Maldives’ first Marine National Park without land two years after government agreement

As the Maldives moves ahead with plans to transform itself into the world’s largest marine reserve by 2017, the country’s first Marine National Park (MNP) in Noonu Atoll has yet to receive land the government agreed would be set aside for the project back in 2011.

The Edu Faru MNP was established during the previous government through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Environment Ministry back in 2011 in order to protect nine islets in Noonu Atoll that would be kept in a “pristine” state and undeveloped for future research.

However, almost two years since the Maldives agreed to establish the MNP and a non-profit foundation to run the site, a private partner on the project has raised concerns that both the present and former administrations were yet to move ahead on the MNP.

Mohamed Hameed, Promoter of the non-profit Edu Faru MNP project, has said that despite receiving vocal support of both President Dr Mohamed Waheed and former President Mohamed Nasheed, both their administrations has so far failed to approve vital paperwork on the project.

Hameed, who conceived the MNP based around international models of marine reserves such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef or the Kosterhavet National Park in Sweden, said he had continued to struggle to obtain approval for the foundation charged with running the park.

“[The] government is a major stakeholder in the foundation that will run the Marine National Park (MNP) as a non-profit organisation… but it is yet to approve the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the foundation.  The foundation has not been registered,” he explained.

“Following the registration of the foundation, government is to hand over the entire site of the MNP, including its surrounding waters, to the foundation under an agreement.”

Hameed said that although the present and former governments had received all the required paperwork and files, he did not believe that any decision or progress would be made on approving the foundation to run the MNP before the presidential election scheduled for September this year.


By the end of the current year, the management of the MNP, which presently works on a voluntary basis, has targeted reaching an agreement with the state on the park’s boundaries. Under guidelines set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the park requires an area of land of at least 1,000 hectares.

With these boundaries in place, the MNP’s management has said it will then aim to secure grants from groups like the world bank as well as international donors, NGOs and the country’s tourism ministry to try and establish research centres and an underwater observatory for both the public and scientists to study at.

Aside from the opportunities for research, Hameed said that strictly regulated fishing and tourism expeditions would also be allowed in the area, although travel in the park would have to be conducted on non-motorised, traditional dhoni vessels.

Money raised through these ventures would be used to help run the park and provide research and training programmes.

Despite the restrictions on the use of the proposed MNP site, Hameed said both the public and Noonu Atoll Council had lent support to the project.

He added that while there was a local understanding of the need for national conservation through projects like the MNP, it remained important to educate and create awareness among the public, as well as the international community about the sensitive nature of the Maldives environment.

Hameed therefore said he welcomed the government’s wider commitments in trying to transform the Maldives into a national biosphere reserve.

Reserve reservations

Despite welcoming the idea of the project, Hameed has expressed some reservations about the state’s ability to plan and execute such an ambitious conservation strategy. He raised particular concerns about what he claims was the lack of a holistic legal framework outlining environmental protection in the nation.

A number of stakeholders working in the environmental sector last month expressed concern about a perceived lack of enforcement and legislative framework to protect biodiversity and conservation areas nationally.

Ali Rilwan, Executive Director for local NGO BluePeace, claimed at the time that a lack of national enforcement mechanisms continued to setback and limit the effectiveness of national parks and biosphere projects in the country.

He claimed that without such regulation, marine reserves and other conservation zones currently established in the country were operating more as “paper parks” than designated protected areas.

State conservation commitments

The Environment Ministry earlier in June announced the formation of an Environmental Police Unit that would see 22 trained officers with the aim of investigating and punish violations of laws relating to biodiversity and littering.

As well as establishing the Environmental Police Unit, the ministry has continued to call for expressions of interest from atolls wishing to be part of its national marine reserve transformation plan set for 2017.

Muhusina Abdul Rahman, an analyst for the Ministry of Environment and Energy, told Minivan News that authorities were seeking 10 atolls to be unveiled in 2017 as being part of its national marine reserve.

Within each of these ten atolls, the government has pledged to designate three different types of zones that would be exclusively separated into conservation, buffers areas and “transition” land free to be developed for industrial and other commercial purposes.

Rahman said that the ministry was now moving ahead with feasibility studies in the nominated atolls to see conduct a detailed assessment of communities best suited to being included in the reserve.

She claimed that the ministry hoped to identify the first two atolls that will make up the national biosphere reserve by year end, but said these areas would not be unveiled until all ten were officially announced in 2017.

Rahman mantained that the Edu Faru MNP would compliment the state’s biosphere reserve scheme along aside other high-profile conservation areas such as Baa Atoll, which was designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 2011.

Bio-reserve challenges

One resort general manager based in Baa Atoll said earlier this year that the despite the area being classified as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, there had been no changes on its operations, despite claims from authorities about the significant marketing potential.

“There are a lot of conservation organisations here with opinions on how to manage the site, but it’s taking a long time to reach agreements. I have myself expressed concerns that it is taking too long to devise how the areas should be used,” the resort head said back in January.


Maldives resorts, local communities participating in whale shark festival

This story was first published on the Maldives resort review site,

South Ari Atoll is hosting a whale shark festival aiming to bring together local resorts and communities with a view to expanding cooperation on conservation – as well as providing tourists with insight into one of the country’s most elusive creatures.

Based on the island of Dhigurah, the festival is focused not only on trying to better understand the movement and behaviours of whale sharks in their natural habitat, but also to give visitors a chance to better understand South Ari Atoll’s ecology and culture.

Organisers have expressed hope that the festival will establish itself as an annual event in the country, having already secured sponsorship from a number of resorts including LUX* Maldives, Mirihi Island, Vilamendhoo, Holiday Island and the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.

The event also represents a collaboration between local NGOs such as the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP), the South Ari Marine Protected Area, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Beyond the country’s traditional appeal as a destination for sun, sand and sea, sightings of creatures like the whale shark have increasingly proven a major draw for visitors in recent years.

In attempts to balance the potential environmental impacts of increased numbers of visitors wishing to experience the country’s delicate ecosystems, several island resort properties have announced collaborations with conservation groups and marine reserves across the country.

The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort told Dhonisaurus that beyond playing a role in today’s festival, the property over the last six years has been involved with efforts to promote better conservation and understanding of whale sharks in the country.

Resort spokesperson Katherine Anthony said the resort had been a main sponsor of the MWSRP NGO since 2007, as part of a strategy she said reflected the seriousness with which the property treated the conservation and study of the local environment.

Conrad has said that the nature of the resort’s sponsorship of the MWSRP is partly financial, but  also provided accommodation, fuel and food to the group’s researchers for nine months of the year.

Besides research, the MWSRP also allows guests at the property to participate in three weekly excursions to go out and see the creatures.

“They can talk about whale sharks in depth and give a much more detailed and focused excursion than you’d find elsewhere due to the MWSRP’s in depth knowledge of whale sharks,” she said.

“What we have found is that already one guest has joined the MWSRP as a research volunteer, so it’s definitely a program that’s of interest to our guests.”

Anthony added that resort guests accepting an invite to the festival would be given a unique and rarely seen insight into the local environment.

“It’s also an excellent opportunity to see life on an inhabited Maldivian island, eat Maldivian food, meet Maldivians and talk to them about their lives,” she said.

Biosphere ambitions

On a national level, the Maldives government is moving ahead with plans to transform the Maldives into what it claims will be the world’s largest  biosphere reserve by designating zones across the country that would earmark land use for specific purposes such as tourism development or conservation.

In approving the plan to transform the country into a “world renowned” marine reserve, members of the cabinet claim there has been a growing number of visitors to areas such as Baa Atoll after it became a protected area.

While some tourism industry figures have welcomed existing efforts to transformation areas such as Baa Atoll into bio-reserves, concerns have been raised about the efforts taken to manage such zones in balancing tourism interests with preserving local habitats.


Maldives forms environment police as civil society criticises lack of enforcement, legislation

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) and the Ministry of Environment and Energy have announced the formation of a new unit that will assign 22 trained officers to deal with ecological violations across the country.

The Environmental Police Unit, formed through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed on June 6, will aim to investigate and punish violations of laws relating to biodiversity and littering, the Environment Ministry claimed in an email to Minivan News.

Formation of the new unit comes as NGOs and not for profit groups have raised individual concerns over a perceived lack of enforcement or a clear legal framework to uphold environmental protection efforts across the country.

These ongoing concerns over enforcement are said to already directly impact both the country’s fledgling national parks and marine reserves, as well as on individual inhabited islands.


According to the Environment Ministry, officers from the new police unit will be required to assist the state in enforcing national regulations such as in providing sports fines related to vehicular emissions or cases of illegal sand-mining, or dealing with poaching of protected species in the country.

Police will also be required to share details of environmental crimes to the ministry, which did not share any further information on the specific offences that police will asked to focus on at time of press.

Under the MOU, the Environment Ministry will be required to give technical advice on the formation of the environment unit, including training for 22 officers in dealing with environmental crime.

The ministry is also called on to host workshops and awareness events for various agencies within the police force, as well as for customs officials, port authorities and the coast guard.

Environment authorities are also required through the MOU to provide all necessary information on laws and regulations, as well as other treaties and agreements signed by the Maldives as part of the country’s wider sustainability aims.

Stakeholder concerns

Numerous stakeholders in Maldives’ environment sector have meanwhile this week told Minivan News that a perceived lack enforcement as well as concise national legislation has in recent years held back ecological protection efforts.

For Ali Rilwan, Executive Director for local NGO BluePeace, a lack of enforcement of the country’s environmental regulations was believed to be the most pertinent long-standing issue setting back conservation and protection efforts at present.

Rilwan claimed that a lack of national mechanisms to report and enforce environmental crimes continued to hamper state initiatives to curb practices such as harvesting of turtles eggs and the export of shark.

In the case of national parks and biospheres, Rilwan alleged that a lack of enforcement was a particular problem for any conservation attempts.

He claimed that without such regulation, marine reserves and other conservation zones currently established in the country were operating more as “paper parks” than designated protected areas.

According to Rilwan, the lack of a nationwide enforcement mechanism to protect environmental laws was presently most apparent in smaller islands where police presence was often limited, making it difficult to report suspected offences.

“The police are supposed to have already been enforcing laws and regulations for environmental protection. But enforcement is something that we have not seen attempted,” he said.

Rilwan added that with the Environment Ministry not having representation within island councils, monitoring potential abuses of environmental law on more than 1,000 islands across the country would limit the effectiveness.

“There are local councils who can focus on the issue, but in the case of any criminal acts, councillors themselves would not be able to investigate or penalise any perpetrators contravening environmental law,” he said.

Rilwan added that with the training of environmental police in the country, he believed there could be an opportunity for effective enforcement going forward.

However, Mohamed Hameed, Promoter of the Edu Faru Marine National Park project in Noonu Atoll, has said he believes the Maldives main challenge regarding ecological protection was the continued lack of a holistic legal framework to protect the environment.

“The Maldives at present is an example of a very sensitive environment. You can get police to check on it, but you need a legal framework to protect these places,” he said. “At present, this legislative framework is lacking.”

Despite successive government in the Maldives playing up sustainability as a key part of their national development plans, Hameed said that current legislation on the environment was presently “all over the place” with various laws overlapping ad contradicting each other in some cases.

Taking successful international examples of marine reserves such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef or the Kosterhavet National Park in Sweden, he claimed that both parks were protected within the respective legal frameworks of both nations.

Without similar amendments being considered in the Maldives, Hameed said that it would be very difficult to ensure projects like the Edu Faru MNP were properly protected.

He claimed from his own experience of trying to establish the country’s first MNP, a process said to have taken over two decades, efforts to set up an environmental not for profit organisation had been complicated by the fragmented legislative framework presently used in the country.

Hameed claimed that despite both President Dr Mohamed Waheed and former President Mohamed Nasheed supporting the MNP’s formation, he was still waiting for official paperwork and all the agreed lands to be handed over to him so work could fully begin on the site.

The MNP, which was established through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Environment Ministry back in 2011, is designed to protect nine islets by keeping them in a “pristine” state and undeveloped for future research.

Reserve focus

National parks and reserves are expected to become an increasingly important part of the Maldives conservation efforts on the back of a pledge by the current government to make the country the world’s largest marine reserve by 2017.

The government has is committed to move ahead with plans to transform the Maldives into a biosphere reserve through the designation of zones across the country that would earmark land use for specific purposes such as tourism development or conservation.