|From left to right: Shaha Hashim, Rafil Mohamed, Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, Ibrahim Shameel (c) Biosphere Expeditions.|
By Biosphere Expeditions
After years of investment by Marine Conservation Society’s Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt in training Maldivian divers in Reef Check methods in collaboration with Biosphere Expeditions, the first ever Maldives survey undertaken by nationals alone takes place today (14 November 2014) at Velassaru reef, just to the south of the capital, Male’.
The surveys are being organised by Mr. Rafil Mohamed of the Divers Association of Maldives and Ms. Shaha Hashim from local NGO Gemana – both of them qualified as Reef Check EcoDiver Trainers in September 2014 whilst aboard the MV Carpe Diem for the recent Biosphere Expeditions survey of North Male’ reefs. Facilitating this survey is Mr. Adam Ashraf from Dive Desk Dive Centre in Male'. The rest of the team is made up of Ibrahim Shameel from the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme and other Maldivian nationals from different NGOs and civil society.
They and the Maldivian organisations they represent are committed to preserving the reefs of the Maldives in the face of population growth, increased demand on reef fish from the tourist and grouper fishery sectors, and climate change threats. The hope is that civil society bottom-up efforts such as these are eventually mirrored by active government management of the Maldives’ spectacular reefs, including comprehensive controls on fish sizes when exported and caught, reductions in overfishing of local reefs and marine reserve stipulations properly enforced at or near to every tourist island.
Individuals undertaking the survey have all been trained by Dr. Solandt, some at the Marine Research Centre in Male’, and others during the course of Biosphere Expeditions' research work around the archipelago since 2011.
Dr. Solandt says he is “delighted that this survey is taking place. Reef Check provides all the data that managers of reefs need in order to make informed decisions on reef health. The beauty of the Reef Check methodology is that it is replicated every year in different parts of the world, producing valuable insights on how reefs are doing over time. The stark truth of the data collected around the Maldives so far is that reefs have very low numbers and sizes of grouper – a very important predatory fish. This is of concern, because local islanders depend on fish, and many predator fish species are important to keep in check some of the animals that damage the reef (such as Crown-of-Thorns starfish and Drupella snails – both of which eat corals).”
Rafil Mohamed adds “I would like to thank Dr. Solandt and Biosphere Expeditions again for certifying us as Reef Check EcoDivers and trainers. Dr. Solandt’s training efforts and the Biosphere Expeditions placement programme for locals (in association with LaMer and the Rufford Foundation) for locals have kick-started us into doing this first of what we hope will be many community-based surveys to come. In the absence of the Maldives government doing any meaningful conservation work on the reefs that form the very bedrock of our country and livelihoods, it falls to us as ordinary Maldivians to preserve the reefs, not least because of their beauty, but also because of their importance for our lives and culture. Because without our reefs, there would be no Maldives.”