The Maldives have recently been in the international environmental spotlight for two reasons: the 2013 IPCC report names the archipelago as one of the countries that is most affected by climate change; and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas designated them as an Ocean “Hope Spot”, a special place critical to the ocean’s health. As such, the Maldives are poised to set an example at a global scale, demonstrating climate change adaptation through marine conservation. The resort house reefs project has thus been selected, documented and shared as a "Blue Solution".
Tourism is the main driving force of the Maldives’ economy accounting for more than 30% of GDP. The tourism industry is highly dependent on the pristine nature of the marine environment.
However, coral reefs in the Maldives are facing multiple local severe pressures, including fishing, pollution and sedimentation. The global impacts of climate change including spikes in sea temperatures have already damaged a substantial amount of coral reefs, especially since the severe coral bleaching and mortality caused by the 1998 El Niño event.
The most extensive platform for coral reef management in the country lies with the more than 100 individual island resorts scattered across the island chain. Effective management and protection is a key factor in mitigating impact and enhancing resilience and adaptation to inevitable climate change effects.
IUCN developed a strong collaboration with the government and civil society in Maldives, including cooperation with Kuoni, a global travel-related service provider, the Ministries of Tourism, Fisheries and Agriculture, and Environment and Energy, and CDE Ltd. Together, the partnership has developed and implemented an innovative approach towards decentralized management and governance of coral reefs in the Maldives by working with resorts to develop and declare their house reefs as privately managed areas.
The resort house reefs are protected by law from all extractive activities, except for bait fishing by the local fishers. An initial engagement with 5 resorts has provided valuable lessons and experiences, and serves to demonstrate the approach and replicate it widely across the country. The partnership is now working towards a national network of managed marine areas (MMA) across all resort islands, enabling resorts to practice good coral reef management, and to understand their rights and those of others, while enhancing coral reef resilience.
Following ecological surveys that identify potentially resilient areas, IUCN technical and guidance materials and training supports resorts in the development of zoning plans for their house reefs, in turn enhancing the potential to regulate fishing and diving activities.
Resort staff are increasingly well informed about the marine environment in order to communicate its value to the guests. Resort managers, marine biologists and dive operators are trained through national or atoll scale workshops to understand the impacts of climate change on coral reefs and to effectively manage their house reefs. Resorts are committed to employing marine biologists, who are trained to regularly enter reef monitoring data into a national data portal, which allows for a more complete assessment of the reefs’ status and monitoring effectiveness of newly created MMAs, and for the network across the country.
To ensure long term decentralized governance of coral reefs, monitoring and management plans will be endorsed by both resorts and government.
Progress in Maldives has been inspired by solutions more in-tune with the national context and interests of the dominant economic sector. The lesson is that establishing networks of marine managed areas, at-scale, provides a substantial contribution to the quantity and quality of conservation efforts in the country. The flexibility for zoning individual areas for different uses - that may or may not include protected, no-take zones - provides more opportunities for legal designation, credible establishment and effective and comprehensive management of marine resources than attempting to impose strict marine protected areas or working with ad-hoc, individual, un-linked MMAs.
As the partnership evolves in both extent and duration, the expectation is for the Maldives to lead the way in both inspiring, and scaling-up, local commitments to conservation action – fortunately, it is not yet the last resort for this vulnerable yet pro-active island nation.
For more information, contact Dr. A. Abdulla (firstname.lastname@example.org)