The Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI) was recently recognized as a global leader in marine conservation during the 20th Skål International Sustainable Tourism Awards. Shortly after, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and his administration designated six naturally unique and eco-rich areas in Laamu Atoll as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). This announcement comes just two months after the atoll was declared as a Hope Spot by Mission Blue.
Recognition for Conservation Progress
MUI, the marine biology team at Six Senses Laamu, consisting of hosts from the resort and its three partner NGOs: The Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation and The Olive Ridley Project, has been named Marine and Coastal category winner at the 2021 Skål International Sustainable Tourism Awards. This is the second Skål trophy on display at Six Senses Laamu after the resort was crowned winners of the same category in 2018. Three independent sustainability experts judged 50 entrees from 26 countries, placing MUI top in its category ahead of five other projects.
“To receive this award twice is an incredible achievement,” explains Marteyne van Well, Six Senses Laamu General Manager, “and it is testament to the progress MUI has made in the realms of marine conservation since we won our first Skål Award three years ago.”
This award celebrates the team’s dedication to marine conservation through their research, education and community outreach work. Their research has been presented at both science symposiums and governmental meetings to drive policy change. They have provided 199 children in Laamu with marine conservation and environmental education and brought 566 students from local schools on snorkeling excursions. Since 2019, they have had 26,000 moments of education with guests and certified 165 children through their Junior Marine Biology Program.
Six Designated Marine Protected Areas
Just one day after the award was announced, MUI’s celebrations continued when the President of the Maldives, Mr. Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, announced six MPAs were coming to Laamu. The team has been working towards this milestone for many years.
“Since MUI was formed, our ultimate goal has been to protect Laamu’s marine habitats and keystone megafauna species through legislation,” says Philippa Roe, MUI’s Head Marine Biologist. “For years, the partners within MUI – Six Senses Laamu, the Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation, and the Olive Ridley Project – have been gathering research on Laamu’s marine ecosystems and species, much of which was used as evidence to support marine protection.”
The areas which have been designated for marine protection include the turtle nesting beach, mangrove and seagrass area of L. Gaadhoo (a neighboring uninhabited island of Six Senses Laamu), the channel between Six Senses Laamu and L. Gaadhoo, the mangrove of L. Hithadhoo (an inhabited island on the other side of Six Senses Laamu), as well as two channels, a mangrove, a wetland and an island in other areas of the atoll.
“The new MPAs, consisting of interconnected coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass meadows, will support Laamu’s community by safeguarding fish populations and livelihoods while maintaining climate-resilient reefs,” explains Shaha Hashim, the Maldives Project Manager for Blue Marine Foundation and a driving force behind the designation of the MPAs.
A green sea turtle sighted near L. Gaadhoo. This is the most significant nesting site for green sea turtles in the Maldives and is now a marine protected area.
Home to Regenerative Travel Activism
The Skål award was not the only award received in Laamu last month. On December 15, 2021, the winners of the Regenerative Travel 2021 Impact Awards were announced, and Shaha was recognized as the Regenerative Activist of the Year. The award recognizes her dedication to these MPA designations by describing her as, “a voice for many who do not have the capacity or platform to speak, working towards fair and well-managed resources based upon scientific evidence.”
Now that these MPAs have been designated, the Environment Ministry will work with stakeholders, including Atoll and Island Councils, to develop management plans for each area. MUI and Blue Marine Foundation will continue to engage with local community members and leaders in the atoll, providing advice and assistance wherever needed.
Mission Blue Hope Spot
This welcome news comes just two months after the Laamu Atoll was declared as a Hope Spot by the international marine conservation non-profit Mission Blue. The Hope Spot announcement highlighted the importance of marine ecosystems in the atoll and the need for further protection.
The MUI team conducts a field trip with a local school through L. Hithadhoo mangrove, which has also been declared as a marine protected area.
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