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What I Deserve is an Ocean to Go Back to

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

By Hana Amir

Hana Amir is a marine biologist at the Maldives Marine Research Institute where she oversees coral reef related research. She leads the National Coral Reef Restoration and Rehabilitation Research program, which assesses questions such as where, how, and when to restore Maldivian reefs to effectively improve resilience and resistance. Hana is actively involved in the research process, collecting field data and engaging with local community members to foster better cooperation and understanding of issues related to the Maldives' marine environment.

At the 2020 Virtual Island Summit, an online conference hosted by Island Innovation, the world was able to learn from four young professionals who are leading conservation initiatives from their small island, big ocean nations around the globe. Each ocean advocate brought a unique perspective on how to engage the next generation in protecting the ocean. Watch the Hometown Heroes recording:

“The Maldives defines what it means to be a large ocean state. Only 1% of Maldivian territory is land, the rest is ocean - totaling nearly one million square kilometers of ocean. All Maldivians livelihoods are connected to the ocean, through tourism or fishing or simply proximity. But despite this, ocean management is slow to develop effectively. We simply do not have enough people to address the spatial challenge of the Maldives. Marine education in the Maldives is lacking, so the capacity of people who have knowledge of and can communicate about marine resources effectively is quite limited. This produces a situation where marine biologists are not able to be as effective as we should be.

When I was young, I received an early introduction to wildlife, fish, biology, and the natural world from my very frequent fishing trips with my brother. My mother is a biologist who introduced me to all things in nature at a young age as well. Despite this influence and growing up with the ocean all around me, my interest in the ocean was limited because I doubted if a career in marine science was possible.

There was a general lack of resources and engagement surrounding marine science in my early education and I just didn’t see much opportunity to follow that path. It was only through the help of mentors during my studies abroad in my late teen years who encouraged me that I could appreciate that the Maldives is an amazing, unique gem of a place for marine life, and that a career in marine research and conservation was more important and fulfilling than I ever imagined. We need to expand and develop marine science education, especially at elementary and university levels, and youth engagement so that we have the people, the creativity, the energy to solve all the challenges facing our ocean environment. That is how we’re going to save our home.

Marine science in the Maldives is growing and we’ve made a lot of improvements to the education system, but we still have a long way to go. There’s a misconception here that marine science is easy and not as challenging, not as valuable as other fields of science. Getting rid of that stigma is so important, because there is so much interest from students and youth about the marine world when they are given the chance. Of course there is - we are an island nation. If we can support that passion, we can become a nation of marine scientists and conservationists as well.

Ultimately, if we can better understand the marine environment, we can better connect to it and understand how it is essential to our lives, our jobs, our culture. And if we connect to it, we feel a sense of ownership over its prosperity. Through my work, I want to foster that sense of ownership, because our marine environment is ours. It’s ours to take care of. It’s ours to propagate and preserve for our future. And we can foster continued ownership and responsibility if we keep supporting curiosity and passion about this unique environment. We know so little about the ocean but we keep losing more of it. We have no idea of what we’ve lost or what we’re going to lose if the environmental degradation around the world continues.

Everyone sees the big climate change impacts on the news, but when you’re living on an island nation, you experience these impacts firsthand. We see it in our traditional knowledge - locals and traditional elders have observed changes in patterns of rainfall and weather over decades. We may not have these changes scientifically logged, but the local knowledge tells us that the environment is changing and that these environmental changes are affecting livelihoods. And now, it almost seems like the local traditional knowledge, which we have relied on for so long, is almost failing us because our environment is changing so quickly, and we don’t have enough recent scientific knowledge to guide us on how to face these new challenges. So we are limited on multiple fronts. We need all the passion and curiosity that exists in young people to meet these challenges and limitations.

But despite these challenges, what keeps me going is something that my mother instilled in me; to not accept that which we do not deserve. To not accept a dirty environment, or a failing ecosystem just because the path forward looks like a challenge. What I deserve is to have an ocean to go back to. To have these coral reefs, to have these amazing natural beauties propagated to my children, my nephews, my cousins. If I deserve that, then my family deserves that. If my family deserves that, everyone else in the Maldivian population deserves that. And if we, Maldivians, deserve that, then so does everyone else in the world who is dependent on these oceans, and that is all of us.”

Watch the Hometown Heroes recording:

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