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Country Overview

The Maldive Islands, also known as The Republic of Maldives, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean located to the southwest of Sri Lanka, and between Minicoy Island (the southernmost part of Lakshadweep, India) and the Chagos Archipelago (British Indian Ocean Territory).

The country is made up of 26 atolls, and some 1190 islands. The Maldives consist of five oceanic faros, and four oceanic platform reefs, which together with all coral reef and lagoon habitat cover an area of approximately 20% of the Maldives’ Territorial Sea (Naseer and Hatcher, 2004). The islands are relatively small, with an average size of 0.25 km2.

The Maldives pretty much consist entirely of coral reefs, the most diverse of all marine ecosystems. Much effort has been put into the study of the bio-diversity and dynamics of reefs in general but in the Maldives; however, the remoteness of its many reefs, and their wide distribution makes it comparatively difficult to conduct research work (Hoon, 1997). The Maldives support a great diversity of coral reefs, with at least 200 species of stony coral, and associated coral reef organisms (Wilkinson, 2008). Coral reef coverage in the Maldives is 4,513 km2 (MRC, 2013). This includes rim and oceanic reefs (3,701.93 km2 or 82.5% of total reef area), as well as patch reefs inside of atoll lagoons (791.92 km2 or 17.5% of total reef area) (Naseer and Hatcher, 2004). Other important habitats include sea grass beds, mangrove habitats and sandy lagoons. Due to the diversity of coral reefs, the Maldives is very dependent on the reef for its two vital industries which are tourism and fisheries. However coral reefs in Maldives are under pressure from coral bleaching and other anthropogenic disturbances such as coral mining, siltation and general pollution (Jalel, 2013).

MPAs in Maldives

In order to prevent over exploitation, and improve conservation and preservation, Marine Protected Areas or MPAs were first established in the Maldives in 1995 under the Environment Act 4/93. This was a first step to protecting specified areas from the negative and harmful consequences of over-fishing, coral mining, anchor damage and garbage dumping (Jalel, 2013).

According to the State of Environment Report 2001, the Government of Maldives has initiated several measures for the protection of important habitats and threatened species. The Government designated 15 Marine Protected Areas as the country’s first MPA in 1995, and 10 more in 1999. These initial sites were established at the behest of the tourism industry for the explicit purpose of dive tourism. Other purposes include banning export of important bait fish as aquarium fish; banning fishing from the ‘house’ reefs of tourist resorts; and the protection of threatened marine species such as sharks, sea turtles, giant clams, and black coral.

Currently, the Maldives has 33 marine protected areas (dive sites), in which only diving and bait fishing are allowed. The map above shows the distribution of MPAs in Maldives, and MPA database lists them.

MPAs are a very recent development in the Maldives. In the early 1990s, local resorts and dive operators were growing increasingly concerned with mounting fishing pressures on reef systems, particularly extractive activities occurring on the ‘house reefs’ adjacent to the resorts (Ali, 2004). Fishermen were not only catching baitfish on such reefs, but were also fishing for reef fish and sharks around popular dive sites (Ali, 2004).

A 1993 IUCN study recommended that the government consider establishing a network of protected areas, and shortly thereafter, The Environment Ministry, The Marine Research Centre (Ministry of Fisheries, Agriculture and Marine Resources), and the Ministry of Tourism began identifying sites around the country to be considered for protected area status.

The environmental protection policy of the Maldives is articulated in the National Environment Action Plan (NEAP). The first Action Plan, formulated in 1989, focused on the nation’s environmental planning and management needs, providing a combined approach to resolving existing problems, and establishing mechanisms for future more sound management of the environment. The principal aim outlined in this Action Plan is to "protect and preserve the environment of the Maldives, and to manage its resources sustainably for the collective benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations". A second NEAP was adopted in 1999, and a policy to identify sites of high biological significance for the conservation of biological diversity, tourism, and other sustainable development opportunities, and designate them as protected areas.

Recently the Maldives has launched the Grouper Fishery Management Plan (December 25, 2012). The biological nature of groupers, such as their longevity, late maturity, characteristic change of sex from females in their early life stages to become mature males, formation of spawning aggregations make them extremely vulnerable to overfishing. The management was a response to a need to manage the Maldivian grouper fishery to ensure sustainability of the resource for future generations.

Shark fisheries, intensified from the 1970s onward, became a threat to the resource (Ushan et al., 2012). At the same time, Maldives is the high dependence on the marine environment to attract visitors. Diving and snorkelling are the two main recreational activities and the main attraction is the coral reef environment and large fish, especially reef sharks. Shark diving is a big business in the Maldives, and there was therefore considerable pressure from the tourism industry to preserve reef shark stocks (Andersen and Waheed, 1999). In response, the Maldives government has enforced legislations pertaining to the shark fisheries since the late 1990s. A 10 year moratorium was declared in 1998 on all type of shark fishing inside and within 12 miles from the rim of 7 major tourism atolls in the Maldives (Ushan et. al., 2012). This was followed by a national shark fishing ban, practically turning the Maldives territorial waters and EEZ into a sharks sanctuary.

  • Ali, Mohamed. 2004. Status and Development Potential of the Coastal and Marine Resources of the Maldives and their Threats. FAO/Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem Report. 58 pp.
  • Andersen and Waheed. 1999. Management of Shark Fisheries in the Maldives. In: Case studies of the management of elasmobranch fisheries. Shotton R (Ed.) Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.
  • BOBLME (2011). Status of Marine Protected Areas and Fish Refugia in the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem. BOBLME – 2011 – Ecology – 10
  • EPA 2013. "Protected Areas - Maldives". Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed October 2013
  • Jalel, A. 2013. The status of the coral reefs and the management approaches: The case of the Maldives. Ocean & Coastal Management 82. 104e118
  • MRC. 2013. Marine Research Centre last accessed October 2013
  • Naseer, A. and B.G. Hatcher. 2004. Inventory of the Maldives’ coral reefs using morphometrics generated from Landsat ETM+ imagery. Coral Reefs, 23: 161–168
  • Ushan, M., Wood, E., Saleem, M. and Sattar, S.A. 2012. Maldives Sharkwatch Report for 2009 – 2010. Proceedings of the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium, Cairns, Australia, 9-13 July 2012
  • Vineeta Hoon (1997) Proceedings of the Regional Workshop on the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Coral Reefs. Proceedings No.22, CRSARD, Madras
  • World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA). 2013. last accessed October 2013
  • Wilkinson, C. (ed.), 2008. Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008 Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Reef and Rainforest Research Center, Townsville, Australia. 296pp.
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