Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) and manta rays (Manta alfredi and Manta birostris) are listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable, meaning that their populations are declining. With their spectacular large size and their regular occurrence in Maldivian waters, they are of great value to the country’s tourism - they are a popular sighting for wildlife viewers and a sought-after attraction for tour operators. Interestingly, these species are actually poorly known and much studying still needs to be done to better understand their biological needs and to guide protection efforts.

The IUCN project, Understanding and Conserving the Gentle Giants of the Oceans , with funding by Global Blue and USAID, and with the help of partners including Maldives manta ray and whale shark research programs, aims to:

1. Facilitate research to increase knowledge of the local whale sharks and manta rays

2. Increase awareness about these species

3. Provide recommendations for conservation and management of these species in selected areas

To reach these goals, IUCN is establishing working partnership with many local stakeholders. Building on the knowledge already acquired, it is assisting in developing and disseminating educational material and research data. Such material was used to develop a set of best practices to help the conservation of the species.

A series of workshops has been organised, mainly for resort biologists, tour operators and dive instructors. The workshops focus on whale sharks and manta rays identification (down to the individual) and biology, on data collection and on best practices to follow when bringing visitors to view the animals.