A visit to Maldives under the Ocean Country Partnership Programme
By Beth Flavell, Jamie Small, Tetrienne Kerswell-Box and Daisy Leadbeater
Our latest blog post is by Beth Flavell, Jamie Small, Tetrienne Kerswell-Box and Daisy Leadbeater, who tell us about a recent trip to Maldives as part of our work under the Ocean Country Partnership Programme (OCPP).
Technical staff from JNCC, along with colleagues from Cefas and the Marine Management Organisation, have recently spent two weeks in Maldives as part of our work under the Ocean Country Partnership Programme (OCPP). The OCPP is a UK Government led programme, delivered under the Blue Planet Fund, which provides technical assistance to deliver tangible and positive impacts on the livelihoods of coastal communities that depend on healthy marine ecosystems.
The JNCC-led OCPP partnership with Government of Maldives has been active for over 2 years. The partnership provides demand-led technical assistance around marine biodiversity and marine pollution, with a focus through the marine biodiversity theme on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). All activities are focused around exploring opportunities for sustainable livelihoods.
Maldives already has an extensive number of designated MPAs, and so our work has been focused around supporting the effective management of existing sites, principally through the completion of Protected Area Management Effectiveness Assessments (PAMEs). More recently, we have been working with the Ministry of Climate Change, Environment and Energy (also referred to as the Ministry of Environment) to develop a national-level MPA Management Framework and Guidance.
Whilst images of white sand beaches and turquoise water might come to mind when one thinks of Maldives, our trip was mostly spent inside a windowless conference centre! During the first week of the trip, the team delivered Maldives’ first Protected and Conserved Areas Forum. Organised in partnership with the Ministry of Environment, the aim of the Forum was to bring together those working on Protected and Conserved Areas (PCAs) across Maldives to share and exchange knowledge, explore synergies and opportunities to work together, and provide a platform to learn from global partners. The event was attended by over 85 stakeholders across 4 days, followed by a closing ceremony attended by the new Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Energy, Thoriq Ibrahim, and other ministers.
Images 1 and 2: The Protected and Conserved Areas Forum in Maldives: participants at the Forum; a question and answer panel event (photographs © OCPP).
Several announcements were made during the event, including the inauguration of a number of government pledges, and an open call for proposals for additional Nature Parks and Biosphere Reserves. The Minister launched the Protected and Conserved Area website for Maldives and the Protected and Conserved Area Handbook, which provide publicly available information on the different protected areas around Maldives. The website and handbook were funded by the OCPP and can be accessed at https://protectedareas.environment.gov.mv.
In addition, six new fully funded marine science Masters scholarships granted by the OCPP were awarded by Minister Thoriq Ibrahim and High Commissioner Caron Röhsler. These scholarships aim to support scientific research to contribute to the conservation and sustainable management of marine resources and strengthen responses to marine environmental challenges.
In his address to the Forum, Minister of Climate Change, Environment, and Energy, Thoriq Ibrahim, remarked that this was 'the beginning of a journey that will actively contribute to the conservation of our crucial ecosystems'.
"As a low-lying nation, we are at the frontline of the impacts of climate change. The time to act is now. For our nation, this is a matter of survival. Partnerships and collaborations are essential for us. Initiatives such as this forum, create platforms and unite individuals, organisations and nations at the forefront of combating the triple planetary crisis," he said.
He continued, "Let me begin by expressing my gratitude to the Ocean Country Partnership Programme (OCPP) for their unwavering cooperation in putting together this forum and for their collaborative support, IUCN for their support in making this forum a regional one."
Image 3: PCA Forum participants (photograph © OCPP).
The Forum led to some great media coverage, with Ministry of Environment staff and the British High Commissioner all appearing on national TV, and live posting on social media via the account @PCAMaldives, which provided a summary of the proceedings.
The second week of the visit included a range of more focused workshops and meetings, including a workshop held in Malé covering environmental impact assessment (EIA). The EIA workshop was attended by staff from the Maldives Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and independent EIA consultants. This was the first time the consultants had been together in a room to discuss the draft EIA regulations and how EIA is conducted throughout Maldives. Discussions were enthusiastic, and participants had many thoughts and ideas about how the process could be strengthened. The EPA presented their updated EIA Regulations; and the OCPP team presented and facilitated breakout sessions covering data collection and submission, stakeholder engagement, and monitoring compliance, as well as a gap analysis session to identify key priorities. The OCPP team is looking forward to continuing to work on this project with the EPA, to strengthen EIA regulations and environmental protection in Maldives.
Image 4: Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) workshop participants (photograph © OCPP).
Following the EIA workshop, the OCPP team facilitated another workshop, covering marine pollution emergency response, and attended by the EPA, stakeholders from the Ministry of Transport and the Maldives coastguard.
Image 5: Marine pollution emergency response workshop participants (photograph © OCPP).
During the first day of the two-day workshop, the EPA gave a presentation on their role during a marine pollution incident. This was followed by a presentation from the coastguard covering the oil spills that have been responded to by the Maldives coastguard between 2021 and 2023. The rest of the day was led by the OCPP team, covering topics such as spill impact mitigation assessment, oil spill fingerprinting and post-spill monitoring.
Images 6 and 7: Marine pollution emergency response workshop: a presentation given by the Maldives coastguard; participants at a table-top exercise (photographs © OCPP).
The second day of the marine pollution emergency response workshop focused on a table-top oil-spill exercise. The OCPP team had designed a scenario spill which would impact multiple environmental and socio-economic receptors on the Laamu Atoll, including a protected turtle nesting beach at Gaadhoo island! Participants had to act quickly to process the incoming information from the 'pollution phone' and decide what was the best option for mitigating further impact, how they should help oiled wildlife and how they should conduct post-spill monitoring and ecosystem restoration. Participants had a table-top map which they gathered around to discuss the best strategies, whilst keeping an ear out for the phone call that would give them additional information about the ongoing situation. Thankfully, participants worked hard to get the 'spill' under control and restore the beautiful Laamu Atoll.
In addition to the Forum and workshops, staff from JNCC visited Fuvahmulah island in the south of Maldives to discuss work being undertaken there around reviewing shark eco-tourism practices. Whilst on island, the team conducted a PAME assessment, and had meetings with the Council and stakeholders around next steps to support MPA management plan development.
Images 8 and 9. The visit to Fuvahmulah island: headquarters of Fuvahmulah Nature Park; a group meeting to conduct a PAME assessment (photographs © OCPP).
Back in Malé, meetings were held with the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Ministry of Environment, Maldives National University and others to explore opportunities and future work under the partnership.
The trip was hugely successful, not only to progress work areas but also to strengthen relationships with partners, particularly following the election of a new Government in Maldives in December 2023.
Now back in the UK, the team is looking forward to continuing this successful partnership to make a positive impact in Maldives.
For further information about our work in Maldives under the Ocean Country Partnership Programme, visit our webpage.