Story and Photo by Reef Check Executive Director Gregor Hodgson
Over 30 Marine and Coastal Protected Area (MCPA) managers, dive shop owners, scientists and government officials from six South Asian countries gathered in beautiful Male, Maldives for a training course June 4-6. The purpose of the course was to introduce and refine a draft Toolkit for MCPA managers for the region. Reef Check Director, Dr. Gregor Hodgson was invited to make a presentation on how to set up a national or local coral reef monitoring network. His report from the meeting follows:
“I arrived in Male just in time to catch up with Jean Luc and his group of Reef Check volunteers from the Marine Conservation Society of the UK. It was an emotional experience to jump into the water and find the fantastic coral recovery that has taken place since the 1998 bleaching event. At the time, many of us wondered if the Maldives would ever recover after some 90% of the reef corals died that year. The reef growth is impressive, with “cookie cutter” table-Acorpora everywhere, and the fish populations some of the most abundant in the world. Congratulations to the Maldives government for taking care of their reefs. Word is that an anti-shark-finning legislation is also about to be passed. Shark finning has been a serious problem in the Maldives and economic studies have shown that the value of a shark to tourism there is thousands of dollars more than for use in soup. Many thanks to Cindy and Rob of MV Sea Spirit (scubascuba.com) for the great hospitality and to divemaster Ali Naseer for pointing out the endemic Maldives sea slug, which actually looks more like a sponge.
One of the highlights of the MCPA training course was hearing about and seeing photos and videos of coral reefs in some unusual places including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Lakshadweep, an island group off of India. It is always encouraging and uplifting to find dedicated individuals from all over the world who care as much as we do about coral reef conservation. Each country faces similar and some unique challenges in finding a sustainable mechanism to maintain healthy reefs and meet the socioeconomic needs of local people. The Reef Check EcoDiver program offers a wonderful opportunity to raise funds from visiting tourists who can study local reef ecology. The marine park staff and dive operators expressed great interest in collaborating with Reef Check and we are setting up training of trainers workshops in these and other locations. Thanks to Gaya, Jerker, Marie, Nic from IUCN/ICRAN and the local organizers for running a very productive course.”