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September 2019

How to Plan A Trip to the Andaman Islands – Zero Waste and Ecologically Responsible

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5 Eco-friendly Ways to Travel In the Andamans

How to Plan A Trip to the Andaman Islands

Emerald hues!   Picture credit: Umeed Mistry

Coral reefs, beaches and islands in the Andamans are now world famous for being some of the most beautiful and quiet places to be in nature. There is this ‘wow untouched paradise’ notion associated with these islands; a sense of which you get when you are flying into the islands. Approximately 2000 sq.km coral reef surrounds these islands. And a majority of these islands are densely forested and uninhabited by people.

The Andamans is a fairly remote island chain, nearly 1600 km away from Chennai but it is definitely a top tourist destination for people across the world. The remoteness coupled with the fact that well, these are islands, means that resources are limited and any waste that we generate goes nowhere!

top 5 Zero Water Ecologically Responsible Ways to Travel the Andaman Islands

Andaman Islands: The ‘untouched paraside’     Picture credit: Umeed Mistry

Waste management is currently unplanned here in the Andamans and this becomes a particularly big problem in Havelock which sees huge tourist turnover on a daily basis. Resorts need to call a truck to take garbage to a common unsegregated landfill. It is unclear how many resorts compost their organic waste (we do!). Many will simply incinerate their waste within their property or dig a hole in the beach outside their resort to bury the trash. Several people are trying to work with the administration to bring a waste management system in place but that will take time.

Platic dump in havelock - shahid dweep

Havelock’s trash solution is a burning landfill   Picture credit: Mahima Jaini

All of these factors make it all the more important for us to plan ecologically responsible holidays. Nothing short of ‘zero waste’!

DIVEIndia has been working in the Andamans for a long time now (16 yrs and counting) and we are still deeply in love with these islands. Here is a link to some of the ways we try to make our operation minimum impact: https://www.projectaware.org/updates/diveindia-what-we-are-doing-be-ecologically-responsible-dive-operation-andaman-islands

Now here are 5 ways in which you can plan and execute a zero waste ecologically responsibile holiday in the Andaman Islands. We always welcome recommendations from travellers so do feel free to give us feedback!

#1 RESORTS, RESTAURANTS AND DIVE CENTERS- DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE YOU COME!

There is plenty of information about resorts, restaurants and water sport operators available online, along with scores of reviews and limitless pictures! Be sure to support businesses that operate in an ecologically friendly manner.

This could include resorts and restaurants that make a concerted effort to AVOID single-use plastics, segregate their waste, compost their kitchen waste and DO NOT throw their trash in the sea. This even includes choosing dive and snorkelling boats that are careful not to throw their anchor on coral beds, shops that do not sell coral, shells, or similar prohibited items. Please choose restaurants that serve local and fresh seafood caught by local fishermen. Avoid places that sell shark-fin soup, or threatened animal meat. If possible, let the person know why they have lost your business and in the event of illegal items for sale, please inform the local authorities.

Air conditioning is a luxury on an island heavily dependent on the import of diesel, which is unsustainable and contributes significantly to warming. While it may be nice to have access to AC, we suggest reducing its use to only when absolutely needed, or even turning it on for an hour, instead of having it running all night. Besides, the sea breeze is the best AC!

#2 DON’T BRING DISPOSABLES, DON’T LEAVE BEHIND DISPOSABLES

It is a common practice for travellers to purchase disposable products before or on arrival that they will toss out at the end of their holiday before heading back home. Most often these products include toiletries – toothbrush, shampoo and soap sachets. Even if you throw these into your resort-provided dustbin, they will end up in a burning landfill or land up on the beach.

We recommend carrying reusable, travel-sized bottles topped up from your home supply of soaps, shampoos and other things that you can use one trip after another.

If you are in India:
Something like this: https://barenecessities.in/
Switch to a good bamboo brush, please: https://www.instagram.com/thegrassroute.co/?hl=en

#3 AVOID FASTFOOD, PARCELLING FOOD AND ORDERING IN

If you have travelled from mainland India or from across the globe to these islands, the last thing you want to be eating is packet chips and biscuits right? Why indulge in packet snacks and aerated drinks when there is plenty of amazing FRESH food and drink available? The Andamans is definitely a great destination for a food holiday, with delicious local cuisines, numerous restaurants and street food!

Top on our list of plastic trash collected from beaches are plastic bottles- coke, pepsi, water and others. The islands are known for fresh fruits, and fruit juice bars are everywhere- try those as mixers instead!

Last but not the least- please do not order-in food, or request for parcelling your meals. This results in unnecessary plastic and aluminium packing used for 15 minutes before it is on its way to the landfill. A majority of restaurants are walking distance from one another if you are feeling adventurous, and seconds away if you are the lazier kind and would rather rent a motorbike!

#4 BRING YOUR OWN METAL, CLOTH, REUSABLE ALTERNATIVES

Carry your own steel water bottle from home to avoid buying packaged drinking water during your holiday, starting right from the flight, in your hotel and to your flight back. In-flight attendants might seem surprised when you deny the complimentary plastic bottle but they will happily top up you water bottles. There are water filling stations available in the Port Blair airport and island ferry terminals. Hotels and most restaurants will provide you free filtered drinking water as well.

PLEASE carry your own cloth bags and reusable straws. Coconut water vendors and most restaurants still provide straws for fear of losing business. It is up to us as consumers to insist on NO STRAW while placing an order.

Look here for great non-plastic lifestyle alternatives: https://barenecessities.in/

#5 SAY NO TO SUNSCREEN

Say hi to natural oils (https://amzn.to/2ZvLVgy) instead!

We encourage people to avoid using sunscreen before a dive. Read this to understand what skin care products do to the marine life we go into the water to see: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/sunscreen-corals.html

Wear full sleeve rash guards and full length swimsuits instead (for UV protection) and carry a hat and sunglasses for your surface intervals. All our boats also have roofs to give you shade.

#6 PICK NO SHELLS, LEAVE NO BUTTS

Yes we said 5 ways, but here is a number 6! Sea critters use seashells to protect themselves, and use them as homes. Collecting certain seashells, coral (alive and dead) not only endangers these marine animals, but is illegal as per the Wildlife Protection Act of India, 1972.

Cigarette butts take up to 10 years to break down (plastic bottles take 450 years at least), they stick around, like sore thumbs, long after we are gone. Please toss them into dustbins.

Be sure to check our website for more articles on how to have a reduced-waste lifestyle in general!

The Andamans Islands- Our treasured paradise   Picture credit: Chetana Babburjung Purushotham

Our dream is to continue to dive and explore these beautiful emerald islands for as long as we can. Thank you for helping us keep the Andaman Islands happy, healthy, safe and clean. <3

The Role of the Instructor in Creating Responsible Divers

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Quick question:   when was the last time you were on a dive boat and saw everyone diving by the book?    Getting familiar with their gear beforehand, planning their dives independently of the instructor, discussing contingency plans with their buddy, doing a thorough buddy check, staying close enough to the buddy to intervene within a few seconds in case of an emergency, etc?
I cannot think of a single time that has happened – and I have been guilty of lapses here myself.
So why does this happen?   Is it because divers don’t know the buddy system?     Or the usefulness of planning the dive?     Or even the value of getting  familiar with your gear before getting in the water with?        Unlikely – this is covered quite extensively in the Open Water course and most divers are quite familiar with all of this.   So is it a deliberate decision to take on additional risks for no reason, then?    I think we can agree that this is not the case either.
Before we go any further, let me touch upon the 3 domains of learning:
– Cognitive:   basically knowledge – in the context of diving, these refer to what you learn from reading the books, watching the videos or via discussions with the instructor
– Psychomotor:  these are the physical skills – for diving, how to clear the mask, how to achieve neutral buoyancy, how to put on your gear, etc.
– Affective:  this is your personal beliefs, attitudes and emotions – to put another way, what you consider important, what you pay attention to, etc
Within each domains, there are different levels of mastery (eg, in the Cognitive domain, being able to merely recite the correct answer, vs understand the reasoning behind it vs being apply to apply different pieces of knowledge to come up with an answer to an unfamiliar scenario, and so on), but that is not so relevant for now.
Instead, let’s focus on how the Open Water course is taught:   The student does the bulk of the theory via self-study (online, watching videos, reading the book, etc), with perhaps some additional sessions with an instructor re-visiting a few salient points and adding some additional content.   Then there is an exam to review the knowledge – which includes the importance of dive planning, of taking responsibility of your own safety, of the buddy system, of being conservative, etc.   That covers the Cognitive domain.  Then (or in parallel) the student goes into the water and completes the various skills needed to get certified as an Open Water diver.   That’s the Psychomotor domain right there.
What about the Affective domain?     Sure, in the course, a conscientious instructor will make sure the students plan their dives, stay close to their buddies, etc. etc.   But is that really the same as instilling the value of those things, to the point that it becomes something that the student takes seriously and integrates into his or her diving routine?     Very rarely so.
Simply put – while students leave with a knowledge of the buddy system, of dive planning, of getting familiar with their gear, etc., this is rarely internalized.   Then they go diving and see other divers being pretty loose about such things, and these things tend to get ignored – and repetition reduces the value even further.
And to some degree, this is understandable – in a typical course, often even teaching the psychomotor skills to a sufficient degree can be challenging.        So the instructor’s time is focused on knocking off the skills and making sure the student is safe during the course.    Furthermore, there is no checklist or requirement in the Standard manual of any agency that talks about this – after all, how can you measure this?    So often, instructors coming from a system where they aren’t mentored by more experienced instructors fail to even realize the importance of this, and end up following a checklist approach to teaching a  course:  ticking off every requirement individually but failing to integrate it into a cohesive whole.    To me, that is directly comparable to teaching someone to cook merely by teaching them to slice, dice, fry, grill, bake and roast separately, and not telling them how to put these things together.
But even when an instructor tries to teach it, they often to not face a lot of success:  the student diver is overloaded with theory and physical skills which they are doing right then – all this talk about dive planning, buddy system etc is merely theoretical noise for them, as they lack the experience to appreciate how and when it can be valuable (and typically, this realization often comes too late to be immediately useful – for example, only when you are low on air and your buddy is nowhere to be seen do you realize the value of the buddy system).
So what is the solution?     Fairly simple, really.
For one, spend some time in the Open Water course covering this.   Merely saying “remember, always stay with your buddy” or whatever isn’t going to cut it – you have to have an actual session on this.    A good way to do it is in an informal setting after the dives, where the instructor can discuss any lapses that may have happened in these areas and use that to segue into anecdotes from his or her diving experience, talk about specific situations that may have occurred on that dive site involving such lapses, etc.   Really hammer home the point, but in an interesting manner that catches the student’s interest.
Second, use the Advanced Open Water course to really drill this in.   Let’s face it, the curriculum for the Advanced Open Water course is fairly light on theory and skills – it is just meant to give the diver a taste of different types of dives, with more substantial theory in the corresponding Specialty course.    And by the time the student starts the AOW, s/he already has most of the basics of diving mastered (hopefully, anyway).    So they are less overloaded, and by virtue of having some diving experience already, more able to relate to a discussion on this diving behavior.
I have spent the last 10 years conducting one session in the Advanced  course focussed on what being an Advanced Diver entails – and PADI has also recently formalized that into their AOW curriculum.   However, this tends to get ignored a little bit as there is no checklist to measure how effective this session is, and instructors often tend to focus on what they consider the more material skills.    But really, teaching new divers to value the importance of these safe diving practices is probably the single biggest contribution an instructor can make to helping them continue to develop as divers.
What is the content covered in this discussion?  For me, it consists of, at minimum, the following:
–  How to do a self-assessment of skills at the start of every diving trip
–  The importance of checking gear – along with a practical workshop on different types of kit, what is useful where, etc.
–  Essential safety equipment to carry
–  What is sufficient real-world dive planning and the value of doing so
–  The mindset of being responsible for one’s own safety and diving with one’s comfort zone, with anecdotes on how peer pressure, etc. often make it difficult to do so
–  How to continue to improve one’s skills – short games one can play on each dive (air consumption, safety stop drills, etc)
–  How to balance staying within one’s comfort zone vs expanding that comfort zone and getting better as a diver
–  Learning the importance of saying “no, i will not dive”
–  The value of a buddy
–  How small issues can snowball into accidents
To me, a dive instructor’s role is to not just check off the list of skills in the course standards book, but to prepare the student diver to enjoy a lifetime of safe and fun-filled participation in the sport.   And that means passing on ownership of the diver’s safety from the instructor to the diver.   And this is a good way to do so.