Updated: Mar 16, 2021
The 1,190 Maldivian islands total only 1% of the nation’s territory, making the ocean its most abundant and important resource. Understanding the ocean environment is difficult enough close to shore, but many of these unique islands, atolls, and environments are remote and hard to reach, let alone study. That’s why Noo Raajje, a collaboration between the Government of Maldives and the Blue Prosperity Coalition, has launched its second scientific expedition to explore and study the country’s ocean and coral reefs.
A team of researchers from the United States, as well as Maldivian scientists from the Maldives Marine Research Institute (MMRI), have set sail from the capital, Male', on a 22-day scientific voyage, making stops at north and south Male' atolls before proceeding to the south of the country. The first expedition, conducted in January 2020, surveyed 16 atolls, primarily in the central and northern parts of the Maldives. This second expedition is set to finish the job, to form the first ever nation-wide, comprehensive assessment of the 26 Maldivian atolls.
“This expedition will complete the first archipelago wide survey of Maldivian coral reefs. It is exciting to gain such a broad snapshot of coral reef health and to know this data will be used to support the Maldives in their Marine Spatial Planning process.” said Andy Estep, Science Director at the Waitt Institute, a partner in the Noo Raajje programme.
Using a combination of scientific techniques, the expedition sets out to take a snapshot of coral reef habitats and fish populations to better understand just what is beneath the waves. Scientists will conduct traditional scuba diving surveys that will study fish populations and coral reef health at each site, while the team from Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s 100 Island Challenge will conduct photo transects of the reefs, which will ultimately be turned into 3D coral mosaics. Using this efficient survey method, scientists can capture a large-scale understanding of the reef which can be easily duplicated to assess reef health through time. Baited Underwater Remote Video (BRUVs) will also be set to gather information on larger species like sharks and turtles, while water quality samples will help assess how human development could be impacting local waters.
The data collected on these expeditions will join the work done with MMRI to help inform policymakers on the health of their oceans, in order to support fisheries management, development, and ecosystem management plans to ensure these resources remain healthy into the future.
Adam Ziyad, Director General of the Fisheries department, Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources, and Agriculture, commented; “Policies formulated on solid scientific evidence and backed by research is essential for effective fisheries management. The information that comes out from these scientific expeditions will be crucial in our next steps towards strengthening the fisheries management framework and for realizing our vision of sustainable fisheries management.”
“Once we complete these final legs of the expedition, we will have surveyed sites in every atoll. This will bring value to the work being done to assess the status of our reefs, and will provide useful insight into identifying potential new sites to expand our ongoing monitoring work. The expedition surveys also fall within the spawning window for corals in Maldivian waters, and our research team is excited to capture some key information on those events.” said Shafiya Naeem, Director General leading the Maldives Marine Research Institute.
A report is set to be published in early April detailing the findings of the first expedition. “Understanding the natural history of a place helps inform what we can do - where we can fish sustainably, what atolls are healthy for tourists to come and enjoy, what reefs are in need of restoration and protection.” said Dr. Stuart Sandin of 100 Island Challenge. “We can only care about what we know, and once we know more about these unique environments can we create a successful plan to best enjoy, use, and safeguard our resources.”
This is the first expedition undertaken by the team since the beginning of the global pandemic and will be conducted under strict quarantine, testing, and isolation guidelines. Protocols were designed with collaboration between the Maldivian Government and the expedition team, using the CDC and WHO Guidelines. Crew and staff scientists completed a 10 day quarantine before traveling. Each team member underwent multiple COVID tests before boarding the boat, and the US team took private transportation to avoid interaction with anyone who hasn’t been quarantined. All Maldivian staff and boat crew members received their full vaccinations prior to joining the expedition.
The safety of the crew is the first priority of any expedition, as working in the ocean environment is inherently challenging and risky. With multiple divers in the water in remote locations, careful planning, strict safety protocols, and standardized regulations are in place to ensure every member of the team is safe. The introduction of COVID-19 protocols joined the ranks of these measures, developed and led by our team of experts.
Expeditions are often an opportunity for scientists to connect with local communities, but that will not be possible this time around. Scientists and crew will have no interaction with anyone outside the expedition team. Press conferences will be held virtually and the team will give updates and share findings online and through social media. The plan is to share the findings, images, and stories from both expeditions with local communities at a later date, so that this important research can be used by the communities most reliant upon these incredible marine environments.
Noo Raajje is a 5-year program led by the Government of the Maldives and the Blue Prosperity Coalition to protect the ocean and its resources to build a bright future for communities, the economy, and the environment. In the Maldives, the program is led by the President's Office and the Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture, and in partnership with staff from the Maldives Marine Research Institute. Members of the Blue Prosperity Coalition include the Waitt Institute, National Geographic Pristine Seas, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
To follow the expedition, follow @NooRaajje on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and follow the hashtag #KanduFalhuDhiraasaa and #NooRaajje for all program related work. For more information about the program visit nooraajje.org
For inquiries please contact Fathimath Nistharan at email@example.com