jamesgreenblue

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saving coral reefs with digital impact

This post originally appeared on The Reef-World Foundation website.

From my very first day at Reef-World, I have wanted to present the Green Fins dive and snorkel centre members on an interactive map. A technical challenge but one that would be hugely beneficial to our members as well as eco-minded tourists. If you’ve been on the Green Fins website recently, you may have spotted this is one of many exciting updates we have been able to make.

While digital innovation has always been important, the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic makes it even more so. Digital transformation provides a way for us to make a head start on educating tourists about green practices and helping operators improve their sustainability while waiting for tourism to reopen. Global travel may be on pause right now but actions that protect coral reefs don’t need to be.

A key goal of Reef-World’s 20–21 digital strategy is for Green Fins to better cater to individual tourists, encouraging them to engage with the programme before they travel. Raising awareness of environmental best practice pre-departure will increase the chance that tourists will choose member operators who are taking steps to protect coral reefs and follow Green Fins best practice while enjoying these precious environments. By doing this we are streamlining the process for tourists to find those operators that have lower impacts on the reef which protects them in the long term.

Before the re-launch, there were two Green Fins websites: the main website and a separate database housing the listings of all Green Fins members. The different designs of the two sites made for a disjointed experience; it was hard to casually browse to the member listings and, once there, it wasn’t obvious how to go back. Reef-World used these platforms because they were the best sticking plaster at the time, providing a way for the team to fundraise and publish content without having to pay a developer for each change. It has been exciting personally to help the charity overcome hurdles that were previously inaccessible without in-house digital skills.

I’m thrilled that we can now present Green Fins members on an interactive world map. This makes it much easier for website visitors to discover Green Fins operators in destinations where they might be considering a trip. As a result of being more easily discoverable, we anticipate Green Fins members will receive more enquiries from the growing number of tourists actively seeking out more sustainable operators.

As the programme continues to grow in popularity, it is important that we build solutions with scaling in mind so we can handle peaks in visitor traffic; for example, when the programme is featured in the news or when Reef-World exhibits at conferences. This would have been too expensive to accomplish reliably with our previous setup.

When planning the new website, we had to think carefully about our requirements, our priorities and what we could realistically accomplish during the time available. Due to factors outside our control, we had less than 90 days to go live. To make the most of that time, we identified the functionality that was essential for launch and focused on delivering that in time for the cut off. After researching our options, I recommended we conduct the development in-house: building on WordPress with specialist hosting and making use of existing third-party plugins where possible.

Reef-World is a small team that punches above our weight when we come together on projects. Between us, we:

  • designed and coded a new visual layout to improve the visibility of active Green Fins members,
  • restructured and redrafted the website content, simplifying the content structure to appeal to tourists and emphasise the resources Reef-World creates to support divers, snorkellers and the wider industry,
  • installed and configured three WordPress development environments (live, staging, sandbox) to safely build and test changes without disrupting live visitors on the website, 
  • migrated the back catalogue of news and blog posts so we didn’t lose this valuable record, 
  • optimised the site for search engines to be easily found online, 
  • established a link to send information between the Green Fins database and the new website so that member information is automatically refreshed every 4 hours,
  • plotted the GPS coordinates for each member location for accurate map display, 
  • uploaded and filtered downloadable materials to make it easy for end users to find appropriate materials,
  • tested the experience to ensure it worked as expected and, ultimately, 
  • transitioned between the two solutions without breaking anything! 

Phew! As I’m sure you can imagine, this much work kept us all busy right up until launch day. Despite this the website went live on time and under budget, a second phase of enhancements is planned for later this year.

Screenshot of the Green Fins website homepage
A screenshot of the Green Fins website homepage

The new website is much more member centric and informative for tourists wanting to learn about the initiative and what they can do to protect coral reefs. Reducing local direct threats from tourism will increase reef resilience and contribute to the long term survival of this critical ecosystem. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome of the project and am excited to see more people diving with Green Fins operators and being mindful when they visit coral reef destinations as a result. We now plan to build on this success with a new digital innovation project to spread the word about sustainable diving and snorkelling – onwards and upwards!

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