Eco-friendly resort holds 24-hour scuba diving event

Eco-friendly resort Angsana Ihuru hosted a 24 hour scuba diving event to mark the 14th anniversary of its Rannamaari shipwreck and highlight the importance of protecting coral and marine life in the Maldives.

Seventy people representing 12 nationalities – including scuba divers representing all levels of experience, underwater photo journalists, and guests – participated in the “10 to 10 Rannamaari wreck” event, kicked off April 25.

A total of 138 dives and a 24-hour live webcast broadcast worldwide showcased the extraordinary marine diversity and beauty of the Maldives as well as the unique ecosystem that has developed on the shipwreck.

“The Maldives is well known for its natural beauty and among the island resorts Ansana Ihuru in particular is known for its beautiful house reef. The resort was renovated last year and attention was focused on the Marine Centre, because it is the underwater beauty we’d like to share,” said Executive Assistant Manager Henar Rios at the event’s opening ceremony.

The resort boasts of having one of the best ‘house reefs’ in the Maldives. “Seventy-five percent of Angsana Ihuru’s beauty is underwater,” Rios told Minivan News. She further explained that the resort has a 30 percent guest return rate, whereas most resorts average only five percent, even with special incentive programs in place.

“The Rannamaari wreck is now a living structure and symbol which is an extension of our reef that we will protect and share with pride,” Rios added.

The Rannamaari wreck was previously used as a dredging ship on a nearby island and was towed to Angsana Ihuru in 1999 to be used as an artificial reef. However, the ship sank “mysteriously” several days before the planned event and has since become a home for thousands of sea creatures and corals at a depth of 28 metres.

Scuba divers immediately took to the water to explore the reef following the open ceremony, which included a traditional bodu beru (drumming) performance and kurumba (tender coconut) refreshments.

Throughout the day divers and snorkelers were rotating in and out the water, exploring the Rannamaari wreck just off-shore from both the Marine Centre and Velaavani (shallow bay) Bar.

In addition to the daytime dives, a variety of unique scuba experiences took place to highlight the marine environment’s astounding changes which occur daily, including the “before dusk”, “fluorescent” underwater life, midnight, and “before dawn” dives.

A “try scuba” opportunity catered to non-certified divers, with Angsana Ihuru’s professional dive instructors carefully facilitating participants’ first underwater breathing experience in the island’s shallow lagoon.

The Rannamaari Play was a highlight of the anniversary celebration events. Resort staff creatively recounted the historical Maldivian folklore tale through a shadow-theatre performance accompanied by music and narration.

The sea demon Rannamaari previously terrorized the Maldivian people by demanding the sacrifice of a virgin girl each full moon. However, the Maldivians were saved by a Muslim traveler, who disguised himself as a women and stayed overnight in the temple reading verses of the Quran, causing Rannamaari to disappear forever. Following the traveler’s victory over the demon, the Maldives embraced Islam as a nation in 1153 AD.

Immediately following the play, the Male’-based band Flower Rain provided guests with live music at the bar.

Throughout the day’s events resort’s staff provided an assortment of delicious refreshments – including traditional Maldivian ‘short eats’ – to guests and participants, demonstrating the resort’s genuine hospitality.

In line with Angsana Ihuru’s environmental conservation focus, five percent of earnings generated from the anniversary events dives will be donated to sister-company Banyan Tree’s Green Imperative Fund, which supports community and environmental projects around the world.

The Maldivian telecommunications company Wataniya sponsored the “10 to 10 Rannamaari wreck” event.

“Unique, dive centric resort”

“The highlight of the event was the spirit that was shown by the staff of the island and the in house guests. Plus the online users who kept the momentum going,” the Marine Centre Manager and dive base leader for both Angsana Ihuru and Banyantree Maldives Vabbinfaru Adam Rasheed told Minivan News.

“The Rannamaari wreck is unique because you can swim in simply. It is very close to the reef, which means more or less all levels of divers, even a person who is in the water for the first time, will have a chance to see this.

“Now the wreck is like an artificial reef. The fish life is very, very good and very special, not to mention so easy to access,” Rasheed said.

Average underwater visibility peaks at 30 meters, while the reef drops away gradually from the powder-white sandy shoreline.

Rasheed explained that the initial idea for the “10 to 10 Rannamaari wreck” event came to him during a night dive.

“The dive was really, really good and I wondered when will two of the most important people in my life – my mom and aunt – get the chance to see something like this? So we started to build on that idea to also reflect the reopening of the resort following last year’s renovations, as well as commemorate the 14th anniversary of the wreck,” Rasheed said.

“Angsana Ihuru is trying to do something unique with more of a focus on the water and divers, to position ourselves as a dive centric resort.

“Over the years Ihuru has had an environmental focus and so we wanted to complement this and take the concept to a new level,” he added.

Rasheed further explained that during the recent renovations, the entire dive center structure was changed to reflect the resort’s focus on the underwater environment, diving, and snorkeling.

Angsana Ihuru claims to be the first resort in the Maldives to offer SNUBA, where breathing air is supplied from a long hose that is connected to a floating raft on the surface, allowing guests to dive up to six metres.

“For those who prefer snorkelling or are new to scuba diving, this gives a feel for diving without the need for deep underwater submersion.”

A plethora of marine life frequents the vibrant coral reef surrounding the resort island, including giant moray eels, scorpion fish, stingrays, eagle rays, manta rays, batfish, nurse sharks, big jack fish, and sea turtles.

Pictures and videos from the “10 to 10 Rannamaari wreck” event can be found on the Ihuru Funa Facebook or Twitter pages.

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Stranded cargo vessel causes MVR 61 million worth of damage to reef

The cargo vessel stranded off the coast of Male’ last week (January 7) caused MVR 61 million (US$3.9 million) worth of damage to the reef, local media has reported.

An assessment conducted by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) showed that the 210 metre long and 30 metre wide boat had caused damage to the reef, Chairman of Transport Authority Abdul Rasheed Nafiz told local media.

According to Nafiz, discussions between the two parties are to be held during the next three days before a fine can be imposed.

The Liberian 27,000-ton boat named Auguste Schulte became stranded in shallow water when it attempted to make a turn, local media reported.

It was eventually refloated after three hours using two tug boats and through the assistance of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

The Transport Authority earlier stated that the government could impose a fine of MVR 85,000 (US$ 5,508) per square metre of damage caused to the reef.

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Coral reefs begin to recover in the Maldives

Scientists have witnessed a “promising” recovery in the coral reefs around the Maldives, a recent survey has revealed.

The results show that some reefs now have more live coral cover than before the catastrophic El Niño bleaching event in 1998, which killed 95 percent of the country’s reefs – a key attraction for foreign tourists.

The project was set up by international conservation non-profit organisation Biosphere Expeditions. Scientists from the UK-based Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and the Maldives Marine Research Centre (MRC) surveyed areas known to have suffered from heavy bleaching.

The reef check conducted in September showed that many badly damaged reefs have recovered to populations in excess of 60 percent live coral. On one site, the survey team found there was more coral cover now than there was in 1997.

The latest findings follow a severe case of coral bleaching in 2010, when the MRC reported a resurgence of coral bleaching following a prolonged sea temperature rise.

The project found that the isolated, offshore and cleaner waters of the Maldives appeared to offer better conditions for coral recovery – contrasting findings published from the Great Barrier Reef, which noted that coral cover had  reduced by more than 50 percent in the last 27 years.

Lead scientist for the project, MCS Biodiversity Officer Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, said: “Although our surveys aren’t as comprehensive in scale and number as those from the Great Barrier Reef, we have witnessed a promising recovery in the reefs we’ve visited.

“The number of chronic impacts to the reefs of the Maldives are fewer than those to the Great Barrier Reef, and that has probably resulted in this more positive response to the initial bleaching event die-off in the sites we visited in Ari Atoll.”

The focus of this year’s project was to undertake reef check surveys in areas first surveyed before and during the El Niño bleaching in 1998.

Meaning ‘little boy’ in Spanish, El Niño is a phenomenon which damaged more than 95 per cent of the Maldives’ reefs following three months of unusually high seawater temperatures that year.

Even the slightest rise in water temperature can put stress on the coral, causing it to lose its colour and turn white, before eventually dying.

Coral bleaching was named as one of the three main causes of coral death, along with outbreaks of coral-eating starfish and damage from major storms.

Despite the findings, Dr Solandt warned conservationists and stakeholders in the Maldives that they cannot afford to be complacent.

“There is over-fishing of large predatory fish and further ocean warming events on the horizon, and some of the reefs nearer to Male’ appear not to have recovered as extensively as those further afield,” he added.

Founder and Executive Director of Biosphere Expeditions Dr Matthias Hammer said that whatever the current state of the Maldive’s reefs, the future outlook was important.

“Even though the Maldive’s reefs are generally in waters of excellent purity from man-made pollutants and are seldom hit by coral-damaging storms or attacks by coral eating starfish, the consistently high sea temperatures, averaging 29 degrees Celsius, around the Maldives could lead to bleaching once again if temperatures reach over 30 degrees for any length of time,”  he noted.

Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela was not responding at time of press.

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