Aruba is home to some of the best natural and shipwreck scuba diving and snorkeling sites in the Caribbean. However, the island doesn’t simply rest on its laurels. Instead, everyone from environmentalists and local government officials to visiting scuba divers and snorkelers are doing their part to preserve the area’s pristine underwater ecosystems. Nearly two decades ago, while Aruba’s tourism industry was blossoming, marine biologists and environmentalists began noticing changes in the delicate reef ecosystems that surround the island. In addition to other protective measures, the island developed the Aruba Reef Care Project – an annual event dedicated to underwater clean-up at the island’s most popular dive sites. Held each summer – this year on the weekend of July 4th – the Aruba Reef Care Project encourages the participation of visiting scuba divers and promises a unique ecotourism, as well as voluntourism, opportunity for those that want to make a difference while they enjoy Aruba’s underwater sights.
While Aruba relies heavily on the tourism industry, welcoming eager travelers to the island has an undeniable impact the environment. However, Aruban officials and environmentalists alike have recognized that the island’s natural sights – both on the island and beneath the surface of the Caribbean Sea – are what help set this destination apart. As a result, the entire island – including the government, local businesses and residents – has come together to make environmentally-conscious changes. For instance, in the last few years, local businesses and residents worked to implement a responsible water purification system that greatly reduces the island’s waste, while resorts and other businesses that occupy the shorelines have increased their clean-up and preservation efforts. Additionally, the Aruban government is working towards a comprehensive plan to protect offshore coral reefs and underwater ecosystems as part of the proposed Aruba Marine Park.
Tourists, of course, don’t see much of this action, but are able to reap the rewards. Yet, for tourists that pride themselves on making a difference and treating their travel destinations as homes-away-from-home, the Aruba Reef Care Project offers a remarkable opportunity. As the primary annual event for the Aruba Reef Care Project is the comprehensive removal of debris from the coral reefs surrounding the island, scuba divers and snorkelers are always welcomed with open arms by local organizers. Those that sign up to participate will be able to enjoy many of Aruba’s best dive sites, but oftentimes in a more intimate manner than experienced on traditional scuba diving tours. Organizers have reported that less debris is now pulled from the coral reefs as a result of volunteer efforts, despite the fact that more scuba diving and snorkeling tours visit the sites each year. Participants can also take pride in knowing that the program has impacted the entire culture of Aruba, as local schools now feature classes on environmental protection and responsibility.
The annual reef cleanup undertaken by the Aruba Reef Care Project also offers one of the Caribbean’s best chances to experience both ecotourism – a term developed to highlight environmentally-responsible travel opportunities – and voluntourism – an emerging tourism niche that encourages volunteer work alongside sightseeing. The program has already received extensive coverage throughout the Caribbean and Latin America for its efforts, while international news and travel organizations have begun covering both the positive environmental impact and unique tourism opportunity. Several programs like the Aruba Reef Care Project are developing in both the Caribbean and elsewhere, but few offer such a remarkable combination of recreation, sightseeing and service.
Now is a great time to join over 800 local and visiting scuba divers and snorkelers in helping preserve some of the world’s most treasured underwater sights. In addition to the pride that comes with making a difference in the world, volunteers are always left with a sense of awe upon encountering some of the most vibrant coral reefs in the Caribbean.