In the Maldives, repressive politics, coral bleaching and the whale shark tourism industry are out of control. Two NGOs – Biosphere Expeditions and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) – battle on regardless. Their silver lining is civil society groups.
The two NGOs have worked in the Maldives since 1990, eventually joining forces in 2011. Today they run an annual research expedition to the Maldives, assessing coral reef fitness alongside marine health indicators such as whale sharks. “We are also very concerned by the increasingly repressive political developments,” says Dr. Matthias Hammer of Biosphere Expeditions.
El Niño devastating reefs
The recent El Niño event has severely stressed corals in the Maldives too. So much so that according to MCS’s Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt the July research trip will be “one of sadness – to see the impact of climate change. A massive bleaching event has hit the Maldives in May as a result of a strong and long El Niño. It has clearly killed many shallow water Maldives reefs. Our task is to see the extent of the damage caused and to work out which reefs are more resilient.”
Dr. Hammer adds that “Maldivian local communities are only slowly becoming more aware of human impacts on reefs and therefore the source of their livelihoods and homes. Given the very real threats to coral reefs and the rapid pace of change, communities, politicians and government must be more proactive in managing the coral reefs of the Maldives properly and sustainably.”
Photos (left to right): Surveying the reef (c) S Hashim; Whale shark (c) Biosphere Expeditions; Colours of the reef (c) S Hashim.
Unsustainable, out of control whale shark exploitation and harassment
The two NGOs also do not mince their words in their assessment of the whale shark tourism industry in South Ari Marine Protected Area. “Although the area is a Marine Protected Area (MPA), as of yet it is merely a paper park. Despite suggestions for regulations being put forward, there is neither a proper management plan that all the stakeholders agree on, nor a governing body actively involved in enforcing these regulations. As a result, boat collisions that result in major injuries to the sharks and harassment by boats and divers / snorkellers engaged in irresponsible tourism activities are the rule, rather than the exception. Whale shark tourism is therefore far from sustainable and the MPA has a long way to go until it is no longer just a paper park.”
The silver lining: Where the officialdom fails, communities step in
But it is not all doom and gloom. Where officialdom is failing, civil society and committed Maldivians are stepping in. Ever since Biosphere Expeditions started running its annual research trip to the Maldives in 2011, it has educated and trained Maldivians in reef survey techniques as part of the Biosphere Expeditions’ placement programme. This culminated in the first-ever all-Maldivian reef survey in November 2014 and other community-based conservation initiatives since then, the latest in March 2016. Shaha Hasihim of local NGO Gemana, for example, has taken part in several expeditions and is now training her compatriots in reef survey techniques and setting up community-based conservation programmes, because, in her words, “monitoring the reef on a regular basis helps local communities identify issues that may affect the health of the reefs and take preventive measures to restore the balance and ensure reef survival.”
Photos (left to right): A healthy reef with live coral and a thriving fish population (c) S Hashim; A local volunteer collects the all-important data along the Reef Check transect line (c) S Hashim; Coral bleaching has also devastated Maldives reefs (c) XL Catlin Seaview Survey.
Biosphere Expeditions is also raising funds for more placements across other parts of the planet, as part of its campaign to train 15 young conservationists in 10 countries across the globe. The funding target is $7500. Donations are most welcome.
Introducing two new Colours of OBLU resorts in the Maldives
COLOURS OF OBLU, a brand by Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts, has opened two exciting new resorts in Male Atoll in the Maldives this year.
OBLU XPERIENCE Ailafushi opened in June. Translating from the Maldivian dialect of Dhivehi, ‘Aila’ means family and ‘Fushi’ means island, in essence, the Family Island. A 15-minute speedboat ride from Velana International Airport brings guests to this beautiful tropical island.
The four-star resort’s 268 villas and rooms are designed to experience nature at its best. A striking fleet of water villas shaped like dhonis are lined up along the jetty – a perfect spot for snapping some selfies. From the moment of arrival, a carefree and relaxed holiday unfolds with the generous Fushi Plan™. Dining, activities, a multi-level kids club with a pool and food corner, overwater gym, and live entertainment are all blended within the stay for a hassle-free holiday.
Sumptuous all-day dining options are available at the Element X Restaurant which serves modern Western, Central Asian, and Far Eastern cuisines. X360 Bar features a 1000 sqm infinity pool – one of the largest in the Maldives. Guests can enjoy unlimited orders of refreshing spirits, wines, and beer from the grab and go bar counter. Evenings come alive with enthralling music and party vibes at the bar’s dance floor. The Copper Pot Food Truck parked on the beach is perfect for an open-air dinner of choicest fresh seafood and meat grills that can be relished on the soft sandy beach beneath the starry sky.
Walk up to La Promenade located beside a channel that meanders across Ailafushi island. This picturesque walkway has cosy seating corners along with a wine boutique, souvenir shop, and café. There is so much to do here — lounge at the scenic overwater deck, sip a cup of coffee, and socialise with like-minded travellers. Experiential highlights also include The Dome, a futuristic 15-meter theatre and entertainment centre.
Sister resort OBLU SELECT Lobigili is an adults only property that opened in March. In the Maldivian language of Dhivehi, ‘Lobi’ means love and ‘Gili’ means island. Lobigili is, in essence, the island of love.
Blessed with verdant foliage, this five-star resort features 68 contemporary beach and water villas – all assuring gorgeous views of the turquoise-blue lagoon. With the resort’s exclusive Lobi PlanTM guests can immerse in a blissfully carefree stay. This generous plan includes specialty fine-dining, unlimited beverages, spa services, Indian Ocean excursions, a selection of non-motorised watersports as well as a fully stocked minibar replenished daily.
OBLU SELECT Lobigili continues with the brand’s tradition of exceptional fine dining, elevating the mealtime experience with playful and fun touches. At Ylang-Ylang, the All-Day Dining Restaurant, delectable world cuisine with intimate nooks for couples and a unique book corner are unmissable. The Swing Bar with itschilled out beachside vibe features chic hammocks, swings and a stunning infinity pool that is one of the largest in the Maldives. Evenings come alive with handcrafted, aromatised cocktails and hypnotic DJ and Live Band performances.
That is not all. There is Gaadiya 17 Food Truck serving grab-and-go game meat grills to be relished in a fun, open-air setting on the beach under starry skies. And an exotic ONLY BLU Underwater Restaurant, one of the largest underwater restaurants in the country, where guests can experience impeccable modern gourmet cuisine.
A standout experience is ELE | NA The Spa – designed exclusively for couples and adults – featuring locally inspired spa treatments including Lobi Dhooni (Love Bird) Hithun Hithath (Heart To Heart) and Dhekanbalun (You & Me).
Scuba Diving from both resorts is with OBLU’s partner dive centre, TGI Maldives, one of the best-known in the country. The dive centre teaches a variety of PADI and SSI courses. The island’s house reef is perfect for relaxed dives, snorkeling and training, whilst many of North Male Atoll’s best dive sites are just a short boat ride away. In particular, the atoll is well-known for its manta ray sightings from May to October.
Discover more at www.coloursofoblu.com
SSI releases new Explorers program for kids
SSI has announced the release of the SSI Explorers Program, where kids aged 6-11 years old can get a taste of the many ways to explore the aquatic world around them. This exciting program makes diving for kids stress-free, guiding them in engaging underwater adventures where they can scuba dive, act like a real mermaid, and go underwater on a single breath with freediving. SSI has invested much time and energy into re-vamping this child-centered experience program.
Formerly known as Scuba Rangers, the new SSI Explorers Program is today’s most extensive aquatic experience program for kids in the dive industry. Children who have not yet reached the minimum age for scuba diving will not only gain a solid foundation in ocean conservation, but they will have the opportunity to experience four main aquatic adventures and many specialties.
Your young aquatic explorer will join Emma and Nico on exciting underwater adventures with their marine friends, Star the starfish, Shelly the sea turtle, and Spike the shark. The comprehensive children’s manual is very engaging, with colourful cartoon drawings and authentic ocean images for this young audience. Emma and Nico guide children throughout the manual’s educational content in a fun and engaging way, using Spike as their equipment expert and Shelly as the ocean environment advocate.
The SSI Explorers materials start by introducing children to the importance of protecting and preserving our oceans by becoming a Blue Oceans Explorer. After learning why our oceans are important, about the world’s five oceans, and what they can do to help protect our oceans, students earn the SSI Blue Oceans Explorer recognition rating. They can then move on to learn all there is to know about snorkel equipment and snorkelling in a confined water environment to earn their Snorkel Explorer rating.
After completing these two initial experiences, SSI Explorers can choose from one of three aquatic adventures and either become a Scuba Explorer, Mermaid Explorer, or Freediving Explorer. Better yet, they can continue on to earn all three ratings!
SSI Mermaid Explorers get to swim around like real mermaids while improving their swimming skills. SSI Freediving Explorers will go underwater and dive deeper by holding their breath longer in an encouraging, relaxed environment. Explorers who have not met the minimum age for scuba diving can try it out within the safety of a pool or confined water and become an SSI Scuba Explorer.
The fun doesn’t stop there, however! SSI Explorers can go on even more underwater adventures to earn 22 different Specialty Explorer ratings. They can improve their explorer skills with exciting specialties like Underwater Model Explorer, Rescue Explorer, Shark Ecology Explorer, and Search & Rescue Explorer, just to name a few. Your child can earn the Specialty Explorer recognition rating by completing two Explorer specialties. When they complete four specialties, they will become Advanced Explorers, and after completing the Rescue Explorer specialty, they can become a Master Explorer. SSI Explorers will even be able to earn real C-Cards just like their parents to show off their hard-earned recognition ratings.
To look back on their explorer fun, SSI has included a logbook section toward the back of the colourfully engaging SSI Explorers manual. The Explorer Logbook is where students can record details of their underwater adventures as they work through these exciting experiences. Near the logbook, SSI has also included an area for the Explorer Instructor to place an SSI recognition sticker specific to each completed explorer activity. Children will be excited to work toward earning them all!
The SSI Explorers program is now available as a book or digitally in four languages: German, English, Spanish, and Italian, with more languages hopefully coming soon.
Training the next generation of ocean lovers and aquatic enthusiasts is very important to SSI and all SSI Training Centres and Pros. The SSI Explorers Program is an excellent way to promote ocean conservation and aquatic safety in our younger population and prepare them for future open water certification opportunities once they reach the minimum age for scuba diving.
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