Tourist volunteers collecting data to protect Maldives reef ecosystems

A team of 15 volunteers from around the world have begun an expedition in the Maldives to collect data that will be used to compare and protect the health of the country’s vulnerable reef ecosystems.

The amateur marine biologists from countries as diverse as Germany, Russia, Australia and the Maldives have departed on a week-long tour aboard the luxury live-aboard Carpe Diem, during which they will be trained up on the Reef Check program and conduct as many as three research dives a day under the supervision of a team of professional biologists.

The hands-on ‘voluntourism’ trip is organised by not-for-profit wildlife conservation organisation Biosphere Expeditions and Six Senses resorts, which has provided a grant of US$79,000 over the four year program, and scholarships for two young Maldivians – Nishan Thoufeeg and Ahmed Shan – to participate on the trip.

At a press conference launching the expedition this morning, Executive Director of Biosphere Expeditions Dr Matthias Hammer explained that the objective was to involve ordinary people in conservation efforts while generating scientifically-rigorous data that can be used to recommend and implement policy.

Previous expeditions have focused snow leopards in Central Asia, turtles in Australia and jaguars in Brazil, “usually charismatic megafauna,” Hammer said.

Dr Jean-Luc Solantt, a scientist from the Marine Conservation Society in the UK who is accompanying the volunteers, noted that there was a lack of “basic, coarse-level data” required for monitoring reef ecosystems.

“We need to know what is happening on a national scale. The [Reef Check] program has a very basic methodology but it is very scientifically robust.”

The data would contribute to the monitoring and understanding of commercial fish populations, determine the reefs most resilient to environmental pressures, and serve as an early warning system for problems related to warming, bleaching and algae.

“In 1998 the water temperature reached 32 degrees for 4-6 weeks, and that caused most of the reefs down to 30 metres in the Maldives to die,’ he explained. “This data will help us see the pattern of recovery from that global impact, and recommend places that should be made marine protected areas.”

Solantt will check and evaluate the data collected by the group and produce a report based on the expedition. The data will then be collated and made available to scientists worldwide, as well as the Maldives Marine Research Centre (MRC) and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Project, if any of the creatures are spotted.

The group also presented 2500 copies of a colouring book, ‘The Adventures of Anees the Anemonefish’, to State Minister of Education Ibrahim Rasheed.

The book, written by Soneva Fushi’s Marine Biologist Kate Wilson and illustrated by Maldivian artist ‘Angel’, is intended to raise awareness around reef protection and inspire children to seek a career in environmental protection.

“Our country is the most beautiful in the world and we want to keep it that way,” said Deputy Minister Rasheed, “but we can only make policies based on the information and data we receive.”

“We need to make sure people are aware of the fragility of our environment. Education can create this awareness, which is why environment studies is a compulsory subject in the new curriculum,” he said.

Presenting the book "The Adventures of Anees The Anemonefish" to the Deputy Minister of Education

Program participants arrived last night from Europe, North America, Russia, Australia, Asia and the Maldives. Some had participated in previous Biosphere projects.

Tina Kuersten from Germany said the biggest results of a Biosphere expedition are seen long-term. “After my first expedition in Altai, I would get emails and updates about the project. It was great to see the results of our work, and to see how I had contributed to something significant.”

Kuersten’s husband Uwe said, “The value of these trips is that you can do something valuable, and learn more about biology.” He said seeing results motivated him to stay involved.

Riswil Ismail, who is from Malaysia, had followed Biosphere’s work for several years. She said in spite of the prohibitive cost, the diving aspect was very attractive.

“I’ve done a lot of dives, and I think because Malaysia and the Maldives are similar it would be great to learn about conservation in this way.”

Ismail said that the concept of paying to go on a volunteer work vacation was “not so popular” in Malaysia.

“People can donate money to a cause, but they don’t always get to see what their money can do. Paying to work on a vacation is a harder concept to understand in Asia, but I think it’s a really valuable way to contribute to a cause. If Maldives is doing this, why not Malaysia?”

Curnow said the average participant is “a well-educated person with a good job who wants to learn something new.” She said that scholarship programs are designed to attract students from the target location. This year, Six Senses’ Soneva Fushi and Soneva Gili resorts are co-sponsoring two Maldivians to take part in the expedition.

Biosphere Expeditions will run trips this week and next week; results are usually published six to eight months afterwards.


13 thoughts on “Tourist volunteers collecting data to protect Maldives reef ecosystems”

  1. It is really amazing how volunteer workers come pouring in with all kinds of experts and scientists to famous tourist destinations with the noble intention of conservation and preservation.They have been able to conclude that the reefs died in 1998 due to high water temperatures. But so far there is no conservative concept to prevent similar occurrences so that the reefs can continue flourishing. One could wonder how much data collection and biosphere expeditions and how many doctorate thesis would be required to be able to understand an echo system like the reefs of Maldives. Many researchers and biologists have already been active for a number of years in various locations in the Maldives. From the sound of this new wave of volunteerism one may infer that all the work from those dedicated scholars for so many years were rendered useless.At least their graduation to a higher level of educational certification can be considered as some personal gain although not much can be done towards conservation and/or preservation of the Maldives echo system.It is also interesting to note that all data are submerged and snorkelling and/or diving is necessary to gather data to help conserve and preserve. The local fishermen did not understand that invading fish habitat to gather information can help them conserve and preserve their livelihood. Of course its a long term thing and results can be seen many years later.......but how many generations would it to see the conserved and preserved echo system of the Maldives?

  2. Very good! Happy that two Maldivians were given the opportunity to participate!

  3. Good work, yes. I wish they learned a bit about respecting other divers and in-water etiquette

  4. I wonder if the students are from Baa Atoll? or if immediate benefits will also be provided to the Baa Atoll people

  5. @ yusuf; so true.. this is the modern version of missioners, mercenaries and misfits,, lol... volunteering in the Maldives is a free holiday for a lot of europeans.. after all they are deprived of the sun most of the year so the moment they hit this weather they get estatic... they will keep finding more and more interesting reasons to stay around and we better get used to it... look at all the development UNDP is supposedly funding... but are sustainable benefits from these.... but any how, we also need them a little if only let them enjoy but do respect us while here and don't try to misinform us and make us feel we are somehow lacking in something.. we DON'T

  6. @lalee

    Whilst I agree that many international organizations are pure money wasters and their employees don't do much else but enjoy their 'status' abroad, I find your remark rather arrogant and symbolic for the appalling racism prevailing in this country on all levels of society.

  7. @decayed; i disagree that there is racism in all levels of Maldivian society.. you will find all european countires and US, australia, etc. more racist than the Maldives.. try them out...

  8. @lalee

    I have been to and lived in many different countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Nowhere was racism so deeply rooted and openly accepted than here, that I have come to realize through my travels. Have you ever been abroad? Or are you trying to convince yourself of something that's untrue in order to feel better about yourself? Just walk around Male' and see the treatment of the expat workers that built this very country and you know that I'm right. Just to name one example.

  9. @ lalee

    I think you are a little ignorant to the concept of volunteer holidays. Volunteers actually pay to come and help in the Maldives and rather than just million dollar resorts benefiting our very own communities are benefiting as we not only see the money that the volunteers spend which is spread throughout many of the community our families are also benefiting from the skills they bring and community programme that are set up like conservation, hydroponics, swimming classes, fitness classes not to mention quality sports coaches that are keeping our youth active.

    Don't always rush to see the negative and appreciate the good in people too. It wouldn't hurt for us to also give our time to help others.

    Better to see responsible tourists that benefit the local communities than those who don't even know we exist

  10. @LALEE

    I really think you should see first hand volunteers in action on local islands before you jump to irrational judgements like that. Our country has seriously benefitted from the presence of volunteers on local islands and i would hate to think that your ignorance and unfounded conclusions would put any volunteers off coming here or influence anyone in the future. please do your research

  11. @ Mohamed; @deecay; too bad some of my comments have not been published by the moderator.. who may be a volunteer herself... who knows? its the perks the volunteers are after.. they may pay a chep fair to come.. or even get it sponsored... but some of them.. not all mind you.. end up just being pests... i don't think its particular to a culture... but as Mohamed says.. it could be the ignrorance and more volunteers maybe needed to educate and civilise us...


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