President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan on Wednesday officially launched the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Baa Atoll Conservation Fund at a special ceremony held in Eydhafushi.
The President, in his speech, appealed for support from everyone in protecting the environment.
“Discussions about the biosphere came in August 2009 when I was still the Vice President. I advised that this should be done with suggestions from the people of Baa Atoll,” said the President.
Speaking at the ceremony, Minister of Environment and Energy Dr Mariyam Shakeela remarked that Baa Atoll obtaining the status of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve was a source of national pride to Maldivians. She said that the Biosphere Reserve is a Maldivian contribution to the global effort to conserve the environment.
In the ceremony, Azusa Kubota from UNDP handed over a cheque for US$250,000 as a contribution to the fund, on behalf of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Treasur,y Ismail Shafeeq, also handed over a cheque for US$50,000 dollars to the fund.
The Baa Atoll Conservation fund will be used to finance projects to conserve the environment in Baa Atoll as well support livelihood activities. The fund is a collaborative effort between the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Ministry of Environment and Energy.
In her speech, Azusha Kubota said the Conservation fund is the first of its kind in the country and marked an important milestone for the people of the Maldives.
Tourist resorts in Baa Atoll, including Soneva Fushi, Coco Palm, Four Seasons and Anantara and several other resorts have pledged to donate to the fund.
On his trip to Baa Atoll, the President also officially opened the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve Office, which will manage and develop the reserve. The office will function under the Ministry of Environment and Energy.
One person from Eydhafushi was arrested following clashes between police and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters who had tried to cross into the police cordoned area. The President received a warmer welcome from supporters who lined up near the jetty further away from the MDP protesters.
Baa Atoll, which includes Hanifaru Bay, an area world-renowned for sighting whale sharks and manta rays, was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in June 2011, after more than five years of lobbying by the government.
The process which led to the declaration was supported by the Atoll Ecosystem-based Conservation (AEC) Project, led by the government with support from the UNDP and funding from the GEF. The AEC works to establish protected areas and promote economically and environmentally sustainable livelihood practices for ecosystem conservation in Baa Atoll.
The project received US$2.7 million dollars from the UNDP and US$1.3 million dollars from GEF.
World Biosphere Reserves are places where conservation, research and development successfully interconnect. They integrate biological and cultural diversity, combining core protected areas with zones where sustainable development – and innovative approaches to it – are fostered, tested and developed by locals and enterprises alike.