The second Maldives Manta Festival took place on B. Eydhafushi from 20-21st September 2019 and was a booming success. The Baa Atoll Manta Festival, collaboratively spearheaded by Manta Trust, the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Baa Atoll Education Centre (BAEC), Baa Atoll and Eydhafushi Island Councils, and Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, engaged over 50 businesses and environmental organisations. Dozens of stalls and activities featured educational games designed to excite 320 participating students from thirteen schools about marine conservation.
The memorable opening ceremony featured a welcome dance by students of Manta Trust’s Moodhu Madharusaa Marine Education Program from BAEC, dancing to the theme song ‘Hanifaru Bay’, written by Abdulla Muaz. Inspirational speeches were given by Baa Atoll Council President Mr Mabrook Naseer, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director General Ibrahim Naeem, Minister of State for Environment Dr Abdulla Naseer and Chief Guest Vice President Faisal Naseem. Mr Naseem highlighted the sacrifices the community has made to be a part of the Biosphere Reserve and the importance of continuing to protect the Maldives’ precious environment, including the World’s largest recorded population of reef manta rays (Mobula alfredi).
Thirty stalls open to the public featured marine conservation themed games and goodies from NGOs including the Olive Ridley Project, the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program, Atoll Marine Centre, Zero Waste Maldives and BeLeaf. Visitors engaged in competitions offering sustainable prizes, printed their own personalised reusable bag and shopped from Malé businesses including Island Bazaar, Oevaali Art shop and Pepper Dots. Manta Trust offered the unique opportunity to swim with manta rays in virtual reality whilst Maldives Post offered the international crowd the chance to send manta-themed postcards home.
Despite unfavourable weather which affected snorkelling-based activities, students were able to engage in a wide range of educational events at the school. Saturday 21st September saw the students getting involved in a waste segregation session for World Coastal Clean-up Day, hosted by BAEC, Soneva Fushi, Parley and Manta Trust. Students from thirteen islands bought jumbo bags of beach clean-up waste to the event and engaged in a hands-on session to learn how to properly separate recyclables.
A live art competition saw exciting prizes awarded to paintings which creatively highlighted the plight of the ocean, with the adult category winner receiving return flights from festival Airline Partner, Manta Air. Saturday afternoon brought the school drama competition, with each performance centred around a different charismatic megafauna species. BAEC received a standing ovation following an emotional performance focused on the threats of fishing on manta rays. Thulhaadhoo took home the second prize whilst K. Dhiffushi won third place following a performance packed with creative costumes.
In the month leading up to the festival, 200 students of ten schools from Baa and Raa Atoll were taken snorkelling with manta rays by partner resorts and the Biosphere Reserve team. Students spent an hour inside the World-renowned Hanifaru Bay, snorkelling with up to fifty of these gentle giants. The trips built on the event’s aim to inspire young Maldivians to become ocean advocates and engage more with water-based activities, featuring snorkelling equipment funded by donations from last year’s festival.
For Ifaasha Abdul Raheem, the festivals school coordinator, the experience was memorable:
“This has been one the best experiences in my life! Manta festival has not only boosted my love towards nature, but it also has made me a better person in every possible way. This festival has brought an immense impact to our youth to fall in love with our environment and made them realise the crucial role they can play in their community! Most importantly, this was an opportunity for our students to explore, learn and a golden chance to show their creativity and love towards nature. I loved every bit of it! Glad to be part of this amazing event.”
The festival concluded with an energetic prize giving ceremony and an air of anticipation and excitement for the next event.
The festival was generously sponsored by 15 resorts: Four Seasons, Vakkaru, Ocean Dimensions at Kihaa, Anantara Kihavah, Nautilus, Reethi Faru, Milaidhoo, Sea-Explorer and Reethi Beach, Finolhu, Amilla Fushi, Dusit Thani and Ocean Group, Westin Maldives, Euro-Divers Maldives and Meeru Island Resort, and Soneva Fushi. Festivities were covered by Media Partner PSM and Online Media Partner Eydhafushi Times. 260 visiting students were hosted overnight by Baa Atoll Education Centre, whilst guests reached Eydhafushi with support from Travel Partner MTCC and Airline Partner Manta Air.