The second edition of the Baa Atoll Manta Festival was held in Baa Eydhafushi from 20th to 21st September. Spearheaded by Manta Trust, the festival is a collaboration between the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the Baa Atoll Education Centre ( BAEC), Baa Atoll Council and Eydhafushi Island Council, Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, along with over 50 businesses and environmental organisations.  

Some 320 students from 13 schools participated in the festival. 

Vice President Faisal Naseem presided over the opening ceremony. He highlighted the sacrifices the community has made to be a part of the Biosphere Reserve and the importance of continuing to protect the Maldives’ precious environment, and the world’s largest recorded population of reef manta rays.  

The ceremony also featured a welcome dance by the students of Manta Trust’s Moodhu Madharusaa Marine Education Program from BAEC, dancing to the theme song ‘Hanifaru Bay’. 

Some 30 stalls open to the public featured marine conservation themed games and goodies from NGOs including the Olive Ridley Project, the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program, Atoll Marine Centre, Zero Waste Maldives and BeLeaf. Visitors engaged in competitions offering sustainable prizes, printed their own personalised reusable bags and shopped from local businesses including Island Bazaar, Oevaali Art shop and Pepper Dots. The Manta Trust offered the unique opportunity to swim with manta rays in virtual reality whilst Maldives Post offered the international crowd the chance to send manta-themed postcards home.  

For Ifaasha Abdul Raheem, the festival’s school coordinator, the experience was memorable: “This has been one the best experiences in my life! Manta festival has not only boosted my love towards nature, but it also has made me a better person in every possible way. This festival has brought an immense impact to our youth to fall in love with our environment and made them realise the crucial role they can play in their community! Most importantly, this was an opportunity for our students to explore, learn and a golden chance to show their creativity and love towards nature. I loved every bit of it! Glad to be part of this amazing event.” 

According to Manta Trust, despite unfavourable weather which affected snorkelling-based activities, students were able to engage in a wide range of educational events at the school. On Saturday (21st September), the students participated in a waste segregation session for World Coastal Clean-up Day, hosted by BAEC, Soneva Fushi, Parley and Manta Trust. Students from 13 islands bought jumbo bags of beach clean-up waste to the event and engaged in a hands-on session to learn how to properly separate recyclables. A live art competition saw exciting prizes awarded to paintings which creatively highlighted the plight of the ocean, with the adult category winner receiving return flights from festival Airline Partner, Manta Air.  

A school drama competition was held on Saturday afternoon, with each performance centered around a different charismatic megafauna species. The BAEC received a standing ovation following an emotional performance focused on the threats of fishing on manta rays. Thulhaadhoo took home the second prize whilst K. Dhiffushi won third place following a performance packed with creative costumes.  

“In the month leading up to the festival, 200 students of ten schools from Baa and Raa Atoll were taken snorkelling with manta rays by partner resorts and the Biosphere Reserve team. Students spent an hour inside the World-renowned Hanifaru Bay, snorkelling with up to fifty of these gentle giants. The trips built on the event’s aim to inspire young Maldivians to become ocean advocates and engage more with water-based activities, featuring snorkelling equipment funded by donations from last year’s festival,” Manta Trust said. 

“The festival concluded with an energetic prize giving ceremony and an air of anticipation and excitement for the next event.” 

The festival was sponsored by 15 resorts: Four Seasons, Vakkaru, Ocean Dimensions at Kihaa, Anantara Kihavah, Nautilus, Reethi Faru, Milaidhoo, Sea-Explorer and Reethi Beach, Finolhu, Amilla Fushi, Dusit Thani and Ocean Group, Westin Maldives, Euro-Divers Maldives, Meeru Island Resort, and Soneva Fushi.  

The festivities were covered by Media Partner PSM and Online Media Partner Eydhafushi Times. Some 260 visiting students were hosted overnight by Baa Atoll Education Centre, whilst guests reached Eydhafushi with support from Travel Partner MTCC and Airline Partner Manta Air.  

The Baa Atoll Manta Festival Facebook page will feature event updates: http://www.facebook.com/BaaMantaFest

The Manta Trust is a UK-based manta ray conservation charity, co-ordinating global research and conservation efforts around manta rays: http://www.mantatrust.org

The Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) is the charity’s flagship research project. After more than a decade of research across this island nation, the MMRP has evolved into one of the largest and longest-standing manta conservation groups in the world: http://www.mantatrust.org/maldives

The Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve was designated in 2012 in recognition of the outstanding natural values of Baa Atoll, and the commitments being made by local communities and resorts to conserve local environments including megafauna such as manta rays and whale sharks: http://www.broffice.gov.mv