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Safeguarding the resources

Dr. M. Shiham Adam
Dr. M. Shiham Adam
Director General
Marine Research Centre
Republic of Maldives

Maldives’s coastal and marine ecosystem is the key asset base for the country, with the two largest contributors to the economy – tourism and fisheries. What is the mandate for Marine Research Centre towards preserving this ecosystem?
The mandate of the Marine Research Centre (MRC) is to undertake research on fisheries and marine resources, including the coral reefs and to provide technical advice to its parent Ministry – the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, for rational management of marine and fisheries resources. Other than this primary mandate, MRC is also engaged in promoting the understanding the marine environment to public at large.

What are the key areas where geospatial technologies are being used in Maldives towards coastal and marine ecosystem and how?
The application of the geospatial technologies is in its infancy in the Maldives. Part of the problem lies in its lack of resources – human and financial resources, but also lack of proper institutional framework for collecting, collating and disseminating the information in an easily accessible medium. However, I am happy to say that the Government is making progress towards having a national spatial data infrastructure, which includes not only the hardware and software platforms, but also the institutional mechanisms to enable the sharing of standardised meta-data. This is now very important for the Maldives in the context of climate change and to enable the effective use of our resources for our development. Our resources are very limited and mainly restricted to coral reefs and the islands within them. Although in an ad hoc way we use geospatial technologies for planning purposes, for instance allocation of islands for fisheries, tourism and agriculture. Within the private sector, the technology is used for base-line assessment in environmental impact assessment works and developing resource use maps.

While tourism is the chief contributor to the country’s exchequer, increasing tourism and development activities also bring with it threats to the coastal ecosystem and marine pollution. Are geospatial technologies being used to address this issue?
Under the Environmental Protection and Preservation Act of the Maldives, it is mandatory to undertake environmental impacts assessments for development projects. This is routinely done in the development of tourist resorts. Investment in a resort island may run into hundreds of millions of dollars and therefore it is critical that proper planning is done before the investment takes place. Geospatial techniques are used to map the island’s habitats (marine and terrestrial), including vegetation and beach lines. The baseline information also helps to understand the beach dynamics and help to plan and provide engineering solutions to beach erosion issues.

GPS, GIS and satellite images are increasingly being used to enhance productivity and efficiency in fisheries. How are they being used in Maldives to boost the fishery sector?
Maldives piloted the use of satellite imagery of ocean color or primary productivity along with oceanographic data to predict the potential fishery zones. The predicted fishing grounds were televised after the weather forecast every evening. Unfortunately, this was made available through a hefty subscription from an overseas company. We have not been able to maintain that subscription. I like to believe there is enormous potential to use satellite imagery to enhance the productivity of the fisheries. It can also be used as a powerful tool for fishery management and regulatory enforcements like the VMS.

Global warming is gaining concern worldwide. What is its effect on Maldives and what the country is doing or contemplating to do at national and global level?
Maldives is a nation of small coral reef islands. The islands are flat and none of the islands rise above 1.5 meters over the mean sea-level. As a result, Maldives is highly vulnerable to climate change and sea-level rise. Climate change because it has direct effect on the coral reefs. Corals normally live at their upper thermal limits and sustained increase sea-water temperature causes coral bleaching – a phenomenon that is increasingly becoming common. While the short term effects of bleaching are whitening of corals and loss of their colour, the long-term effects are disastrous. Coral, if not recovered after bleaching, lose their structural complexity. They become rubble mounds with dramatic changes in fish composition.

Reefs become less resilient and lose their ability to fully recover. In the end, coral reefs lose their ability to protect the islands from waves. Increase in sea-level has direct consequence – loss of beach and erosion. Maldives has declared to become carbon neutral by 2020. Maldives is encouraging investments in renewable energy sources, including wind and solar energy as a way to reach carbon neutral status as soon as possible.