Fisheries Ministry to set up stricter fines for turtle hunting

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has revealed today that it is working on setting up stricter fines of up to MVR10 million (US$650,000) for the illegal capture of turtles and tortoises.

Senior research officer Adam Ziyad told Haveeru that the regulation would allow the ministry to penalise offenders who illegally capture turtles and tortoises, adding that the regulation had been sent to the Attorney General’s Office for legal advice.

The government’s response came after local environmental NGOs Ecocare and Bluepeace condemned images circulating on social media showing a turtle being cut in half, demanding an immediate response.

Also speaking at the press conference today, Director Hussein Sinan said that current procedures required the police to file the cases as criminal offenses, leading to a court case which often does not yield results due to difficulties in obtaining testimony from offenders.

However, with the new regulation in place, the fisheries ministry would have the authority to punish the offenders.

Speaking to Minivan News yesterday, Bluepeace Executive Director Ali Rilwan said that the main obstruction to preventing such instances was poor coordination between the ministry of fisheries and the Environmental Protection Agency – a regulatory body under the Ministry of Environment and Energy.

According to the existing fisheries regulations, the “catching, fishing, collecting or killing” of sea turtles is illegal throughout the country. The collection of sea turtles and eggs is also illegal, but only in 14 of the country’s 1,192 islands.

Source: Haveeru


‘Junk’ councillor takes part in SLOW LIFE Symposia

Baa atoll Maalhos Councilor Abdul Matheen Solih has said the authority has been labeled the ‘Gondu’ – or junk – council after they started actively participating in improving the island’s waste management.

“The islanders have started calling us the ‘Gondu’ after we have physically started going to the junkyard and working on the waste management,” said Matheen.

Matheen and his fellow councillors have been the labelled with the derogatory term after they set out to do what the majority of the country has failed to by recycling materials rather than burning them or dumping them in a landfill.

Public disregard for work done towards the betterment of the environment was one of the main issues raised at the recent SLOW LIFE symposia which brought local environmental NGOs, councillors, and government officials together to discuss responsible waste management and sustainability.

The symposia – held on November 17- was a sister event to the annual SLOW LIFE Symposium which has previously seen the participation of philanthropists and celebrities such as UK entrepreneur Richard Branson and actor Ed Norton.

Maalhos council also complained of the lack of response from the government to the opposition majority council, with Matheen recalling the failure to be provided with the MVR45 (US$3) needed for gloves for safety reasons while working at the junkyard.

He provided assurance, however, that the council would not succumb to the challenges, revealing plans to implement a sustainable waste management system by adopting the recycling based model currently implemented in Baa Atoll Ukulhas.

NGOS making a difference

Meanwhile, Environmental NGO Save the Beach highlighted the plight of Villingili beach – filled with garbage every weekend by visitors from the capital Malé, where there is no natural beach.

Save the Beach – which started as a youth movement in 2008 aiming to conserve the natural beauty of the Villingili beaches – now conducts clean up and awareness programs not only in Villingili but also in many other inhabited islands.

Speaking of the busy Villingili beach, co–founder Hassan Ahmed ‘Beybe’ said that the NGO has no other option but conducting daily clean-ups alongside major clean up events to keep the beach garbage free.

A recent Save the Beach organised beach clean-up saw the participation of officers and crew from the USS Rodney M Davis – the US Navy’s 7th fleet missile frigate on its last tour of duty.

When asked about the reception of the work done by the NGO, ‘Beybe’ said that they have received positive support from the Villingili community and that it now “understands the importance of preserving the beach”.

Other active NGOs present at the Symposia included his manta ray awareness and conservation organisation Manta Trust, Maldives Lifeguard Association, Dhi Youth Movement and Maldives Body Boarding Association.

Environmental Activism

Environmentalist, Aishath Niyaz who has been involved in environmental activism for over 12 years shared her experiences as an activist and highlighted some of the broader issues with the current environmental situation in the country.

“The biggest constraint is definitely managing finances. I am very lucky as I do not have huge expenses but sometimes I wonder how long I will be able to keep on going like this,” said Aishath.

Aishath’s concerns of financial difficulty were not unique to her but were echoed throughout the Symposia by many of the younger participants.

Having reviously worked at various related institutions, Aishath now provides technical support for local NGOs and small authorities after completing her education in sustainable development by making a decision to not work in institutions which “lack integrity”.

Proving that activism can be done in various forms and arts was local photographer Asad Nazeer ‘Funko’ who, while specialising in fashion and portrait photography, also creates thought provoking art pieces about pressing environmental and social issues.


The event was organised by the award-winning Soneva Fushi resort whose founders Sonu and Eva Shivdasani initiated the SLOW LIFE foundation based on the resort’s philosophies of low impact and sustainable luxury tourism with SLOW LIFE being an acronym for Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness and Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences.

While speaking at the event, Shivdasani said that the SLOW LIFE initiative reflects Soneva group’s core beliefs such as ‘intelligent luxury’ and that he believes that dedicated businesses, not governments will bring change to the world.

The participants at the Symposia were given a platform to voice their concerns over environmental sustainability in the Maldives, resulting in an action plan for the upcoming year to address these environmental challenges.

The day long symposia, which included a tour of Soneva Fush’s gardens and waste management programme, ended with discussions on ‘real’ actions that can be done in the next 12 months to contribute to the cause.

During the discussions, the individuals and NGOs chose to commit to different initiatives which will come under the banner ‘Clean Maldives’.

Related to this story

Climate experts and celebrities converge on Maldives for Slow Life Symposium


Maalhos islanders shut down school, health post in protest

Residents on Maalhos in Alif Alif Atoll have today closed down the island’s school and health centre and staged a sit down protest to demand the government send a doctor and solve an issue concerning “lazy” teachers.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Maalhos Island Council President Ahmed Rashid said that the islanders had been demonstrating since 6:00am this morning.

“They are angry because the school does not have a principal and the teachers are not coming out for work,” he said. “If the school is run by teachers they would not have anyone to oversee their work, so they are not coming to work.”

Rashid said that the school principal was previously transferred to another island because someone complained at the ministry that he had been watching Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV since he came to the island.

women of Maalhos Island protesting outside island school

“We have tried to solve this issue through the education ministry, but they haven’t responded to us and we have also tried calling the health ministry’s person in charge of sending doctors to the island and he is not answering to calls,” he said.

He alleged that the island health centre and school were both dysfunctional.

Rashid also said that protesters had warned that if there was no response from the government by tomorrow, they would also look to close down the island council.

According to Rashid, there are currently 74 students in the island school.

“We can only get things like panadol from the health center,” he added.

An islander who spoke to Minivan News alleged that the local teachers on the island had not been regularly attending work. The source added that in cases when teachers did turn up, they did were always angry at students and used inappropriate language when interacting with their pupils.

“The school and health centre in this island haven’t been functioning properly and today all the parents and senior islanders came out to protest,” he said. “It’s been three months without a doctor and we can only get treatment for minor injuries and common fevers.”

The islander claimed almost all the parents and islanders had joined the protest.

Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health Geela Ali told Minivan News that she had not personally received any information today of protests on the island and could not therefore comment on the matter.

Geela added that she could not say whether the Education Ministry may have been notified of the matter.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Dr Asim Ahmed was not responding to calls at time of press.


Comment: Chaperone culture clash

They say women of any language, culture or religious background share a certain kinship. As a Westerner who has travelled in a variety of places, I have rarely been more mystified by my female peers than in the Maldives.

The Maldives is 100 percent Muslim, with a growing penchant for the burqa. A recent United Nations review of the Maldives found gender equality notably low. Many women hold or would like to hold jobs, while others opt for hijabs and house-wifery. Technically, everyone has a choice. But do they make it in reality?

Many Westerners visit the Maldives for tourism or work. Most visit resorts exclusively, but a handful make their way to Male’ or local islands. Given local cultural standards it should be no surprise to anyone that the foreign woman’s experience in the Maldives is unique. And not just dress code – behavior seems a class unto itself.

While staying on a local island recently I was regularly attended by a flock of young women aged 15-20. Their hospitality was impressive, but at times bordered on intimidating. Walking two blocks home from the beach by myself in broad daylight required a level of assurance to my hosts that was almost aggressive. Arriving somewhere alone surprised and even offended my young hostesses. While I took pictures and clapped along during festivities, walking about as I normally would anywhere, they would spend the time searching for me rather than enjoying the celebration.

Moving in public areas could be difficult as my virtual size was magnified by about three other bodies moving in sync. Several times I would turn at the sink when washing my hands to find a girl had followed me from the eating area because – well, I’m not sure. The place was only so big.

I can’t say if young Maldivian women are unfamiliar with independence, but I can say that this foreigner was befuddled by the level of dependency assumed of her person.

The feeling was neither simple nor justified. I had come to experience local culture – who was I to dictate its terms? Hospitality is meant as a compliment, so why was I so frequently frustrated by my caretakers’ intense caretaking?

My reactions came from the core, so I considered the features.

I walked to school alone at the age of 7, and was free to do anything in or out of doors from age 10 so long as it didn’t involve a trip to the hospital or police station. I accept the consequences of my own actions and deal with my own problems. And I simply aim to cause the least disturbance to those around me. This is a fairly standard upbringing for most Westerners. But its collision with the Maldivian method appears brutal on two points: independence and equality. To be so closely, at times aggressively, attended insulted my independence and aggravated a feminist side I didn’t even know I had.

From a practical standpoint, the reception also complicated rather than facilitated my interactions. As suggested by this article’s opening line, I was curious to meet and learn about local girls and women. But bound by hospitality and its assumptions of dependency, my hostesses were at times difficult to truly reach. I feared their company was based on a need to guarantee that I was never alone or asked to do anything, rather than my personal qualities. My mere presence rendered them dependent as well – if I moved to wash my hands they had to escort me. Yet as a visitor, I wanted to know their culture as it stood alone. What was daily life? What would they do without me around? What did they honestly think of me, anyway? Under the dictates of hospitality, this was nearly impossible.

Some girls willingly shared their musical preferences or accounts of village life. We had some nice chats about their schools and families. Many conversations, however, fizzled at the same point: choice.

During a bodu-beru performance a flock of young girls in hijabs urged me to dance. There were no women on the floor, so I asked someone to join me. I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t imposing, that my participation was appropriate.

“Oh no, we don’t dance, we can’t!” Why not? “We just can’t!” Too shy? “No….we have this!” The burqa. Or hijab. “You should have come two years ago, I was always dancing! But then I took up this, and you know, things changed.”

If the hijab is a fashion statement as some girls allege, then I can judge these girls in terms I would also use for Westerners whose stilettos, skinnies or furs prevent them from running, eating or holding their dribbling child, or whose nails and false eyelashes, allegedly applied to fetch a man, could also shred his scalp. Why do you build your own cage?

But if these young ladies truly accept the many meanings of wearing a hijab and the lifestyle it endorses, then – can I argue? Where is my place in the debate? I am indeed foreign.

I can, however, go dance with a girl who is not wearing religious attire, be joined by a few of younger burqa’d girls as well as the entire female population too young to start the lifestyle, and then smile afterwards when older women grab my hand saying “Shukriya!” that I, a female, danced. Apparently, they all used to, and apparently, they all enjoyed it.

I’ve asked girls why they take up the burqa or hijab. Most respond with shrugs, sideways smiles, confused looks, or explanations like, “It’s, you know, I have many friends who have so it made sense,” or “Well, I just like it but also it seems right.”

As an educated Westerner I’ve been trained not to accept “it seems right” as an answer, and my national curriculum instructed against peer pressure. But this isn’t the West, and I have to accept the local consensus. So, the conversation stops.

And with it, the connection. Our fundamental natures are opposed. I walk alone; they believe it inappropriate. I dance; they’d rather wish they could. These are only basic physical movements, but the differences are profound. Though welcomed on the island I felt alienated by my independence, and though invited into events I felt my race excused my gender and justified my in-congruency. I came to visit, not to be served – the reality frustrated my young Western curiosity.

I’ve studied Islam and its history at the college level, have several friends who practice the faith, and have lived in Muslim regions. I have always been accepted, respected, and welcomed into the fold. I have enjoyed open, free discussions with these friends on a range of topics. I think there are many beautiful aspects to the religion.

Yet in the Maldives I have not yet met a woman who can talk candidly or objectively about the Qur’an. In my country, questions and criticism lead to deeper understanding, but here this rhetoric is shunned as base opposition. Acceptance, not choice, is the cultural undercurrent. Acceptance of my hosts’ duty to the Guest, rather than an assessment of me, the Guest, as a person, governed my visit on the island as well.

Culture shock is funny concept. Though standard teachings describe a four-week rollercoaster to normalcy, experienced travelers might note that they are jarred even after a year’s stay in a foreign culture. Is it ever fair to call something right or wrong? Perhaps we can only admit our differences.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


“It’s not as friendly as it used to be”: the price of politics on Maalhos

Eid brings Muslims worldwide together in a shared sense of celebration. It is also a litmus test for change.

Earlier this year councils were elected for the first time on Maldivian islands. Although they allegedly give islands a larger voice in the national dialogue, in some places the shift has rearranged community life.

“The activities are less common – women don’t play and men do less for Eid,” said Haleema Adam, a Maalhos resident.

Her daughter Nazeera attributed the shift to the advent of multi-party democracy.

“The democracy and party systems created divisions, now people don’t always agree on things,” she said. “Now, people make distinctions by party lines. They still go to the celebrations and help cook for big events, but it’s not as friendly as it used to be. If [our family] plans a party, the others won’t come,” she said.

In keeping with most reports from Maldivian islands, Maalhos residents do not find solutions in aggression. “They don’t show anger in the face,” said Nazeera. “But in the heart it’s there, so they don’t want to play at Eid.”

Eid activities are a favored pastime – ask most islanders on Maalhos about the festivities and they will smile as they recollect a favorite food, game or performance. Yet as young people move to Male’ and technology becomes more accessible, the strongest memories seem to rest with the elderly.

At Ramazan, a conche shell is traditionally blown to signal to other islands that the holiday is being observed. Lately, television and radio have eliminated the need, and therefore the tradition.

Electricity has been a useful advent, however. According to Nazeera, boys and girls no longer have to wait for a full moon to play gon kulhun, a night time game of tag and capture.

Aneesa Adam has many grandchildren, and has lived on Maalhos for most of her life. She remembers a swing that was traditionally hung from a tall palm tree before Eid prayer and used by children throughout the holiday.

“Now, the really tall palm trees have gone,” she said. “They were cut down to build the jetty. A nearby resort bought the trees and in exchange built our jetty.”

The game of fankulhun, a palm leaf version of dodge ball played by women, has fallen in the wake of uncompromising fashions. “Now, we’re too fashionable, too western to play those running games,” said Aminath Nasiha. Another girl gestured to her hijaab.

The changes in Eid traditions are most noticeable by women, who note that activities faded with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

“Religious people don’t like activities that gather men and women together. Those who are in charge of the activities have also become more religious, so they can decide what happens,” said Haleema. “Islanders like the activities, women especially, but most have stopped with religion. We don’t like the change.”

“We used to have Women’s day and Fisherman’s day and all those days,” said Haleema. “The women would cook and we’d bring the food in a keyn (large dish) to the school, because it was the only communal space big enough for everyone to gather.” She said the practice stopped four years ago when sheikhs disapproved.

Maalhos residents used to cook on the 40th day after a death to remember the life of the deceased. “We thought it was a Muslim tradition, but now they are saying it is a waste and not good,” said one resident.

Mosques have been gradually segregated over the years, but now women report being told to pray at home. Maalhos has four mosques, two for men and two for women.

Entertainment has been restricted as well. Haleema said local authorities oppose concerts and dance shows as well as a variety of traditional activities. On a quiet island, few options remain.

Several sports-based games featuring women are less common, or are played on a quieter level within families or household units. Women interviewed said they used to play bodu beru, a traditional drumming music still featured at most events. None could explain why they had stopped.

At a bodu beru celebration this Eid girls encouraged onlooking foreigners to dance. When asked if they would join, most girls gestured to their hijaab or burqa and shrugged. “You should have come two years ago, I was dancing then, oh!” said one girl. “But then I took up this [burqa], and that changed.”

“It’s just not very comfortable to dance with this long dress,” said another.


Palm pyre, koadi and coloured water: Maalhos celebrates Eid

While government officials flock to Addu for international convention SAARC and Male’ residents enjoy a calm holiday atmosphere, islands across the Maldives are welcoming family and friends home for Eid celebrations.

The island of Maalhos in Arif Atoll has been preparing since last week.

Male’-based residents who arrived last Thursday, November 3 spent the following day and evening preparing curries, rice, poppadums and juices for those cousins, children and guests hitching an overnight fishing dhoni from Male’ on Saturday, November 5.

November 6 began with an unofficial sunrise burning of a palm pyre on a beach facing several nearby islands, a traditional signal that Maalhos is celebrating Eid.

Residents later flocked to an extended morning prayer, filling Maalhos’ four gender-distinct mosques. Afterwards the traditional exchange of invitations to eat at neighbors’ houses began, and doors, kitchens and tables became communal property as grandmothers and aunts shuttled dishes and glasses of fruit juice from hand to hand.

A quiet island of population 800, Maalhos actually houses 200-300 people at any given time – most residents live in Male’ or work at sea. During Eid, however, a steady stream of school children, adolescents and mothers-to-be bring gossip and activity into the island streets and homes.

When asked how Eid days compare to typical Maalhos days, most interviewed replied, “It’s the same. We don’t do much, we are just here.” What is their favorite part of Eid? “Food!,” said many, listing favorites such as mahdu (a Maldivian cake), bondi bai (a round rice sweet) and kashi key, a fruit which falls from trees at bowling ball size and is commonly exported for sale in Male’.

One islander observed that Maalhos has shed some of its traditional Eid practices, but maintained that “it’s a very fun holiday, we have food and play. We like to see the traditional cultural games and hear Maldivian music, like bodu beru.”

Eid holidays last one week beginning November 5, however festivities are condensed into the first four days.

In addition to the first days’ morning torch, Maalhos’ youth flirtatiously ambushed each other with sacks and bottles of red water on their way to the sea. Those wearing white walked at their own risk.

In the late afternoon, married and unmarried men challenged each other to a friendly football match near the harbor; women will carry out their own game later today.

Late in the evening, a procession of men dressed as women and old sages paraded through the streets amidst clouds of flour tossed by onlookers (vedhumaa dhiun). Following young male dancers to the island’s president, the leader requested permission to “play” on the second day of Eid. A bodu beru group performed by the harbor in the evening’s finale.

Today, males of all ages assembled by the beach to build the traditional koadi, an array of coconuts, papayas, flowers and coconut palm leaves inscribed with raivaru (poems) recounting local romances and juicy gossip.

“It’s a tradition, but it’s just for fun,” said Koki, a Maalhos girl home for the school holidays. “They march the koadi through the streets with bodu beru and then put it on a girl’s head and chase her. Everyone tries to destroy the koadi by tearing off the palm leaves and passing around the poems.”

Women and children greeted the male procession by tossing sacks and vats of colored water over house walls. Afterwards, procession members paraded Maalhos’ streets with their own colored waters, chasing girls into their houses.

Although Maalhos will not host activities for the next two days of Eid, an islander said the island’s traditions are similar to those of other Maldivian islands.

“I don’t know why we don’t do these celebrations any more, I think nowadays many things are changing,” said islander. A few girls nearby suggested that religion was a factor. He said there was more than just religion, but concluded that “on Maalhos, it will be quiet except for maybe a concert or a football game.”

Traditionally, the third day of Eid is marked with a mahdi and bodumas, a large fish constructed from palm leaves and paraded around the island. Day four is designated for black mali, or people who paint themselves in black and throw black balls at residents, wearing only palm leaf skirts.

Many say Eid’s rhythm isn’t a far cry from the average Maalhos day. A quiet island whose population has mostly migrated to Male’, its holiday habits suggest a strong focus on communal stability rather than a need for razzle dazzle. Minivan’s repeated inquiries about the history of Eid festivities consistently yielded a satisfying, simple response: “It’s tradition, it’s just for fun.”


Islanders allege black magic performed in Maalhos School after students inexplicably start to faint

At least four students in North Ari Atoll Malhos have been taken to hospitals in Male’ after they mysteriously fainted.

Five students attending the school have experienced the unusual incident, but the fifth student’s condition was not as serious as the other four.

One male student, who was the first to experience the unusual effects, reportedly lost conscious and was brought Male’ for treatment after he was found in a hypoxic condition, characterised by a lack of oxygen in the blood supply.

Several days later another female student experienced the same condition and was brought Male’ for treatment.

Third student studying at the school fainted while she was at home yesterday, and remains hospitalised in Indira Gandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH).

‘’She fainted while she was at home and she was taken to the health centre immediately,’’ said a family member of the girl, no older than 14. ‘’She remained unconscious for more than two hours in the health centre.’’

The family member said the girl had not claimed to have observed anything unusual before suddenly fainting.

‘’She did not see or feel anything unusual before she just fainted like the others,’’ he said. ‘’The health centre advised her to come Male’ for more treatment and for necessary examinations.’’

He said that many tests conducted so far all showed the results as normal.

‘’It is very strange, we do not know what is going on,’’ he said.

He also said that the fifth student to experience the symptoms, who was of the same age and fainted yesterday, was brought Male’ with her.

‘’The other girl that was brought with her was in a far worse condition. She remained unconscious for more than three or four hours and she does not know what happened to her,” he said.

The family member said that more than four men were needed to hold the girl down when she became conscious, and people observed that she was extremely strong for a girl of her age.

‘’We are suspecting that this is something related to black magic practices,’’ he added.

Another islander, Ahmed Adil ‘Ahukko’, alleged that the cause of the fainting spells was the performance of black magic during the Local Councils Elections in an effort to win votes.

‘’Because it was the island school where the elections were held, the person who did it would probably do it to the school so that it has effect on anyone that enters there,’’ he claimed. ‘’Parents are very concerned and have expressed concern about it now.’’

Although the island is small and isolated with a population of only a few hundred, belief in black magic remains very common and many claim to be victims of such spiritual attacks.


Imam among seven men arrested for homosexual activity

A group of men, including an imam, were arrested in Alif Alif atoll Maalhos on Thursday after photos and videos emerged of the seven engaged in homosexual activity.

An islander who spoke on condition of anonymity told Minivan News a group of teenagers from the island came upon the video CDs in the house of one of the suspects. When the CDs began to be circulated in public, the “island elders” alerted police.

“It came as a big shock to everyone on the island to see that [the imam] was one of them. He gives the Friday sermons at the mosque every week,” he said. “He is a well respected person on the island and we saw him as our religious leader.”

Besides the imam, the pornographic videos featured a mosque caretaker, a carpenter and another man the islanders believe to be mentally unstable, the islander claimed.

“He is a deranged person. We have always seen him running around the island naked,” he said.

Of the three men not featured in the video, two were incriminated in photos found along with the videos, he continued, while the third was believed to have filmed the pornography.

Three of the suspects were married with children, the islander said, while one of them included a second, retired imam. The youngest of the seven men was aged 27, while the rest were over 45 years of age, he said.

Miadhu reported other islanders as claiming that two of the seven men consider themselves “as husband and wife.”

Sergeant Ahmed Shiyam from the Maldives Police Service confirmed the arrests were made on Thursday following a report from the islanders. The seven men are currently in police custody. All were residents of Maalhos.

A spokesperson for the Islamic Ministry said they were not yet aware of the case and could not speculate on any measures that could be taken. Meanwhile Abdullah bin Mohamed Ibrahim, President of Islamic NGO Salaf Jamiya, also said he was unable to comment as they did not have complete information on the case.

Under the existing penal provisions, the punishment for sodomy is 19 to 39 lashes, banishment or imprisonment of up to three years.

Another islander from Maalhos who spoke to Minivan News said a group of people had become suspicious of the seven men before the videos came out.

“They have been following them around for a long time now,” he said. “They were suspicious before, and the videos just confirmed it.”