The Ministry of Housing and the Environment has signed a memorandum of understanding with a private individual, Mohamed Hameed, to create the Maldives’ first comprehensive national marine park.
The park, which Hameed says was conceived in the 1980s, is designed to protect nine islets in South Miladhunmadulu Atoll Edhudhfarru.
Hameed proposed his plan to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration in 2007, but says the current administration has been more supportive and would be overseeing the project.
The government has asked that the plan involve minimal intrusion to the natural environment. “I would expect the government to have a majority share in the program,” said Hameed, explaining that a foundation would be established for the park project.
Hameed said he has been advised by scientists from all over the world, and describes the Edhudhfarru area as “fragile and sensitive, with more water than land, and many unique flora and fauna.”
Hameed said the Marine National Park will provide day trips only, and visitors will pay a fee. An underwater observatory is also expected to draw researchers and tourists alike.
Bluepeace, a local environmental NGO, voted last night to support the project.
“We are very supportive of the concept,” said the NGO’s founder, Ali Rilwan. “I think it is very important that private sector individuals get involved in conservation.”
Rilwan said the Edhudhfarru area is very rich in biodiversity, adding that Bluepeace “expects [the foundation] to be much better than most places because of Hameed’s vast knowledge and interest in the place.”
Rilwan noted that this was the first time a private individual had proposed a conservation project to the government, and that the marine park would be the first national park to host a research center. The land itself will be given to the project’s foundation, which has yet to be established.
Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa said the park was intended “not just for preserving species for people to see, like in a zoo. There will be activities going on with the research.”
International groups had been inquiring about such a park for years, she noted.
“The park should have been established a long time ago, because tourism in the Maldives is based on sustainable development,” she said.
Director of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) Mohamed Naeem said the organisation had not been officially informed of the project, although he understood it had been given to a private company, and said it was “too early to know what to expect from Mr Hameed.”
Hameed has meanwhile said he hopes locals will become involved in the project. “A national park can only be preserved with the collaboration of the community, and the community should not feel they are deprived of use of the area in any way,” he said.