A joint venture between international conservation organisation Biosphere Expeditions, Six Senses Resorts & Spas and the government of the Maldives has set off on a ground-breaking reef monitoring expedition. The expedition is unique in combining tourism with science whilst at the same time reaching out to Maldivians by providing a reef educational booklet for Maldivian children and building capacity through expedition scholarship places for Maldivian citizens.
Amateur marine biologists from countries as diverse as Germany, Russia, Australia, Malaysia, the USA and the Maldives have departed aboard the luxury live-aboard Carpe Diem, where they will be trained in the Reef Check monitoring programme and conduct as many as three research dives a day under the supervision of a team of professional biologists.
The hands-on ‘voluntourism’ trip is the first of its kind in the Maldives and organised by not-forprofit wildlife conservation organisation Biosphere Expeditions and Six Senses resorts, which has provided a grant of US$79,000 over the four year programme, and scholarships for two young Maldivians – Nishan Thoufeeg and Mohamed Mazin – to participate in the expedition.
Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, a marine biologist who is accompanying the volunteers, noted that there was a lack of “basic, coarse-level data” required for monitoring reef ecosystems. “We need to know what is happening on a national scale. The [Reef Check] programme has a very basic methodology, but it is very scientifically robust.” Solandt will use the data collected by the group to produce a report based on the expedition, which "will help decision-makers at the policy level", says Solandt.
The group also presented 2500 copies of an educational colouring book, ‘The Adventures of Anees the Anemonefish’, to Deputy State Minister of Education Ibrahim Rasheed. The book, written by Soneva Fushi’s Marine Biologist Kate Wilson and illustrated by Maldivian artist Angel Shujau, is intended to raise awareness around reef protection and inspire children.
Left to right: Educational booklet and its creators and recipients. Angel Shujau (booklet illustrator), Dr. Matthias Hammer (founder & executive director Biosphere Expeditions), Kate Wilson (marine biologist Soneva Fushi by Six Senses), Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt (expedition scientist), Ibrahim Rasheed (Deputy State Minister of Education).
"The support we have been getting from all levels of government and the Tourism Board has been exceptional", adds Dr. Matthias Hammer, Executive Director of Biosphere Expeditions. "We will run this expedition for a month or so each year from now on. We're in it for the long haul and would like to continue contributing to data collection and capacity-building, reaching out to as many Maldivians as we can, be it through our educational book or the scholarships."
Scholarship places for next year's expedition, which will take place during all of September 2012 are already available via www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scholarships.