In another step towards becoming environment-friendly, the Maldivian government unveiled plans yesterday to designate three whale shark habitats in the Maldives as protected areas.
Protected areas are allocated Baa atoll Hanifaru, Baa atoll An'gafaru and Alif Dhaal atoll Maamigili as protected areas to commemorate World Environment Day and World Ocean Day on the 5 and 8 June respectively.
"We welcome the whale shark sanctuaries," said Ali Rilwan, executive director of environment NGO Bluepeace today. "We don't need paper parks, we need monitoring and more research in these areas." In March, the ministry of fisheries and agricultures extended the moratorium on reef shark fishing to cover the whole of the Maldives as part of a move towards a total ban on both reef and oceanic shark hunting.The main objective of the project was to protect the areas mega fauna, namely whale sharks, Manta rays.
Divided into various zones, in which different activities will be permitted. While diving and snorkeling would still be allowed, a set of guidelines would be provided to instruct on how to deal with encounters with whale sharks.
Further, boats including Liveaboards and dive boats will be subject to speed limits in certain areas, he said.
The reaction of local residents was "very positive". "They actively wanted this to happen and this won't impact any of their activities so they have nothing to lose from this," "That's the findings of the consultation."
The decision would have a "global significance" and the areas were among the few in the world where whale sharks could be spotted.
The polka-dotted whale shark is the largest fish on the planet, but very little is known about their existence, according to the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme's website.
While it is known they swim potentially vast distances across the ocean, eating only plankton, tiny fish and squid, how long they live or where they reproduce remains a mystery.
It was crucial to establish a set of guidelines to counter the impact that the growth of tourism would have on whale sharks in future years.
At present, it is estimated that whale shark excursions generate US$10 million annually.
According to researchers Maldives have spotted 115 whale sharks, although the real number was probably higher.
"Some of these areas are important feeding grounds," "And out of all of them, there are only two females, so the animals are only spending part of their lives here."
The designated areas would also protect other animal species such as manta rays in Hanifaru and Gray reef sharks and White tips reef sharks in Baa Atoll An'gafaru.