‘CSI turtle’ launches investigation into ghost fishing nets found in the Maldives: The Guardian

“Call it CSI Turtle. In the Maldives, at the heart of the Indian Ocean, scores of turtles are being found with gashed or ripped-off flippers and deep scars in their shells. The cause is clear: the turtles are becoming ensnared in “ghost” fishing nets that have either have been lost or dumped,” reports Damian Carrington for the UK-based Guardian newspaper.

“The turtles that don’t drown are then attacked mercilessly by accomplices. The stumps of the turtles’ flippers show clear signs of being ripped off by sharks, while the shell damage points to a sharp implement: the beaks of birds and the claws of crabs. The nets themselves cut through the turtle’s flesh like cheesewire, leaving deep wounds.

But what the investigation has not yet established are the culprits behind the crime and the motive.

‘It’s OK to keep finding these turtles and keep stitching them up, but it’s just going to keep happening. So we need to try to find out why the nets are being lost,’ says Dr Jill Hudgins, a scientist from the Seamarc consultancy and employed by the Four Seasons resort on Landaa Giraavaru island.

The turtles are the Olive Ridley variety, which live in the open ocean, not the atolls and lagoons of the Maldives, and Maldivian fishermen don’t use nets, pointing the investigation abroad.

Hudgins’ team has now compiled a database of more than 40 net types, detailing the mesh size and the twine diameter, as well as the types of floats attached and other data like the labels on debris trapped in the net such as plastic bottles.

The evidence all points to trawler nets floating in from India and Sri Lanka, and a recent breakthrough was finding a net manufacturer’s label: Garware, an Indian company. Hudgins has now sent images of the nets and severely injured turtles to the company and awaits their reply.

‘We want to scare them a bit,’ she says, and then get their help in finding solutions.”

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Government confident of meeting 2012 tourism goals despite “political turmoil”

Maldives tourism authorities remain confident the country will meet its ambition to welcome one million visitors to the country during 2012 despite ongoing “political turmoil” in the Indian Ocean over the last year.

The country plans over the next 12 months to hold a number of celebrations to commemorate 40 years since its travel industry was founded.

Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb has told media in a press conference on Monday that should the Maldives achieve its aims of attracting one million visitors to the country during 2012, it could be effectively seen as being equivalent to welcoming two million arrivals due to the challenges of overcoming the “political turmoil” following February’s controversial transfer of power.

“We are closing in on that target with a lot of challenges. We are working with major obstacles due to the present crisis in the country,” Adheeb was quoted as saying.

The comments were made as former President Mohamed Nasheed, who alleges he was forced to resign from office on February 7 this year under “duress”, pleaded for tourists to “be more aware” of the political problems facing the Maldives.

“Tourists should be more aware of what is going on here. They may think they are remote from Male’ [the capital] but many of the staff are from here,” Nasheed told the UK-based Guardian newspaper this week.

The vast majority of tourists coming to the Maldives stay at its secluded island resorts that are classed as uninhabited, therefore making them exempt from local laws that outlaw the sale and consumption of alcohol and pork products, as well as openly practising any faith other than Sunni Islam. This resort model also keeps most tourists away from the partisan politics of the country, as well as the  unrest that occurred in the capital of Male’ and other islands earlier this year.

Nasheed had previously called for a tourism boycott of the Maldives, as both himself and his supporters continue to question the legitimacy of the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheeed Hassan, his former vice president.

However, these calls were soon dropped by Nasheed and supporters of the now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).  The party are still pressing for early elections this year, despite a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) concluding the transfer of power in February was constitutional.

Despite fears about the impact of political uncertainty, Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal claimed back in September “the hard days” were over for the Maldives tourism industry following the release of the CNI’s findings.

The MDP has itself accepted some of the recommendations of the CNI report relating to judicial reform and holding security officials accountable, despite maintaining “concerns” over how the report was compiled and the potential “comical” implications of its conclusions.

Accepting the challenges faced by the tourism industry, Adheeb claimed that the entire industry was united in seeking to boost the prospects for tourism in the Maldives.

“The industry is driven by itself. This industry is mature enough to continue without any government interference. The difference between the former government and us is we won’t micro manage the industry. We are facilitating the process within the contours of the laws and regulations,” he told local media.

Amidst these claims, the Maldives last Thursday (October 18) picked up a number of accolades at the World Travel Awards (WTA) in Singapore that Adheeb claimed highlighted the strength of the country compared to other Indian Ocean destinations.

“This shows that Maldives is a stronger tourist destination than other Indian Ocean island nations such as Seychelles, Mauritius or Madagascar,” he was quoted as telling Sun Online.

The accolades picked up by the Maldives at this year’s WTA included awards for being the leading destination in the Indian Ocean for cruise and honeymoon holidays.  Also honoured was Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) – presently at the centre of legal and political wrangling – which took the prize for leading regional airport.

Over half way

As the Maldives also commences a number of events to celebrate 40 years since the inception of the country’s tourism, official figures from August showed the Maldives was over half way to meeting its million visitor aims for 2012.

Arrivals to the Maldives between January and August 2012 totalled 614,802 people – an increase of 2.9 percent compared to the same period during 2011, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture figures showed.

Deputy Minister Maleeh was unable to respond to Minivan News about Adheeb’s comments and the challenges facing the wider tourism industry at the time of press.


Tourism authority’s Twitter campaign “hijacked”, “travel-related farce”, world media reports

A social network strategy launched this week to promote the Maldives has been labelled a “travel-related farce” by media sources including Conde-Nast Traveller, while publications such as the Daily Telegraph newspaper report that the focus has been “hijacked” by anti-government protesters.

The scheme, launched on Thursday, was devised to have the country’s recently reintroduced “Sunny Side of Life” slogan become an online trend among Twitter users by playing up the destination as an unparalleled tourism paradise and honeymoon getaway.

However, global news reports soon emerged that “pro-democracy campaigners” were sabotaging the focus by using the “#SunnySideOfLife” hashtag to draw attention to alleged human rights abuses reportedly committed during the last few months by the government of President Mohamed Waheed.

“For example, the majority of the site’s users are using the term to post tweets such as ‘#SunnySideOfLife: Pristine white sandy beaches, crystal clear lagoons filled with blood of its citizens who are fighting for democracy’,” the Daily News of New York reported on Thursday.

Tourism authorities in the country have recently targeted the increased use of social media sites like Facebook to more effectively promote the destination.  The promotion plan was adopted on the back of fears that global headlines following the controversial transfer of power in February have had a detrimental impact on the destination’s reputation.

Industry view

Contacted by Minivan News about the implications the week’s global media coverage might have on future social media promotions in the country – as well the more encouraging developments of the “Sunny Side of Life” Twitter campaign – Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb said he was about to board a plane and unable to respond at the time of press.

Speaking before embarking on his flight, Adheeb added that the question of a future direction of social media to promote the destination was something that “required thought”, but he could not elaborate further at the time. Calls to Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal went unanswered.

However, on the official Visit Maldives Twitter Page, the focus remained on encouraging guests at properties such as Bandos Island Resort and Spa to make use of the Twitter to play up the Maldives’ reputation internationally.

MMPRC thanks @bandosmaldives guest and staff for having this event ‪#SunnySideOfLife‬pic.twitter.com/STXG3A0N,” read one of the more recent tweets posted on the Twitter site on Thursday (July 12).

Opposition allegations

In addressing the coverage of the Twitter promotion, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) claimed that it was presently between “a rock and a hard place” in terms of balancing the economic need for preserving tourism in the country, whilst asking tourists to boycott the destination to pressure the government for early elections this year.

President Waheed, who maintains that he was constitutionally sworn into office on February 7 following the resignation of his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed, said that the earliest elections can be held under the constitution is July 2013. Political bodies and organisations including the EU and Commonwealth have recommended that early elections be held this year to bring political stability back to the country.

The MDP alleges that the elected government of former President Mohamed Nasheed was removed from office on February 7 by a “coup d’etat” sponsored by mutinous sections of the police and military.  It claims the action was additionally financed by certain prominent local tourist tycoons, who control significant amounts of the nation’s wealth.

Earlier this month, former President Mohamed Nasheed told the UK-based Financial Times newspaper that he was calling for a blanket boycott of tourism in the country, earning criticism from a number of resort operators that employ a significant amount of local people alongside foreigners at their properties.

Though the opposition party claims to have no direct affiliation with the Twitter stunt, MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the focus indicated young people were adopting a “grass roots” approach to highlight concerns about the present government’s legitimacy.

“There would appear to be no needed for a boycott of tourism with Twitter campaigns like this,” he claimed. “Whose bright idea was this? We are seeing the Maldivian youth raising their voices about democracy.”

Ghafoor contended that with such a high-profile focus seemingly now raising the issue of alleged human rights abuses around the world – the concept of needing a tourism boycott, as previously advocated by Nasheed, was a “lot less relevant”.

He pointed to his own observation of some Chinese tourists this week, who during a visit to Male’, asked local people about the reason for successive days of protests. These protests have at times escalated to violent clashes between anti-government protesters and police.

These clashes have led to allegations and reports of attacks on members of the media both reportedly by police and anti-government protesters, while certain reporters were also criticised for reportedly involving themselves in protests.


Fellow MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy added that it was “inevitable” that by turning to popular services like Twitter to promote the destination, the government would open itself up to allegations about police brutality and reported human rights abuses.

“This is not an MDP thing, but people here know very well what is going on and the role of some resort owners in sponsoring this ‘coup’,” he claimed.

Fahmy claimed that despite former President Nasheed’s recent calls for a boycott, the MDP at present was “undecided” if the party would support a blanket boycott or calls to avoid  certain tourism properties in the country.

“We all know that some of the country’s richest people are behind the coup,” he said. “We need a focus that will help the Maldives bring about early elections.”

Despite the party’s claims, UK-based NGO Friends of the Maldives, which had previously been associated with a targeted travel advisory asking tourists steer clear of resorts owned by figures alleged to have a direct roll with brining the present government to power, warned against blanket action.

Friends of Maldives – established in the UK in 2003 during the autocratic rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to focus on human rights issues in the country –  raised concerns against seemingly penalising the entire tourist industry in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

“A boycott is a last resort and I don’t think it has reached that stage,” Friends of Maldives founder, David Hardingham told the paper. “It’s easy for people like us to tell tourists not to visit, but it is the people of the Maldives who will suffer – and they are the ones who must decide whether it’s worth it. Any campaign for a boycott needs to be a grass-roots one.”

However, Friends of Maldives said it continued to reject the legitimacy of the present government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, which the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) linked to Mohamed Nasheed has since alleged came to power in February through a “coup d’etat”.


As of the time of going to press, the official Visit Maldives Twitter service’s last tweet – posted 18 hours ago – read: “Did you know that ‪#Maldives‬ was mentioned in 2008 Jumper movie …‪#SunnySideofLife‬ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt048909 …”