EPA amends rules for snorkelling near protected animals
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made significant amendments to the regulations concerning interactions with protected animals, including turtles and rays, during snorkelling activities. This marks the sixth amendment to the Protected Species Regulation.
The revised guidelines emphasise the importance of conserving sea turtles and their habitats, with the aim of preserving the natural environment of these creatures while minimising human disturbances. As a result, the amendment now requires a minimum distance of six feet between individuals and turtles when snorkelling or swimming, and any actions that could disrupt their natural behaviour are strictly prohibited.
The amendments also outline specific procedures for dealing with injured sea turtles or rays encountered at sea. It is now mandatory to transport injured animals to treatment centres immediately, and any turtles or rays caught in nets must be released without harm, with the net placed on dry land instead of being discarded at sea. While there is limited availability of sea turtle treatment centres and veterinarians in the Maldives, several resorts in the region are equipped to handle such situations, according to the EPA.
Sea turtles are protected under the Protected Species Regulation and Article 4 of the Environmental Protection and Conservation Act of the Maldives. It is worth noting that the sale of sea turtle eggs was prohibited in 1996, and legal restrictions were imposed on 14 islands recognised as major turtle breeding grounds to prevent egg collection in 2006.
Since 2015, the amendments have also extended protection to all species of rays in the Maldives, with the goal of enhancing marine biodiversity. Despite protective measures, the EPA remains concerned about deliberate harm to rays.