Environment Minister renews calls for support to ‘Maldives as a Biosphere Reserve’ pledge at GM Forum 2017
Minister of Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim has revealed that surveys have been conducted in nine resorts which dedicated parts of their house reefs as protected areas. The nine resorts are part of over 30 resorts which pledged support under efforts to declare the Maldives as a Biosphere Reserve. Thoriq made the announcement addressing the GM Forum 2017, organized by Hotelier Maldives.
“We urge more tourist resorts to come forward and be a part of this pledge,” he said. “Significant progress has been made under the initiative, and we hope to see the implementation of the pledge in the near future.”
“This is a huge step towards protection and conservation of the unique biodiversity and ecosystem. It will be pivotal towards sustainability and national development,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ministry of Tourism, in partnership with the environment ministry, renewed calls on tourist resorts for support towards the government’s efforts to declare the Maldives as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The government announced the initiative in June 2012 and officially assigned the implementation of the pledge to the Ministry of Environment and Energy.
Late last year, 30 resorts from ten atolls pledged to support the initiative, with 26 resorts signing a pact at the Tourism Industry Forum held September 2016, organized by the tourism ministry. Under the pact, specified areas of the island’s coral reef will be maintained and conserved without altering any of its natural environment.
The tourism ministry renewed calls for support in a circular issued earlier this month, offering resorts the opportunity to voluntarily participate by pledging to designate areas of their house reefs as biosphere reserves under the five-year plan; Maldives as a Biosphere Reserve: An Implementation Plan 2013-2017.
The plan seeks to ensure that more than half of the atolls are implementing the new approach by the end of 2017, in order to trigger the application for Maldives as a Biosphere Reserve to be submitted to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The Maldivian coral reefs are the seventh most extensive and the fifth most diverse reef ecosystems in the world. They are home to 250 species of coral, teeming with over 1,000 species of fish, including iconic megafaunas such as whale sharks and manta rays, as well as large populations of marine turtles, seabirds, whales, and dolphins. It is estimated to contain 3.14% of the total coral reef area of the world, making it highly significant and appropriate for global recognition as a biosphere reserve.
Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. They are internationally recognised, nominated by national governments and remain under sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located.
Under efforts to achieve the target, the environment ministry has been collaborating with different industries, especially with the tourism industry. Tourism in the Maldives is heavily dependent on healthy coral reefs and associated marine ecosystems, and biosphere reserves offer an opportunity to create and build on beneficial effects of coral reef ecosystem services by contributing to their protection and conservation, said the tourism ministry.
The targets of the 4th Tourism Master Plan (4TMP) and tourism regulations also aligned with the biosphere reserve concept and can be used as a tool for the tourism industry to achieve the 4TMP coral reef management goals and climate adaptation measures for their house reefs, the ministry added.
According to the ministry, tourist resorts which volunteer to support the allocation of core areas within the properties’ house reefs will be officially signing the pledge at a special ceremony held by the ministry.
The ‘Maldives as a Biosphere Reserve’ pledge follows the inauguration of Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2011, which was the country’s first international site designation. It provides a model of how enhanced environmental management can be achieved at an atoll level, with great potential for replication on a national scale. The Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve currently runs conservation, learning and research, and livelihoods and sustainable development programmes within the reserve.
Additional reporting by Ahmed Afruh Rasheed