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G: Inaugural Address (by Mr. Isamail Shafeeu, Minister of Planning, Human Resources & Environment)

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Honorable Hassan Sobir, Director General Jadulla Jameel, Director General Hassan Maniku, distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Assalaam Alaikum

It is a great pleasure for me to be here this morning, to participate in the opening session of this workshop on integrated reef resources management. This workshop is an important step forward, in our efforts to sustainably and equitably manage our reefs. These reefs have sustained the island communities of this country from time immemorial, and with foresight and planning, are capable of sustaining the many generations to come;

There is no doubt that all citizens of this nation are entitled to work towards a better quality of life and share in the benefits of development. However, we have increasingly come to realize that some processes and by-products of our pursuit of a better life have serious adverse impacts on our resources and consequently on future development. Though our beautiful reefs are rich in biodiversity and thriving well, there is no doubt that they have taken a number of punches in the rounds of development. In particular, as competition among multiple users of reef resources intensifies, so will the degradation of reef resources; and the management options open to us will then increasingly diminish. This situation is increasingly becoming apparent in parts of the country which have had the most investments and the highest growth.

Maintaining the biological diversity, the condition, the resources and values of coral reefs requires a multi-stakeholder perspective at national and local level. We have only achieved partial success in the past when individual sectors took unilateral control measures. It has become very clear that only joint concerted action can resolve the issues. As well, the need has become deeply felt for dialogue and cooperation between different economic and social sectors, for common solutions transcending the different sectors and for fulfilling responsibility. Multi sectoral, multi disciplinary forums such as this workshop are the ideal means to discuss the issues at hand and to identify comprehensive strategies.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We must be clear in our minds about what we are addressing at this meeting. We are not talking only about conservation of resources, nor of protection alone. We are addressing the issues of management of reef resources that include sustainable multiple use of resources, protection of critical habitats, maintenance of biological diversity, conservation of rare or endangered species and stewardship of the whole reef ecosystem.

As Agenda 21, the action plan of the Earth Summit recognizes, sustainable development of resources is only possible through a viable partnership between government, industry and civil society. In this regard, the government is committed to developing national strategies, plans and policies. This workshop is such an initiative. The active involvement of private stakeholders and community organisations is critical in the formulation of strategies and policies for sustainable reef management. It is indeed encouraging to see representatives from the industries, NGOs and the media present in this opening session. It is my sincere hope that all of you would be able to participate throughout the workshop and make useful contributions to this very important initiative.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Many a seasoned and jaded global traveller has been inspired and excited and refreshed by the richness and exuberance of Maldivian reefs. However, this situation may not endure for long if present trends continue unabated. Over-exploitation of living reef resources, illegal trade of endangered species and their products, irresponsible coral mining, destructive fishing practices are real dangers that our reefs face. Only a practically oriented management system can ensure that such destructive activities do not have a place in the Maldives.

The government has taken a number of measures to manage reef resources in a responsible and sustainable manner. Destructive fishing practices have been banned, the export and exploitation of certain marine products have been prohibited or controlled, zoning has been introduced for coral mining, market incentives introduced to promote import of construction materials, and very recently marine protected areas have been designated. To achieve sustainable tourism development, the Ministry of Tourism with the cooperation of Maldivian Association of Tourism Industry has introduced a number of regulatory measures and appropriate technologies.

However, we should never be complacent in this matter. There should be no doubt in our minds that our survival as a nation is intimately linked to our coral reefs. We thus need to constantly build on the policy and regulatory framework. In particular, we need holistic policies and strategies that provide a clear sense of purpose and the direction to follow in the years ahead. We need to develop policies directed at the relevant stakeholding sectors who should take full responsibility.

We also need to further develop comprehensive working management systems, with consistent and enforceable legal instruments for control, along with market mechanisms for promotion of certain measures. A research agenda needs to be developed and facilitated for areas where there are gaps in information or where no information is available. Provisions for information availability, institutional coordination, education, training, and public awareness should become part of the management system.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In developing our policies for the future, there are a number of questions that need answers. Are resources being over-exploited? Do we need ceilings on exploitation of a resource? Do we have enough information to set such ceilings? What is the maximum sustainable yield? What is the best method for controlling regulation or market mechanisms? What is the best institutional structure? And so on.

Additionally, in this context, we need to also continually assess the effectiveness of ongoing measures; we recently designated marine protected areas. Does this designation meet our overall objective? How can we manage the protected areas? What kind of guidelines need to be developed? Can we generate adequate financial resources for the proper management of these areas?

The question of property right is also a major issue to be addressed. Who owns the resources? Who should have accessibility? What kind of policy and legal instruments are needed to avoid conflicts in resource utilization? The questions go on. We need answers to these questions and we need them soon. I hope that you have place in your deliberations for such questions.

Distinguished Participants,

Coral reef protection was accorded a high priority in Agenda 21, Chapter 17, on "Protecting and Managing the Oceans". We would be thus well advised to develop an agenda that we could put in front of UN agencies, convention secretariats and multilateral and bilateral donors. This has to be an agenda in which our priorities are clearly set out, which outlines what can be accomplished by ourselves and which describes what assistance we require in terms of financial resources and technology.

I believe that this is very timely workshop. We have just started the process of developing a local agenda 21. Last December, in association with the Ministry of Health and Welfare, an inter sectoral consultation on health and environment was held. This would culminate with a situation analysis and action plan for health and environment. Now the critical issues in reef resource management are being addressed.

It would also be useful to bear in mind that the 1996 sessions of the Commission on Sustainable Development with its focus on Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 will deal with coral reef and related ecosystems. I hope that the results of this workshop could form a critical part of the Maldivian input into the deliberations of the CSD.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before concluding I would like to welcome the distinguished resource persons who have brought here with them their knowledge and experiences. Their contributions will be of great help in workshop deliberations. I wish you a pleasant stay in the Maldives.

I would also like to congratulate the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Mr, Sobir and his staff at the Ministry and at the Marine Research Section on developing this initiative. It would also not be unfair to anyone to make special note of the catalytic role played by the Director General Hassan Maniku in this process.

My final appeal is to the participants: please approach this workshop with the intention of identifying workable options that are socially, economically and ecologically viable and which are respectful of the role of the reefs. With some compromise and some sacrifice by the different stakeholders, I believe that much is possible.

Thank you.

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