Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

3. Biodiversity Management

Environmental management, including biodiversity conservation and the sustainable and equitable use of land, water and other natural resources, is relatively new to the Maldives. The government has, however, recognised the huge risks which nature poses to the Maldives' small islands ecosystems (see Box 4). Threats induced by climatic changes and impending sea level rise are taken very seriously. The severe storms that swept the country in 1991, causing damage to more than 3 000 dwellings and uprooting or damaging more than 190 000 trees, provided evidence of the country's vulnerability to the elements. At the same time, the government has also recognised the potential dangers posed by human activities and their side effects, such as pollution which causes silting of the lagoons. Similarly, increased attention is now being paid to the pressures on lagoons caused by growing demands for space emanating from population growth.

Box 4: Formation and Erosion of Islands
Ocean currents, storms and monsoon changes alter the shape and size of the islands, sometimes resulting in the formation of completely new islands, the erosion of existing islands and joining of other islands. Human activity also sometimes contributes to island formation or erosion. For instance, the island of Udhafushi was formed during the monsoon storms that swept the country in 1987.
Some islands have been formed by using artificial means to accelerate the natural process of island formation. For instance, this method was initially used to “recreate” the island of Feydhoofinolhu in Kaafu Atoll. Formerly known as Feydhoo and fairly large in size, this island had eroded away completely as a result of the mining of sand and corals for construction purposes.
Islands have also been created from waste materials. For instance, since 1991 the area known as Thilafushi, South West of Male', was used as a landfill for solid waste and construction debris. Eventually this led to the formation of a new island, now about one kilometre long.
Source: Government of Republic of Maldives, Official Website,

The Maldives faces a number of problems and concerns which are increasingly likely to negatively impact the sustainability of the country's available land, water and other natural resources. These problems stem from both human and natural causes and many of them require urgent attention. They include:

3.1 Institutional Framework for Biodiversity Management

An Environment Section was first created in the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1986, before being later expanded and transferred to the Ministry of Planning and Development. Reflecting increasing attention towards environmental issues, the Ministry of Planning and Development was subsequently renamed, firstly as the Ministry of Planning and Environment, and later as the Ministry of Planning, Human Resources and Environment (MPHRE). Biodiversity management in the Maldives is currently the responsibility of both the Ministry of Planning, Human Affairs and Environment (MPHRE) and the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture (MoFA).

The Environment Research Unit (ERU) was formed in the MPHRE in 1990 to undertake research related to environmental protection and assume responsibility for environmental assessment and management. The Environmental Research Unit is responsible, inter alia, for:

The National Commission for the Protection of the Environment (NCPE) acts as an independent advisory body to the MPHRE. Composed of senior officials from all government departments as well as private sector representatives, the NCPE advises the Environment Minister on matters dealing with environmental protection, sustainable resource utilisation and conservation of biodiversity.

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture (MoFA) is responsible for monitoring implementation of the Fisheries Law, as well as the development of sectoral policies and regulations relating to fisheries development in the Maldives. It is also responsible for agricultural development and the protection of agricultural resources. The MoFA works in close collaboration with MPHRE, particularly on issues relating to natural resources and environmental protection.

The Marine Research Section (MRS) was established in the MoFA in 1983 with the purpose of carrying out research and experiments on the expansion and improvement of the country's fishery industry. Initially, its major task was to determine to what extent the tuna fishery industry in the Maldives could be developed. Currently, the MRS is also involved in gathering information on the marine environment of the Maldives, as well as undertaking work on the sustainable utilisation and management of marine resource, and the protection of vulnerable and threatened marine species. For instance, it is seeking to strengthen its research on resource surveys, stock assessments and detailed biological studies of fish in Maldivian waters. The MRS is also engaged in the preparation of a catalogue of fish living in the Maldive Seas (Official Government Website).

Given the relationship between tourism and marine wildlife resources, the Ministry of Tourism clearly also has an interest in ensuring that the country's marine resources are maintained in their pristine form. Nowadays, as compared to the unchecked and unplanned expansion and development of tourism in the 1970s, tourism is a carefully monitored and regulated industry (Official Government Website). As such, the Ministry of Tourism also plays an important role in biodiversity management. For instance, it seeks to ensure protected areas are monitored by its tour operators, scuba divers and instructors.

3.2 Legislative Framework for Biodiversity Management

The International Level
The Maldives has participated actively in a number of international conferences on environmental issues. The Government of the Maldives abides by the recommendations of:

The Maldives may also become signatory to other international agreements, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Despite certain difficulties, notably boundary issues, increasing options may further open up in the future to exercise certain rights within the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III). While this convention has not yet been ratified by sufficient member states for it to become fully adopted and legally binding, it nevertheless represents a useful and broad umbrella agreement to guide the management and sustainable use of coastal water resources. For instance, UNCLOS III can support efforts to minimise coastal resource use conflicts and to alter the notion of the seas as a common property resource.

The Maldives is involved in many United Nations and other international and regional initiatives related to environmental management. These include the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, in connection with the World Meteorological Organization. The Republic of Maldives hosted the ministerial-level “Small States Conference on Sea Level Rise”. This conference produced the “Male' Declaration” which calls for greater international recognition of the unique and fragile nature of island environments and improved assistance from the UN system. The Maldives was a participant at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio in 1992, at which international consensus was reached on the need to give priority to integrated management and sustainable use of coastal areas. More recently, the Maldives has provided inputs for the 1993 Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.

The National Level

At the national level, two main laws have been developed to provide a framework to guide the sustainable use, management and conservation of the country's natural resources, and to protect these resources from degradation and over-exploitation:

In addition, a National Environment Action Plan was prepared in 1989 with the purpose of assisting the government to: a) maintain and improve the country's environment, including the marine and ocean area contained within its Exclusive Economic Zone; and b) manage the resources contained therein for the collective benefit of present and future generations. The National Environment Action Plan identified several high priority issues for urgent attention. In response, a number of actions are now being undertaken to address these issues and improve living standards in general, including a range of conservation measures to help recharge the severely depleted aquifer in Male'.

The Fisheries Law. Official conservation efforts were first initiated during the 1970s. The approval of the Fisheries Law by the Citizen's Majlis in 1970 was an important step towards establishing a legal framework for environmental protection at the national level. Under the Fisheries Law, regulations exist to protect marine resources, including turtles, whales, dolphins and certain fish. The Fisheries Law was subsequently reformulated during the mid 1980s to meet the challenges posed by the expansion of the fisheries industry and its position as one of the most important economic activities in the Maldives. Following reformulation, the law gained enhanced provisions for the conservation of living marine resources. The tenth clause of the Fisheries Law states:

In the event of a special need for the conservation of any species of the living marine resources, the Ministry of Fisheries shall have the right to prohibit, for a specified period, the fishing, capturing or the taking of such species or the right to establish special sanctuaries from where such species may not be fished, captured or taken”.

The Environmental Protection and Preservation Act was approved by the Citizen's Majlis in April 1993. This law was important in bestowing the MPHRE with a wide range of statutory powers in the area of environmental regulation and enforcement. For instance, it empowered the MPHRE to draft guidelines for environmental protection and gave it responsibility for the identification and designation of protected areas and natural reserves. As a means to enforce environmental regulations, this act further empowered the MPHRE to levy fines of up to 100 million Rufiya (US$10 million) in cases of breaches of the law (State of the Environment Report, 1994).

3.3 Conservation and Protection in Practice

The concept of in situ conservation is fairly new to the Maldives. Marine Protected Areas were demarcated for the first time in 1995. Although uninhabited islands and their reefs have been protected, protection has tended to result from limited resource extraction, as opposed to any concerted efforts at protection. Ex situ conservation methods do not exist. For instance, there are no aquariums, zoological or botanical gardens, or sacred gardens (land protected for religious uses).

The main types of in situ conservation methods employed in the Maldives include:

Some research and management programmes aimed at strengthening the future management of biodiversity in the Maldives are currently being implemented. These include:

Marine Protected Areas
A recent but important development in conservation has been the designation of 14 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Maldives' central atolls, covering an area of approximately 12.55 sq. km. They areas have been identified for protection because of their outstanding diversity of corals, reef fish, sharks, rays and eels, as well as the existence of other organisms ranging from sponges and molluscs to bivalves. As protected areas, all extractive and human activities, including coral and sand mining, fishing, collecting, netting and anchoring are banned, with the exception of bait fishing. Catching bait fish is permitted in MPAs given its importance for local tuna fishing, however, the methods used for bait fishing in MPAs must not damage or harm any living organism. The location of Marine Protected Areas is illustrated in Map 2, while Table 11 identifies the key species found in these areas.

The Government of the Maldives is currently examining options to extend marine protected area status to cover other parts of the archipelago. In addition, opportunities to establish terrestrial protected areas are being considered and some national parks may be designated in the near future. A number of potential sites have already been identified, including islands, wetlands, natural heritage sites and other habitats of significant importance. Some of these sites have diverse birds populations, while others are uninhabited islands that serve as rookeries for sea turtles. These include Kottey and the lake in Addu Atoll, parts of Gan, as well as the lakes in Fuahmulah, and the Hithaadhoo Island of the Gaaf Alif Atoll (Country Report, Environment Division, MPHRE, 1996).

Map 2. Marine Protected Areas in the Maldives

Map 2

Table 11. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Maldives

Protected AreaSizeKey Species
 North Male' Atoll
Makunudhoo Kandu100×2 000mCoral, reef fish, shark
H.P Reef100m radiusSoft coral, gorgonians, reef and pelagic fish
Banana Reef100m radiusFish, coral
Kuda Haa100m radiusCoral, fish, stone fish
Lions Head500m radiusShark
Hans Hass Place500m radiusCoral, caves, reef fish
 South Male' Atoll
Embudhoo Kanduentire channelShark and pelagic fish
Guraidhoo Kanduentire channelCoral, shark, reef and pelagic fish
 Ari Atoll
Maya Thila500m radiusFish, shark, manta rays
Orimas Thila100m radiusCoral, soft coral, reef fish
Fish Head500m radiusShark
Kudarah Thila100m radiusCorals, reef fish, shark
 Felidhoo Atoll
Devana Kanduentire channelSoft coral, fish, gray reef shark
 Faadhippholhu Atoll
Fushifaru Thila100m radiusSuperb hard coral, reef fish, pelagic fish, manta rays

Protection for Species
Just one bird species, the white tern, is currently listed as protected under the Environmental Protection and Preservation Act. Under the Fisheries Law, however, several species have been identified to receive protection against exploitation, trade and/or export as illustrated below. In addition, harvesting giant clams, black coral and pearl oysters from the wild has been banned, and the collection of sea cucumbers is now restricted.

Species banned from exploitation, kill or catch of any kind:

Species banned from export:

Given their commercial value, the government has also passed a range of measures to protect rare and valuable species of aquarium fish. In particular, aquarium fish exports fall into one of three categories: i) trade is completely banned; ii) restricted trade is permitted on the basis of quotas; and iii) free trade. Under this type of protection, aquarium fish species are accorded different levels of protection based on their categorisation within a core, interface or utilisation zone.

As previously mentioned, in an effort to conserve the biological diversity of trees used for timber, the Government's “Million Tree Programme” seeks to replenish and expand good timber stock through the promotion of a number of tree species of timber and food value

Constraints and Opportunities in Biodiversity Management
Despite the aforementioned legislative and practical measures intended to promote enhanced biodiversity management, certain constraints limit the successes which can be obtained. The vast number of geographically scattered islands in the archipelago makes monitoring difficult, and contributes to management problems. At the same time, the number of trained environmental officers is in short supply, reducing their ability to enforce environmental and related legislation. For instance, the capacity of the Environmental Research Unit is limited in terms of both human resources and technical capability. The government's database on environment and related issues is inadequate. Public awareness regarding the importance of environment and biodiversity remains limited, though steps are being taken to change this through awareness and information campaigns based on radio and television and the teaching of environmental science as part of the school curriculum.

The activities of local NGOs in the Maldives are helping to raise national consciousness about environmental issues as illustrated in Box 5. Similarly, indigenous knowledge about natural resources and local communities genuine concerns to protect their island's biodiversity exist and appear to play an increasing role. The importance of overseas courses and local training centres in increasing the national capacity for environmental management has also been recognised.

Box 5: NGO Efforts to Protect Maldivian Bird Life
It is well known that people in the Maldives like to keep birds as pets and that the market in Male' caters to these demands while also providing a livelihood for the island's bird-catchers. One random survey carried out by Eco Care, a national NGO dealing with environmental issues, found that 28 different types rare birds were being caught on the islands and sold as pets in the Male' market. Some birds, including Maldivian water hens, sandpipers, black-naped terns and brown winged terns, were on sale for as little as 50 Mrf. The most expensive rare bird on the market was a grey pelican priced at 15 000 MRf18. Following their successful survey, Eco Care launched a campaign aimed at banning this trade in rare birds. This campaign received a positive response from the government.
Other examples exist of communities fighting to protect their islands' natural resources. For instance, when residents of Gafaali Fitadu Island discovered that a wetland on their island was used as a breeding area by the rare frigate birds, they reported it to the MoFA in order to ensure protection for the areas so that the birds would not be disturbed during breeding. The residents of Adu Atoll made a similar case to protect white terns on their island.

18 US$ 1 = Rufiya (MRf) 11.82 (February 1998).

The ecological future of Maldives should be based on the development of strong environmental guidelines that provide mechanisms to safeguard the country's aquifers, promote self-sufficiency on the resort islands, encourage conservation of important local resources, limit new migration to Male', and maintain a significant proportion, for instance 30 percent, of the present uninhabited islands as areas with minimal or no development.

In this context, the main thrusts and objectives for environmental management include:

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page