In June 2009 as part of its commitment to CBD’s Programme Of Work on Protected Areas the Maldivian government gazetted three new MPA’s; two in Baa Atoll and one in South Ari Atoll. At 42km² South Ari MPA is the largest MPA in the Maldives. It encompasses a stretch of epipelagic reef that forms the primary whale shark aggregation site in the Maldives and one of only a couple of sites in the world where whale sharks can be consistently encountered year round.
Over the last 10 years South Ari’s reputation as a site that can reliably provide opportunities for people to swim with whale sharks has grown and now supports one of the largest whale shark-focused tourist industries in the world attracting between 60,000 and 90,000 visitors per year. Unfortunately despite the existence of codes of conduct, with no monitoring or enforcement to back them up the volume and behaviour of tourists seeking encounters is currently unregulated. As such tourist encounters are unsafe and invasive and long term are likely to prove unsustainable in their intensity.
The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme is an NGO that since its inception in 2006 has been researching whale sharks and conducting community outreach in South Ari atoll and elsewhere in the Maldives. Working alongside the local community the MWSRP lobbied the Maldivian government for this area of South Ari to become an MPA and provided the whale shark data that helped to define its boundary.
Citing an acute lack of resources the Maldivian government has been unable to follow up the declaration of South Ari MPA with the actions needed to develop the proposed collaborative management structure. This is unfortunate as it is an area with a huge amount of potential. With an ever-present iconic species, existing tourism infrastructure, receptive local island communities and the successful piloting of a tourist contribution funding mechanism, South Ari has all the ingredients for a sustainable, self-financing, community led solution.
We believe this false start belies the potential of the MPA to become a model upon which a network of collaboratively managed MPA’s in the Maldives can be based. The MWSRP would like to use this portal to invite any person or parties to get in touch that would be interested in helping us to build upon the strong bonds with have forged with the local communities and the national government and help us to assist the South Ari community to source the expert guidance and funding needed to take this MPA to the next level.
Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (charity no. 1130369)
Maldives: +960 7542243