Passionate groups come together to breathe life back into our reefs in peril.  This article first appeared in our print Issue No. 7.

The deep oceans that surrounds the tiny Maldivian islands are filled with colourful marine life and vibrant coral reefs, and enjoys some of the richest marine biodiversity anywhere in the world. Our coral reefs are the seventh largest in the world, representing some 5% of the global reef area. They are home to 250 species of fish. But these magnificent reefs that protects the islands and its people may soon be gone. Severe coral bleaching incidents have affected between 60-90 percent of corals in different areas of these tropical waters of the Maldives. If immediate action is not taken, these vibrant corals will become ghostly shadows of their former selves.

Save the Beach is a Maldivian NGO founded by a team of enthusiastic conservationists. The NGO, initially supported by UNDP, has been conducting coral restoration and relocation projects for over a decade now. One of the first projects by the NGO was to rehabilitate corals damaged following the harbour development project in Villimalé – a dividsion of capital Malé city. Save the Beach already had several successful reef restoration projects under their belt, when they expressed their wish to start a new coral conservation project to Shoko Noda, the UNDP Resident Representative in the Maldives.

About an hour away from Malé city is Meeru Island Resort & Spa. The resort had some of the best underwater spectacles one can find the Maldives. However, like many coral reefs near this area, it too is under threat and Meeru Island Resort was looking for ways to replenish their reefs. Shoko introduced Save the Beach to Hussain Afeef (Champa), the Chairman of Crown & Champa Resorts, which operate Meeru Island Resort. It led to the Coral Garden seen thriving on the shallower reefs of the resort today.

The resort had the means, and the NGO brought in the know-how. As part of the Coral Garden Project, Save the Beach came up with a method of coral planting, where specific corals that would be compatible in the Meeru waters, were grown on nursery beds, and relocated to the Coral Garden once they matured. Save the Beach and Meeru worked together to find coral fragments and plant, maintain and tend to them on a daily basis. All this was done at the nurseries developed with the assistance of the Sports, Entertainment and Activities (SEA) team at Meeru Island Resort. The project also allowed the teams to conduct studies on how to grow corals at nurseries, which were ideal locations for replanting matured corals.

One year on Hassan Ahmed (Beybe), one of the Founders of Save the Beach, and Shoko visited Meeru on a beautiful sunny morning to check the progress of the coral garden. The waters were exceptionally clear and sparkled with the droplets of sunshine shimmering on their surface. “We are thrilled to see the progress. Where once the reef was barren, now the underwater life and the corals are blooming,” Shoko observes.

Noting the importance of connecting passionate groups, Shoko is glad that UNDP was able to support Save the Beach in mobilising support from the private sector. “It’s also very rewarding to see passionate people like Naasih from the resort, who didn’t know that much about marine biology, now becoming an expert in his own way. He is able to carry on the important role of conserving natures incredible gifts to us.

“Within just one and a half year, I am amazed to see the good progress made. This is just one reef restored. Imagine if there were hundreds of reefs like this. We are now proud to host regular coral garden tours for our guests so that we can impart awareness and inspire many more,” says Meeru’s Afeef.

The impact of these remarkable efforts to revive our reefs in peril might be incremental, but it hold promises as was the ocean. Especially for countries on the frontlines of climate change, such as Maldives, only by protecting the fragile under water can we ensure life above water. Taking action to leave this country as vibrant, attractive and prosperous as the one we inherited. Not only for Maldvians. But for everyone.

Highlights:   

Maldives hosts the seventh largest coral reef system in the world with more than 250 coral species 

Reef dependent tourism makes up 60% of total tourism revenues and 43% of GDP

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