Maldives to cut net carbon emissions ‘100%’ by 2020, pledges president

The Maldives has informed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that it will reduce its net carbon emissions by 100% before 2020.

This is not a total reduction of emissions but rather a statement of carbon neutrality. The president’s pledge to the UNFCCC following the Copenhagen Accord is currently the most ambitious emissions reduction target to be submitted by any country.

Deputy Environment Minister Dr Mohamed Shareef acknowledged that the promise to reduce net emissions by 100% was misleading.

“That would seem that a country would not produce any CO2 at all. This is possible in the long term, but at a great cost,” he said.

“Airplanes will land, sea vessels will use diesel; what the government actually means is that they will offset their carbon emissions.”

Dr Shareef explained that carbon neutrality meant a country offsetting at least half its emissions by using renewable energy sources.

The president said the country was working with renewable energy providers to install wind turbines and solar panels, and would request technological and financial support to implement its ambitions to become carbon neutral.

“New technologies allow us to both develop and maintain a healthy environment. It is time mankind moves into the Green Age,” the president urged.

“Climate change threatens us all. If we don’t act now, we will lose the rainforests, lose the coral reefs and, potentially, lose human civilization itself.”


Whale shark researchers threatened at knife point, lose research permit

The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) has had its research permit suspended by the ministry of fisheries and agriculture after complaints about the organisation’s research methods.

“The Divers’ Association and segments of the community complained to us that they were unhappy with the way the research was being conducted,” said Minister of State for Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan.

The ministry was concerned that the research “was not being conducted under the conditions issued”, he said, adding that “the decision was made in consultation with the ministry of tourism and community stakeholders.”

The MWSRP researchers have been involved in an ongoing dispute over the tagging of whale sharks with the Divers Association of the Maldives and a number of safari boat operators, who claim the practice is driving the rarely-seen species away from its habitat and threatening the livelihoods of safari and dive boat operators.

The MWSRP contends that the tagging is harmless and the whale sharks are being driven away by the throngs of boats and swimmers that converge every time a shark breaks the surface.

The dispute reached a head on 13 January when the researchers claimed their vessel was boarded and the crew threatened at knife-point.

MWSRP’s director Richard Rees said eight men from a liveaboard called ‘The Southern Cross’ came alongside the researchers’ vessel on 13 January.

“Their spokesman was armed with a knife,” Rees said. “It started out reasonable. We told him to ask his questions about our research and we would try to answer them.”

The researchers said in a statement that they tried to explain that tagging “does not lead to evasive behaviour in the sharks and is imperative to the conservation of the species”, and that moreover, “we have not tagged in South Ari atoll since May 2009.”

They said the man then accused them “of tagging 300 whale sharks. We explained that there are only 130 known individuals in the whole of the Maldives.”

“He then declared, ‘I have no interest in shark research. I don’t care if hundreds of people come here to see the sharks. I just care about my safari boat businesses.'”

Following the verbal stoush, Rees said the men demanded to see the vessel’s research permit and search the boat.

“We didn’t have the permit with us, so we phoned the ministry of fisheries and agriculture. [The ministry] said we had their full backing, after that the men became aggressive.”

A statement from the researchers claimed the man waved his knife at them and said: ‘I don’t care about the government or research. If you are in the area tomorrow I will bring more safari boats to fight with you and sink your dhoni. If you continue your research I will kill you all.'”

Rees said the man then slashed the banners identifying the ship as a research vessel and said worse would happen if the boat was in the same area the following day.

“It was a real nice experience for us; two of the people on board were on their first day as volunteers,” Rees said, adding that after the men left the vessel the researchers retreated to avoid inflaming the situation further.

“We remained calm and said we were going straight to the police. Then the Southern Cross’s sister ship MV Orion turned up and chased us down, said we didn’t have a permit and continued to harass us.”

Inspector Ahmed Shiyam from Maldives Police Service confirmed a complaint had been filed and that while no arrests had been made, the case was currently under investigation and had been referred to officers in Male.

“We can’t say anything yet. We will investigate and make recommendations to the relevant government authorities,” he said.

Rees said that it was not just the researchers who had been threatened by the liveaboards.

Ismail Mohamed from the water sports section at Diva Resort and Spa said congestion and poor behaviour around whale sharks in early January had led to one of the resort’s guests being hit in the head by a dive dhoni while he was swimming in the water.

“They can’t control the boat that close,” he said, adding that while the guest had escaped with bruising and swelling and was filing a complaint with the resort, a lot of whale sharks also suffered from propeller damage because of the boats getting too close.

The proximity of the reef break near the popular whale sighting spot also meant “that if [other vessels] crash into me and there’s a problem [with the engine], my boat will crash on the reef and I will lose it.”

The crew of some liveaboards had also shown poor behaviour to some of Diva’s guests, “throwing dive weights and showing their naked behinds, which is disappointing behaviour for Maldivians. One guest was very angry, I think he also made a complaint.”

Tagging controversy

Ahmed Risheen from the advisory board of the Divers Association of the Maldives said the tension had been building between the vessels and the researchers because of their tagging methods.

“The sharks are disappearing because they are tagging them and taking samples. It’s a threat [to the shark’s] environment – because of the research there are less whale sharks,” Risheen said.

“They’ve been working for only three years, Maldivians have been watching sharks here for 15 years. We have a really good code of conduct here.”

Risheen also accused the MWSRP of tagging in front of guests, an activity Rees denied.

“We have a policy not to tag when tourists or boats are in the area, because we understand what their responses are going to be,” he replied.

The tagging itself was harmless to the animal, he said, “and the majority do not react. Some swim away, but we catch up and take photos to make sure tagging occurred properly.”

Allegations that researchers had boasted on their website that tagging the sharks was “like drinking coffee on a roller-coaster” were false, the researchers said.

“It is very disappointing that people believe hearsay. Our website is readily available for anyone to read and to be able to contact the MWSRP to obtain the correct information.”

The tagging process was “essential to learn more about them,” Rees insisted. The organisation’s research had revealed that the sharks travelled “enormous distances but come back to the [Maamigilli] area over and over again. “This is important because if the shark goes into international waters there are conservation implications – they are not protected outside the Maldives.”

The tags also recorded depth and temperature, allowing the reseachers to plot the whale sharks’ vertical habitats.

“The sharks spend an awful lot of time very deep and only surface infrequently, often at night. It’s amazing we get sightings at all – this kind of information is of huge value to the tourist industry.”

Opportunities to see whale sharks were unpredictable and “very limited”, he said.

“A lot of liveaboards guarantee ‘whale shark encounters’ which is ludicrous. There’s huge pressure when there are no sharks and they blame it on our research program – we have data that proves this is not the case.”

Risheen insisted that researchers’ conduct in the Maamigilli area, “the only place where you’re guaranteed to see whale sharks”, was affecting vessels’ “businesses and livelihoods.”

As for the attack on the researchers, “I heard that story, and I really regret that a Maldivian diver has done that – we’re trying to track this guy down also. We’ve had a lot of calls from Ari atoll asking us to do something about [the situation] and we’ve been trying, but apparently we were a little late.”


Risheen also claimed the MWSRP were commercialising their research “through a contract with Conrad [Rangali Island] Resort.”

Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan said the ministry was also concerned about this, “as the terms and conditions [of the research permit] state that the research must not be exploited for commercial advantage.”

“I visited their website and the researchers are asking people to donate money to sponsor whale sharks – nobody can sponser a whale, nobody has the right except the Maldives government. I’m very concerned about somebody saying they can sponsor our animals.”

Rees said the MWSRP was meeting with the ministry on 30 January to explain the program and the tagging methods that had been used.

“We will also be making our findings available on our website,” he said.

Image provided by the MWSRP.


Rock melon project proving fruitful

Nafiza Abdul Gafoor expertly holds a rock melon in her hands, and shows the technique for cutting it. The 32 year-old has worked in the farming sector for years, and training in Malaysia last year has also made her among the few Maldivians qualified in ‘auto pot’ farming.

‘Auto pot’ is a variation on hydroponics, and was introduced to Maldives through rock melon farming projects carried out by UNDP and Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture.

“This is a very good method of farming for the Maldives,” says Nafiza. She works as field officer in the four month-old greenhouse in Gnavyiyani Atoll Fuvamulah.

Creating a greenhouse

UNDP and the Ministry of Agriculture invited proposals from interested NGOs in early 2009.

“Our proposal won as we had already found the land and installed the well needed for it,” says Nafiza, who is part of the NGO Society for Environmental Awareness (SEA).

A melon ripening in the greenhouse
A melon ripening in the greenhouse

The Malaysian experts assigned to the project did not deem the land as suitable as it was too swampy. Within three months another area of land was procured, and it took the experts ten days to set up the green house and plant the first batch of rock melon plants.

“Now we always maintain 500 plants here,” Nafiza says.

The tedious task of weeding at the onset put off some of those recruited from the eight wards of the island: “Our staff is from nearby three wards now, as the greenhouse is on one end of the island.”

The first six months salary is paid by UNDP. Afterward, seventy per cent of dividends reaped from selling rock melon will be divided among staff with the rest being equally split for marketing, procuring products, and business expansion.

The staff of 32 consists mostly of women apart, with the exception of three men.

Aiminath Waheeda, 42, is a tailor by profession and has her own tailor shop but professeses a fascination for farming.

“My children are grown up now. I have time to do this, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” says Aiminath.

After selling the first batch of melons last month she says she hopes for a better income in the future.

Planting and harvesting

“Within 58 days of planting we can harvest melons,” Nafiza explains.

The melons have to be visually perfect without any marks; this means that Nafiza and the others are careful to avoid walking near the plants once they flower, in case the brushes up against any leaves: “If you touch the plant or even brush up against it after it had flowered, there is the chance of the melon getting marks.”

Special fertilizers are added once a week to the tank that pumps water to the pots through an automated system. This is increased to twice a week once the plant flowers.

“After harvesting the melons we get rid of the plant, and plant the prepared ones the next day.”

Local supplier Happy Market buys melon from them and sells to resorts.

Misty inside the greenhouse
Misty inside the greenhouse


“We wanted to introduce a method of farming that would also appeal to the younger generation,” says Dr Aiminath Shafia, state minister for agriculture. Youngsters aren’t keen to toil in the sun, and modern methods such as this could tempt them to farming, she reasons.

The scarcity of land in Maldives and the potential for creating high quality products is another reason for introducing auto pot production methods.

“We have also discussed it with resorts, which are willing to buy the produce if quality and consistency can be guaranteed.” Dr Shafia says linking the greenhouses with resorts is part of the project.

The pilot project carried out in Noonu Atoll Kendhikulhudhoo a couple of years ago proved to be a roaring success and is on the verge of expansion, while in Vaavu Atoll Felidhoo the green house is doing extremely well and another in Baa Atoll Baarah is already selling to nearby resorts.

The next two projects are an island in Addu Atoll and in Thaa Atoll Veymandoo. “We have not done projects in Addu Atoll and there are resorts nearby there, and Veymandoo is a farming island and we have other projects there as well,” Dr Shafia says.

She wants to introduce this method of farming to more people.

“We are willing to carry out little projects of ten pots for a small fee to those who reside in Male,” she says.


Shark fishing to be banned from March

In a back room of a shop on Boduthakurufaanu Magu, sea cucumbers lay drying all around and the stench of stale fish hangs thick in the air.

Ahmed Riza, 43, brings out a shark fin for inspection before opening a huge flip-top container filled with fins of varying sizes. The cartilage, once fused to the body of a ill-fated shark, was still visible, sitting like a row of teeth across each of the dull grey fins.

Riza is a middleman, who for the past 20 years, has earned a living buying and selling shark fins to foreign customers. He sells up to 400kg of shark fins a month at around Rf300 (US$23) a kilo.

But the cruel manner in which fins are sliced off sharks before their bodies are dumped in the sea, coupled with the endangered status of many species, prompted the government to make a landmark decision last year. President Mohamed Nasheed announced the Maldives would outlaw shark fishing up to 12 nautical miles (22km) off the coast of all atolls.

This March, the ban is to be extended to cover oceanic sharks – a move praised by marine biologists who have lobbied hard for the 37 species of shark that swim through the Maldives to be protected.

In preparation, the government proposed a three-point plan: find alternative livelihoods for the 200-odd shark fishermen, increase police boat patrols and educate customs officials to recognise shark products. As shark fins are largely for export, the success of the ban rests on the vigilance of Maldives Customs.

With the March deadline fast approaching, however, little appears to have been done. While Dr Hussain Rasheed, the state minister for fisheries and agriculture, maintains that “by and large people know about the shark ban”, interviews with those working in the industry reveal otherwise.

Riza was unaware that it was President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration that had made the decision.

“We first heard about it during Maumoon’s time but since this government came to power we haven’t heard anything about it. They haven’t made any official announcements,” he says.

Marie Saleem, an environment consultant who worked in the Marine Research Centre for 16 years, expresses a similar sentiment.

“I’ve also been trying to find out [what the government has done] and to my knowledge nothing has been done since then.”

Tourist attraction

Ibrahim Adam, 32, is from Alif Dhaal Dhagethi, one of main shark fishing hubs, where six boats catch around two tonnes of shark fins a month each.

A shark fisherman for the past 15 years, Adam was anxious about the impending ban, which will end his monthly income of between Rf12,000 (US$934) and Rf15,000 (US$1,167).

According to Marie, once de-finned, Maldivian fishermen do not discard the remainder of the shark.

“Although some divers have seen sharks without fins, the fishermen I’ve worked with salt and dry the shark.”

The fins are then sold to distributors such as Riza and on to foreign customers, predominantly from East Asia, where they are a delicacy. A key ingredient of shark fin soup, the fins are considered to have rejuvenating properties and sell for more than $300 a kilo.

Stable ecosystems

As predators at the top of the food chain, maintaining shark populations in balance is crucial to the preservation of ocean ecosystems. Overfishing of sharks triggers a domino effect of changes that carries down to several fish species and contributes to the overall degradation of these fragile ecosystems.

As part of their campaign, marine biologists showed that keeping sharks alive was more profitable to the Maldives: for 30 per cent of tourists who visit for the Indian Ocean archipelago for its spectacular marine life, sighting sharks is a priority.

Moreover, while the shark fishermen contribute an estimated US$100,000 a year to the economy, diving with sharks generates a hefty US$2.3 million.

In October, guests staying at Soneva Fushi resort complained after seeing shark fins drying on Baa atoll Thuladhoo, said Anke Hofmeister, a marine biologist at the resort.

“They took photos and we sent them to the ministry, but they said they were not certain these fins were from the reef so it slipped through a loophole.”

After March this loophole will be closed but both Adam and Riza say they still hope the government will amend the ban.

“We’ll be happy if they just give us an area. Maybe they can designate an area outside of the tourist zones for us,” Adam says.

In 1998, concerns about the effect of shark fishing on the tourism industry led the government to impose a 10-year moratorium on shark fishing in seven tourist atolls. However officials acknowledged there was no way of determining whether a shark fin came from a tourist atoll.

Trade in shark fin is to be banned from March
Trade in shark fin is to be banned from March

Plan of action

State Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan says the government is committed to conservation, adding his ministry is in the process of formulating a National Plan of Action using results from consultations with affected communities.

“Shark fishing is very seasonal. It’s not a livelihood as such…it’s not their whole livelihoods. Nothing drastic will happen if we have a total ban on it, and as a nation it’s our responsibility to protect sharks.”

Rasheed said the government was recruiting 30 Fisheries Enforcement Officers for all atolls to check fishing vessels for necessary paperwork as well as their catch.

But, he said, a lack of funds had thus far thwarted the government’s main objective: to buy back the equipment used for shark fishing.

“We urge those concerned and NGOs to help out by buying back the fishing gear,” he appealed.

Thereafter, the ministry plans to encourage shark fishermen to take up the more lucrative alternative of fishing for yellow-fin tuna, although Rasheed concedes, this requires larger fishing vessels.

Until then, shark fishermen such as Adam still await government assistance.

“The fisheries minister came to our island last year and told us about the ban. He said the government would find other ways for us to live before they impose the ban. We’re still waiting on that,” he said.

“I was very sad when I first heard about it. It’s my entire livelihood and what I do to support my family. It would be a great injustice to tell us not to go fishing anymore. It’s like telling someone not to go in to the office.”


President bids for renewable energy investment at summit

President Mohamed Nasheed has opened the Maldives as a place “to test the latest renewable technologies in energy, waste, water, housing and transport.”

Speaking at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, Nasheed invited assembled government ministers and energy company representatives “to come to the Maldives and share the best of your technologies.”

“The Maldives is open for business. To my mind, the smart money is green,” he said, predicting the introduction of a carbon market would eventually drive up the price of fossil alternatives.

“Renewables are becoming more efficient and affordable. While fossil fuels may [now] appear cheaper, sooner or later polluters will be forced to pay for the damage their products cause. When they do, market failures will be corrected and carbon pollution will be properly penalised.”

During the three day Summit, Abu Dhabi’s General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced the emirate will invest US$15 billion in alternative energy projects, including Masdar City, the world’s first carbon and waste-free city.

“Abu Dhabi has reliably provided the world with energy for several decades,” Sheikh Mohammed said. “Global demand for energy continues to increase ever rapidly. As an energy provider, we have the responsibility to continue to meet that demand.”

Nasheed said he hoped Abu Dhabi’s “pioneering work in renewable energy and carbon neutrality” could be utilised in the Maldives to help fulfil the country’s ambitions of becoming carbon neutral in 10 years.

“I am here today because, in many ways, Abu Dhabi represents the future,” he said.

“I am here because this enlightened country is jettisoning the past and embracing change. Abu Dhabi is investing the proceeds of yesterday’s resources to build the green economy of tomorrow.”

Abu Dhabi is a cosmopolitan metropolis that sits on nine per cent of the world’s oil reserves and generates 15% of the GDP of the United Arab Emirates. Much of the emirate’s wealth stems from the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company which produces 2.7 million barrels of oil a day, a figure the company has previously said it hopes to push to four billion during 2010.

“Some nations choose to take a back seat in this green revolution,” Nasheed said, “but others, such as Abu Dhabi, are playing a major role in the greatest transformation since the start of the Industrial Age. With the leadership being shown here, I am certain we can tackle the climate crisis.”


Visiting scientists say Maldives eclipse could rewrite laws of physics

Physicists from around the world converged on the Maldives together with astronomers and the simply curious to watch the spectacular eclipse on the weekend.

While most spectators were content with the dramatic sight of the rare annular eclipse – not to be repeated for another thousand years – these scientists were out to rewrite the laws of gravity.

Professor Hector Munera and Ed Oberg, two of the seven scientists known as ‘pendulum specialists’, gave a talk to the Maldives Science Society at Mandu College last night about the work they have conducted during their visit to the Maldives.

Colombian University scientist Munera, from the International Centre for Physics in Bogota, describes himself as a “classical Newtonian physicist”. But here in the Maldives his work is anything but classical – in fact, it goes against mainstream science.

In 1954 a French scientist and economist called Maurice Félix Charles Allais noticed that pendulums behaved oddly during a partial eclipse.

The dramatic annular eclipse as seen in Male' on Friday
The dramatic annular eclipse as seen in Male' on Friday

“Suddenly the pendulum jumped to another plane – the direction of oscillation changed abruptly,” explained Munera. “This was the first time the effect was observed.”

Similar pendulum behaviour was noticed during subsequent eclipse events. It became known as the Allais effect, and it developed a small following of scientists determined to prove that the strange behaviour of the pendulum meant that some component was missing from the accepted physics used to calculate the effect of gravity.

“We know a pendulum’s period should be constant. If the period changes during some kind of event, such as an eclipse, then that’s a gravitational anomaly,” Munera told the audience.

“Nobody had noticed that the position of the sun relative to the pendulum when eclipse began affected the pendulum’s behaviour. It was a significant finding because unlike mathematics, physics is not theoretical; it has to reflect the real world and good experiments demand modification of the theory.”

Ed Oberg, celestial mechanic, speaks to the Maldives Science Society
Ed Oberg, celestial mechanic, speaks to the Maldives Science Society

The scientists came to the Maldives before the latest eclipse and established ‘Pendulum house’ on Feydhoo island in Addu atoll. They installed five high-tech pendulums mounted in a rigid tripod, with a ball that is stopped, latched and released every 12 minutes and measured by laser range-finders. The contraption is capable of measuring the movement of the pendulum to one millionth of a metre.

The scientists are still analysing the data, “but what we think may possibly happen,” says Oberg, a mechanical engineer with 35 years of keen interest in celestial mechanics, “is that a miniscule component may have to added to the equation used to calculate the force between two celestial bodies. It could ruffle a lot of feathers.”

Acceleration due to gravity is measured in ‘gals’. The acceleration due to the Earth’s gravity on the surface is 976 to 983 gal, while the eclipse effect being observed by the pendulum scientists is no more than about five ‘microgals’ – millionths of a gal.

It might be miniscule but in this field of physics, size doesn’t matter.

“Tides are caused by 60 microgals – 60 millionths of a gal affecting every drop of water on the planet. Five microgals might not seem like much but it doesn’t just stop at pendulums – it affects everything, including tectonic plates,” says Oberg.

Ahid Rasheed, founding member of the Maldives Science Society (MSS), said the society was honoured to host the scientists while they conducted their work in the Maldives, “although it’s very frustrating for us because they are all working on their papers [and won’t share their results],” he joked.

The scientists with members of the Maldives Science Society
The scientists with members of the Maldives Science Society

He said he hoped the high level of public interest in the eclipse would foster an interest in science in the Maldives.

“Science used to be very popular here [as a subject],” he said. “But in the 90s people began to think that business and economics were better for the Maldives and business studies courses began to dominate the curriculum. Now some atoll and island schools don’t even have a science stream.”

Pictures courtesy of the Maldives Science Society. Eclipse image courtesy Nabeel Hilmy.


Beautiful Fuvahmulah can’t see the beach for the garbage

He carefully loads the garbage into the boot of his car: it’s a mix of household waste.

“My mother composts all the food items in the backyard,” says Ahmed Ali, 30.

He drives to the dump site.

It is hard to miss; both sides of the road leading to it are lined with garbage, cans, plastic water bottles, paper waste, discarded household items, even a toilet seat. The entrance to the dump site is blocked by piles of garbage and overgrown bushes.

“I don’t want to dump garbage outside like this, but do I have a choice?” says a dejected Ali.

Sure enough, all three roads that lead to the dump site are lined with garbage on both sides.

A municipality worker comes by shortly with a rake, and carefully makes sure that no garbage spills onto the middle of the road.

Surveying the strewn garbage, it is easy to feel Ali’s dejection, after all this is Fuvahmulah; one of the most beautiful and fertile islands in the Maldives, and its unique ecosystem is being destroyed by waste.

Paradise lost: roads lined with rubbish
Paradise lost: roads lined with rubbish

Garbage dump or airport

“The 10,000 square feet dump site was built in 2003,” says Ahmed Mujthaba, councilor in charge of the Fuvamulah office. He adds that in 2006 the then government decided the same area of land was ideal to build an airport.

“It was decided that the dump site would have to be relocated and Mf600,000 was given as compensation by the government.”

It took one and half years for public consultation and to get an Environment Assessment Report (EIA) and approval from the housing ministry for the new location.

But no work has been carried out in the newly allocated dump site, located 200 meters from the existing dump.

Hassan Saeed, the atoll councilor, says a team from Environmental Research Center (now the Environment Protection Agency, or EPA) came to do a study in April 2008.

“They had a public consultation with the stakeholders and promised a ‘total waste management solution’ project that would take off in 2009.”

With no news from the EPA, Saeed contacted them in 2009 to be told that they didn’t have the necessary funds.

“We were told that the budget for it had been transferred to the newly created Waste Management Corporation (WMC) by the finance ministry.”

The WMC informed him that they hadn’t received any money for Fuvamulah.

Mohamed Zuhair, director general of EPA, says a study was done in Fuvamulah to try and develop energy from the waste but it was considered not feasible due to the small size of the population.

“We did have a budget under PSIP but that was taken from us and we can’t say for sure where it was transferred.”

Saeed says islanders who live in the vicinity of the proposed dump area also have concerns.

“They say how we can be sure people won’t dump garbage all over the place like they do now.”

They have agreed to the dump being built if the walls are 12 feet in height, the garbage is be segregated and if the latest equipment such as incinerators are brought in.

“Our funds are only enough to build a wall of three feet in height,” says Saeed.

He adds that a total waste solution is the answer and not just another dump site.

“There has to be household level sorting, ward collection points, a drive to re-use, re-cycle, and a way to export things that can’t be destroyed.”

The Women’s Development Committee is already sorting out garbage in their area, but it is proving to be futile as everything has to be dumped in the same area. Another NGO has proposed to provide bins in the famed beach areas in Fuvamulah, “but all that is useless, if all we are going to do is dump it at some site.”


“It is not only Fuvamulah, almost all the islands of Maldives have a waste management problem,” says Ali Rilwan, executive director of NGO Blue Peace. He says it’s a serious issue and the lagoons of the Maldives are getting destroyed day by day.

“Does the environment ministry know what is happening in the islands? Do the councilors in the islands know that an EIA report has to be done for each project?” he asks.

He takes as an example the announcement by a councilor in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll Thinadhoo that they are going to build a dump site in the sea.

Zuhair says the EPA is working towards a national waste management solution.

“We are not only developing waste management centres with the WMC and Province Utilities Companies, we are working to find solutions – we also want to do public awareness campaigns and have regional waste management sites.”

However no project is planned in Fuvamulah at the moment. Zuhair says most islands do contact them and know that they have to abide by their regulations.

“We found out about the Thinadhoo proposal through the TV and are contacting them to talk about it.”

Rilwan says a drive to reduce waste also has to be done “to reduce garbage, lessen PET bottles, plastic waste, all of these non bio-degradable items.”

He calls upon the government to do more, saying all he has seen so far is the creation of two corporations and the president and environment minister participating in a garbage collection day.

While the relevant authorities search for solutions, the garbage in Fuvamulah and other islands continue to pile up and pose safety, health and social issues to the islanders.


Tourists attempting to ride whale sharks in South Ari Atoll

Excessive human interaction with whale sharks in South Ari Atoll could eventually lead to the species leaving the area permanently, the Maldives Whale Shark Research Project (MWSRP) has warned.

“We have reports of tourists touching and even attempting to ride the sharks,” said Adam Harman from the MWSRP.

In June last year the southern tip of the Ari Atoll region, a year long whale shark aggregation site, was declared a marine protected area (MPA). But recently there has been a large increase in the number of tourists visiting the area.

“The whale sharks have attracted more and more tourists to the area. Sometimes there are 25 boats and over 100 tourists swimming around one shark,” Harman said.

Interaction guidelines were implemented to protect whale sharks in 2008. According to these guidelines, only 12-13 swimmers from one boat are allowed around a shark at any given time, and even then there is to be no contact with the animals. However these guidelines are difficult to monitor since they are self regulated.

According to MWSRP, once a shark is spotted all the boats in the area converge around the shark, ‘caging’ it in. This endangers the animal in many ways and there is a huge possibility of propeller damage.

“If this keeps up we risk losing the sharks. They will move onto other preferential habitats” warned Harman.

“Currently we are getting three sightings a day. We used to have 39 encounters in the same three day period.

“Its hard to say what could happen, but if things don’t change by this time next year, the number of sharks in this area could go down.”

The threat of losing the whale sharks is very real, Harman emphasised. Similar cases have been recorded in Mexico and South Africa, where whale sharks have been known to leave their habitats.

This is not the first incident in South Ari Atoll where marine life have left to seek other preferential habitats. South Ari Atoll Madivaru, ‘Manta point’, was once a popularsite for manta rays.

“At one time you could spot almost 50. Today however, spotting even one is considered lucky,” Harman said.

Tourists converge on a whale shark in a flurry of flippers
Tourists converge on a whale shark in a flurry of flippers

Violent clashes

The clash of ideas has led to hostile confrontations between operators and researchers. In one incident a knife was allegedly used by safari operators to threaten researchers.

Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Ibrahim Naeem, confirmed the government had received reports of such confrontations.

“We have urged the researchers and operators to stay out of each others’ way,” he said. “We do get many complaints about people interfering with whale sharks, but since the law doesn’t say its illegal, people still do it,” he continued.

“Divers and safari operators argue that 12 swimmers per whale is not enough, while scientists say that more than 12 poses a risk to the animals. We are having talks with the people involved in the industry and are in the process of reviewing the guidelines.”

The MWSRP have been working closely with the evironment, fisheries and tourism ministries to find a solution to the problem.

Minister of Tourism Dr Ali Sawad said ” We have been working in coordination with the environment ministry, and we are looking for ways to increase awareness and work more closely with divers associations and safari operators.”

Images provided by MWSRP.


Maldives to receive best view of ‘ring of fire’ eclipse

The Maldives will tomorrow become the best vantage point in the world to watch the longest-lasting solar eclipse of the millenium – at least until the year 3043.

The eclipse will follow a 300-kilometre wide route across Africa, the Indian Ocean and eastern Asia, beginning at 10:45am Maldivian time and almost completely overlapping the sun at 12.27pm, creating a stunning ‘ring of fire’ effect that will be visible for almost 11 minutes.

So unique is the event that scientists and eclipse chasers from all over the world are converging on Male to watch the spectacular event.

Founding member of the Maldives Science Society, Ahid Rasheed, noted that the country is hosting the largest ever gathering of pendulum specialists in the world, drawn from the UK, Colombia, Australia and Canada, who will be studying gravitational anomolies during the solar event.

“We are very honoured to be hosting them, particularly as we are such a young organisation,” Rasheed said. “There’s also a cruise ship arriving from India especially to see to eclipse in Male, with four astronomers on board.”

News broadcaster CNN will be broadcasting live around the world from the roof of the tallest building in Male, the Holiday Inn.

The ‘annular’ eclipse means the moon will not obscure the sun completely, unlike a total eclipse, explains Rasheed, as the moon is currently further away from Earth as thus appearing smaller to those watching on the planet’s surface. This will make the moon appear framed by the sun, an effect Rasheed promises “is going to be very beautiful.”

“Ninety-one percent of the sun will be covered – it’s going to look just like the one on the TV series Heroes,” he explained.


As beautiful as the effect may be, watching it with the naked eye is very dangerous and can cause permanent eye damage just as if one was staring at the sun.

“It doesn’t matter if 100 percent or eight percent of the sun is visible, the infra-red rays will still be hitting the eyes,” Rasheed said.

“Some people say you can use the inside of floppy disks or x-ray sheets, but they won’t block all the IR rays. Sunglasses are not advisable at all, because they only protect from UV rays.

“Special eclipse-viewing glasses are made from mylar or black polymer. You can also use welding glasses, but I haven’t seen any in Male of the right standard.”

The Maldives Science Society will be holding a viewing session with 10 solar-protected telescopes starting from 9:00am until the eclipse ends at around 2:30pm, he said. with a break for Friday prayer. The society will also be providing a number of eclipse glasses, and has cleared the event with the Islamic Ministry.

“Friday is the Islamic weekend and in a 100% Muslim country, no event can happen during prayer time,” Rasheed explains.

The government recently asked the Holiday Inn to cancel an event planned during the eclipse which included music and a barbecue, after the event was criticised in an article published in newspaper Miadhu for contravening the Islamic tenet.

“The Holiday Inn [controversy] affected us. We tried to get students involved and approached a school about it, but the management were very hesitant,” Rasheed said, adding that the eclipse viewing would include a break during prayer time.

The Maldives Science Society event will be held at the back of Dharubaaruge (Usfasgandu) on Ameenee Magu in Male.

Live CNN coverage of the event will appear here.