearer cognition and deeper feelings about water. This is what I’ve got from diving.”

Humans are terrestrial animals. They would protect the environment of their familiar land on their own initiative. Just as we don’t litter our office, we will voluntarily maintain its environment. However, the ocean is not a habitat for human beings. So the dirty ocean won’t draw their attention. But if you put your home or backyard in the ocean full of gorgeous corals, surrounded by lovely fish every day, are you willing to let it be polluted?

Once you are familiar with the water and have a connection with it, you will naturally realize that you have an obligation to maintain its ecological health. Wang was the same. She began to know what she wanted.

Diving built up a deeper connection between the ocean and Wang

Wang favored animals and enjoyed staying in nature when she was young. Majoring in international development and working in the field of non-profit and international development after graduation, she got closer to the dream in her heart – animal and environmental protection. Compared with material wealth, public welfare brings more happiness to her, and the more she feels that her choice is right. After working with international agencies for a period of time and having a better understanding of diving and the ocean, she is eager to try marine protection.

“I love the sentence in Blue Hope written by Sylvia Earle: ‘no water, no life, no blue, no green’.”

The ocean is the origin of lives. It offers two thirds of oxygen people breathe and it is also the eco-system with stable carbon balance. In recent years, frequent marine garbage problems have worried humans a lot. That is, plastic waste discarded by human beings will eventually enter the natural water cycle in the form of microplastics, and return to ourselves through fish and sea salt that people eat.

“Just like the conservation of energy, nothing comes and goes for no reason. Therefore, whatever we acted on the environment or something not belonging to the environment itself will eventually affect human beings. Although nature has a strong ability to recover, the pressure we put on it has exceeded its limit of self-purification and self-circulation.

Wang and her spiritual idol – the author of Blue Hope, “the queen of deepness”, Sylvia Earle

Marine protection brooks no delay. While to make dreams come true, passion is not enough. It also requires keen insight and extraordinary courage.

“While dive is a vital ability for marine protection, few people link dive, animal protection, and environmental protection together.”

In fact, work related to marine requires entering the water. No matter whether it is scientific research or marine conservation, many practical tasks will be difficult to implement without going into the water. And the divers are an advanced social group. After all, there are limited people who can dive and have good skills. Isn’t it a good way for these people to apply their expertise to marine protection?

Out of occupational sensitivity, Wang began to investigate: How many marine protection agencies are there in China? What are they aiming at? What’s their agenda? Soon, she found that China’s marine protection field with divers as the main body is blank, and even the international practice is extremely limited. Among them, Project AWARE is one of the few institutions focusing on the impact of the diving industry and promoting marine protection with divers as the main body.

Project AWARE, a nonprofit organization founded by volunteer divers,

works with PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors,

to develop inspiring courses and programs for divers interested in marine conservation

Wang Miao realized her moment had come when she learned from Project AWARE that the Asia-Pacific region only had offices in Australia. She became afterwards a representative of the Greater China region of Project AWARE. Relying on its rich partnership resources, Wang Miao explored her way out in China.

 “If this route can work out internationally, why would China be an exception? China has already owned a certain number of divers; the foundation is quite solid to test this project.”

Timeliness, residentialliness, unitedness. Everything is ready for that.

In June 2017, Better Blue was launched.

2 / Protect the ocean for a Better “Blue”

It is said that diving wreaks havoc on the marine environment, that our sunscreen can affect coral growth in dive areas, that ships’ fuels can contaminate the water…

Extreme protectionists hold that the best way to protect a place is to leave it unvisited, because any human activity will have an impact, generally not positive, on the environment. If we want to protect the ocean, we should persuade more people to stay out of it.

However, Wang takes a dim view of that.

“It makes no sense for us to talk about protection without considering development.”

Better Blue Launched the Clean Underwater Homes project in 2019

Human beings have the need of survival; hence they will surely interact with the environment where they live. When one cannot even put food on the table, how ridiculous it would be to be required to protect the environment?

Wang points to the concept of the Onion, an international conservation hierarchy for species – the “onion ring”. The onion’s profile goes around and around, like ripples, and when we talk about species conservation, we’re talking about individual species habitats, population habitats, and so on. The seahorse, for example, starts with the seaweed beds, mangroves and coral reefs where it lives. Without the habitat, the species would be wiped out. Then there is the protection of surrounding shorelines in relation to habitats, which determine the growth of seaweed, mangroves and coral reefs. In addition, coastline protection cannot be separated from community, which is the various forms of business of people living on the coast. What is the form of community? What are their resource needs and conflict points for this base? Finally, inevitably, we talk about ourselves.

Zhang Junning, ambassador of the ocean Public Welfare video tour exhibition sponsored by Better Blue

“What we need, is to find the balance, a dynamic one, between development and conservation.”

As a matter of fact, diving is a low-cost and high-return industry. People can choose not to dive and let fishermen do the fishing, but the damage will be greater than diving. According to the 2017 Leisure Fisheries Association report, recreational fisheries in the United States account for about 2 percent of the total production of commercial fisheries, but the value of recreational fisheries can be 13 times that of commercial fisheries. Recreational fisheries, no doubt, also consume Marine resources, but as an alternative upgrade of commercial fisheries, they can achieve relatively high-output with comparatively low-loss. It is about protecting Marine life for sure.

Similarly, the diving industry is downstream from tourism and can bring about a significant increase in the additional value of industries. Transportation, shipping, shipbuilding, catering, accommodation…An entire ecological chain has been built around the diving industry, and the value that diving can bring is much higher than the value that fishermen used to bring out in a net of Marine resources and sell fish or fish products. The role of fishermen can still be upgraded and may even have a better livelihood in the transformed industry, because the life safety risk of developing commercial diving activities is lower than that of fishing at sea. It is clear that diving is less costly to the sea, and a dynamic new balance has been created.

“Those fishermen may not intend to protect the ocean as they shift to dive, yet the result is that they’ve actually reduced the consumption of the ocean in a new way, leading to more sustainable use of marine resources. As for the scuba diver, if he’s willing to spend money on it, he is driving the growth of an industry without noticing that is good for Marine conservation, at the very least, to transform more of the traditional offshore fishing community.”

Compared with other Marine conservation organizations, Better Blue emphasizes the “two-way relationship” between people and the sea. Wang believes that the idea of people governing the sea is frantic. Instead, more people should learn to interact with the ocean in a scientific and friendly way.

Ambassadors Yi Sha and Ji An of Better Blue

“A majority of people only concentrate on ‘what to do for the Marine environment’ when talking about Marine conservation instead of ‘what do the oceans provide for us’.” We are so used to hunting from nature, but only consider “governance” when the prey cannot meet our demands. It is a thought that regards humans as emic while the environment etic.

The history of mankind on this earth is so short. If you compare the history of the earth to 24 hours, we would have existed for only 3 seconds. The Earth would have functioned in the same way even without humans.

“It is unnecessary for men to ‘help’ nature, because nature doesn’t really need our so-called help. We tend to believe that the concern for nature, as well as ecology, is to create a comfortable and long-lasting living environment for human beings, instead of restoring nature to how it used to be. We are the ones who take advantage of nature and destroy it in the meantime. Absurdly, the aim of nature conservation seems to be focused on humans, not on nature itself.”

3 / China has been trying hard

Better Blue has no “border” and marine protection has no boundary.

“In global news platforms, people tend to get more negative information about the environmental problems that we have caused, while the efforts that we contribute to nature conservation have often been ignored.”

Even though China plays a key role in marine protection throughout the world, the country has received little appreciation in the global community. However, with the recognition from the United Nations, an increasing number of people have witnessed our efforts in ocean governance.

China, as a party of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has made great contributions to such issues in terms of carbon productions and climate changes. Progress has been made in the financial support from the Government, public promotion in the official education system, etc. Actually, China has achieved all the targets assigned by the UN ahead of schedule, including energy saving and emission reduction. However, the achievements rarely receive any acknowledgement among the global community.

“The concept of ‘do more and talk less’ has always been a Chinese tradition, which is quite different from the West due to cultural differences.” Although there are many private charity organizations in China, few receive enough international reputation. Wang Miao believes that these organizations should improve their promotions globally and increase their influences overseas.

On September 13, 2018, Wang was awarded the Champions of the Earth Youth Award, which is the UN’s highest environmental honor. She is the first Chinese to receive the award.

Better Blue has no “border”; we still have a long way to go.

Recently, Wang, along with her team, contributed to projects on civic science and education. The aim is to guide the public to become marine-friendly consumers, understand more knowledge about marine ecology and adopt an environmentally-friendly lifestyle. Interestingly, the concept of scenario promotion has achieved remarkable results.

“It is quite difficult to talk about lifestyles without mentioning specific life scenarios. It may only lead to ineffective results. For example, consumers are often encouraged to use environmentally-friendly bags or bottles. However, when they forget to bring their own bags or bottles in real-life situations, consumers may fail to make the right decision between paper cups and plastic bottles. Therefore, this kind of promotion may not lead to ideal results.”

In 2018, Better Blue cooperated with off-line cafes for the first time. The organization aimed to promote the importance of reducing single-use plastic products. Through the slogan, “use your own cups can reduce the coffee price”, consumers are stimulated to decrease the consumption rate of plastic products from an economic point of view. “Now, we are using effective and standardized discourse in different industry scenarios. We want to guide consumers to keep an environmentally-friendly lifestyle in similar scenarios.”

In December 2019, Better Blue had thorough discussions with its business partners in areas, including Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

As for plans in the long term, Wang expressed her hope in the recognition of the eco-rating index in the entire diving industry. “Our final target is to build an organization that specializes in offering eco-friendly ratings in the industry.”

In Wang’s expectation, the assessment system in the future will no longer just focus on the level of certification, number of students or teaching hours, but also put emphasis on how many divers that specialize in nature conservation one has trained, how many volunteer services one can provide to marine research and education each year, how much time the instructors spend on public science and education, and even on the quality of lighting and energy-saving systems in the dive resort, waste disposal systems, etc.

“By providing an ecological perspective to assess the eco-friendly service index comprehensively, we aim to improve the development of eco-friendly service in the diving industry.”

At present, young Chinese with a unique vision, continuous innovation and a strong sense of responsibility are contributing themselves to nature conservation not only in China but also in the world. Nowadays, the achievements in marine conservation around the country are attributed to these “Chinese loongs”.  However, in Wang’s view, the industry in China still demands more attention and the industrial economy may remain on the cusp for quite a long time. In this regard, she encouraged youngsters to make the best use of their own knowledge, make a move in the industry, and eventually find their ideal path and direction of careers.

Translators:Ariadne,Wang Xinyue,Du Yuji

Reviser:Song Qijun

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