Vivienne Evans and Shaha Hashim are working on the ground – and in the sea – on BLUE’s project to protect the Maldivian grouper. They have been raising awareness among residents, fishermen and authorities on the need to protect this extraordinary fish which plays such a vital role in protecting reefs.
In her latest blog, Vivienne writes about the educational programme she and Shaha have devised:
Funded by Marks & Spencer, the Environmental and Educational Awareness Programme is one of four major project activities we are working on. Together we work hard to engage with local fishermen, councils, communities and schools to generate an appreciation of the marine environment and the threats it faces, while also promoting improved fishery management measures including the protection of grouper spawning aggregation sites in marine reserves.
We are also conducting research into the size and length at which groupers mature and are able to reproduce. We will use this data to propose revised size limits for the fishery to the government.
Shaha and I have met with all 11 island councils and the Atoll council in Laamu and will continue to do as the project progresses. Educating the councils and working with them to gain their support for the project is critical to ensure the success of a long-term grouper fishery management plan in Laamu. Many Council members readily recognise that there has been a decline in grouper populations on Laamu and of the size of individual fish. They have a genuine appreciation of this project and are keen to implement marine reserves.
Together with Six Senses Laamu and the Manta Trust, we have developed a comprehensive eight-module marine curriculum which covers topics ranging from atoll formation and marine ecosystems to fisheries management and sustainable tourism. This curriculum is taught to children aged 11-16 on two neighbouring islands Hithadhoo and Kunahandoo.
In addition to this, the marine team also carries out island visits to the other side of the atoll to ensure that these communities are not excluded from the programme. During these visits, a team of five marine biologists, together with the resort’s Sustainability Officer deliver a condensed version of the curriculum to the children using an educational video with various practical activities including manta ray spot pattern identification.
Blue focuses on fisheries management and marine reserves and our latest creation was a board game to demonstrate the life cycle of groupers. Players begin the game as grouper spawn and their goal is to mature successfully and reach the grouper spawning aggregation site. Along the way, players (as developing groupers) are faced by perils such as warming sea temperatures, predators, dredging and fishing which set them back in the game. Players can advance to become adults by consuming prey such as parrotfish and seeking refuge in seagrass beds and marine protected areas.
During these island visits the marine team also hold open community sessions in the evenings which allow Laamu residents the chance to learn about the on-going marine research projects based at the resort and ask any questions or raise any issues they may have.
Since both the education curriculum and island visit programmes were launched in late January this year, the team has interacted with a total of 397 school students, 163 community members and 81 council members and has been a huge success.
Our outreach efforts go beyond teaching conservation in a classroom environment as we continue to involve local students in our practical field work. Last month over the new moon period, we visited Maavah Island to collect data on groupers which will later contribute to the proposition of new size limit regulations. By finding out the length at which a grouper becomes mature we can then recommend specific changes to the current regulations which will allow groupers to reproduce before they are allowed to be caught for export. Some 38 marine science students from grades 8 to 10 joined us dissecting groupers and identifying gonads of different maturity stages, an activity almost none of them had done before.
At the end of this month, we will be welcoming Shareefa Ali, a Maldives National University Environmental Management (BSc) graduate to the project. Shareefa will work with us here in Laamu for a month, accompanying us on field trips to islands to interview fishermen and carry out grouper sampling, gaining invaluable practical field experience which will enable her to further her career as an marine conservationist.
The appreciation of the decline of the marine environment, subsequent fishery changes (fewer and smaller groupers) and the need for immediate protection of resources among the elder generation in Laamu is both refreshing and encouraging. It is through our capacity-building efforts that we hope to motivate the younger residents of Laamu to recognise the importance of their marine environment and encourage them to act as ambassadors for conservation. With the support of councils and continuous outreach work, there is a great opportunity for the residents of Laamu to eagerly support the implementation of local marine protected areas as part of specific management measures for groupers.