Laamu Atoll Hope Spot in Maldives Highlights Harmony Between Marine Conservation and Economic Development
October 28, 2021
Photo: Joel Penner
LAAMU ATOLL, MALDIVES (OCTOBER 28TH, 2021)
Marked by a continuous 130km reef, the Laamu Atoll is found in southern-central Maldives in the Indian Ocean. Laamu’s striking marine habitats have been a focal point for conservation and research within the atoll’s biologically unique and valuable seagrass meadows, isolated inner reef formations and mangroves since the opening Six Senses Laamu resort in 2011.
Laamu Atoll has been declared a Hope Spot by international marine conservation nonprofit Mission Blue in recognition of Six Senses Laamu’s work in demonstrating sustainable ecotourism practices and creating the framework for scalable marine conservation methods to help shape a healthy future for generations to come in the Maldives.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, says, “To look back to 2011 when Six Senses began collecting information, to now as we’re celebrating the designation of the atoll as a Hope Spot – it’s truly a reason for hope. It’s so important that we protect the ecosystems there, especially the seagrass meadows that we now understand are so important to generating oxygen, capturing carbon and providing a home and security for so many creatures not only within the atoll but throughout the depths beyond. By promoting understanding of the value of the ocean to the people of the Maldives and the rest of the world, one Hope Spot at a time, we’re creating a true network of hope.”
The Hope Spot Champions, Marteyne van Well and Adam Thalhath are hopeful that Laamu will become an atoll composed of locally managed marine protected areas (MPAs), and to continue developing educational programs that will influence the next generation of environmental stewards with pride for their atoll.
Adam Thalhath, Sustainability and Community Outreach Manager of Six Senses Laamu says, “In the Maldives, it is very rare for an atoll not to have multiple resorts and developments. Six Senses is the only operating resort in Laamu Atoll and just 20% of the islands here are inhabited. It’s important that we continue to have a sustainable relationship with the ocean and have protections put in place to support those efforts.”
Laamu Atoll has been the location of consistent scientific monitoring from Six Senses Laamu since 2011. Through collaboration with its three partners- The Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation and the Olive Ridley Project– Six Senses Laamu created the Maldives Underwater Initiative, a team working towards protecting Laamu’s marine habitats through establishing MPAs and a management plan. This has involved gathering ecological data, fostering support within the community and working with the local government in addition to establishing sustainable and profitable livelihoods for the surrounding islands. The Manta Trust and the Olive Ridley Project have been working to understand the population and habitat use of manta rays and sea turtles. Both Manta Trust and the Olive Ridley Project are Mission Blue Alliance partners.
“It is through our partnerships with these three experienced and specialized organizations that we have been able to collect such detailed information on Laamu’s species and habitats” explains Philippa Roe, the Maldives Underwater Initiative’s Head Marine Biologist. “Our work through collaboration has also led to other successful projects, from nation-wide seagrass conservation to community knowledge sharing, none of which would be possible without the expertise and qualities each partner brings.”
“The community is also involved in every project and initiative” explains Marteyne van Well, General Manager of Six Senses Laamu. She continues, “It is truly a grassroots effort. In order for marine protected areas to be established, maintained and enforced, it has to come from the bottom-up, and it has to be sustainable in an economic way as well.”
The Maldives’ government is expected to announce new protected areas in Laamu, in accordance with the new Government’s Strategic Action Plan, in late-2021. The Laamu Atoll Council and Blue Marine Foundation have communicated the evidence of the need to protect this area. Blue Marine Foundation is working with Laamu Atoll Council to undertake resource use surveys, participatory planning sessions and community education and awareness programs, and is a Mission Blue Alliance partner as well.
Laamu Atoll’s three richly diverse ecosystems possess an enormous amount of healthy life. Researchers have counted 47 coral genera to date, with some inner reef coral cover recorded up to 50% – very rare in the Maldives since a mass coral bleaching event in 2016. These areas likely supply other damaged reefs with coral larval supply, vital for reef recovery. More than 400 species of fish have been recorded in Laamu, including endemic, endangered, and critically endangered species. The mangroves within the atoll consist of both open and closed systems, containing four mangrove species, providing a haven for migratory birds and juvenile fish.
Seagrass meadows act as a carbon sink by absorbing and storing carbon in their roots and the surrounding sediments. In Laamu, the Six Senses Laamu team is measuring the extent to which carbon is stored in Laamu’s seagrass meadows.These meadows also provide a key food source for green sea turtles, of which Laamu contains the most significant nesting beach in the Maldives, on one of Laamu’s uninhabited islands, L. Gaadhoo. Despite this, scientists have determined that 38% of nests on this island were poached in the 2019-2020 nesting season, indicating the need for further enforcement of regulations protecting this species in the atoll.
The Olive Ridley Project is working with Maldives Environmental Protection Agency to implement community-led monitoring and patrolling of nesting beaches. Community led projects also extend to monitoring of Laamu’s marine habitats. Blue Marine Foundations’ Laamaseelu Farundun (Exemplary Citizen) program, trains volunteer local residents to monitor and survey seagrass, mangroves and coral reefs, contributing to further understanding of the present situation of the atoll’s ecosystem and any future changes.
“We hope that the Laamu Atoll Hope Spot can be a flagship for functional MPAs in the Maldives with the support of the local community, who will benefit both economically and ecologically”, says van Well. “We are capable of preventing unsustainable development without holding the community back economically. It’s important to show that it’s achievable – it’s been possible for Laamu, and it’s possible anywhere.”
Thalhath adds, “The Maldives relies on tourism, but now is the time to protect the marine ecosystems. If we put protections in place now, we’ll create a healthier future for all life here, humans and fish alike.”
The Maldivian government has pledged to protect at least one reef, one mangrove and one uninhabited island from each atoll by 2022. In 2018, the local government, the Laamu Atoll council, pledged to protect five ecologically significant areas in the atoll. Recently, significant progress has been made on these goals and the designation of nationally Protected Areas within the Hope Spot is expected in the coming months.
“Through these ongoing projects, it will be demonstrated how networks of marine protected areas provide a haven to replenish other areas impacted by either human or natural damage, increasing ecosystem resilience on an atoll-wide scale”, says van Well.
About Six Senses
Six Senses Laamu is the only luxury resort in the Laamu Atoll. Deep in the Indian Ocean, it is surrounded by a beautiful coral house reef. Most of the villas and facilities are built within the lagoon; however, beach villas and on-land dining are also available. All villas offer a sense of privacy and seclusion, with an amazing view of the ocean and Maldivian nature.
About Blue Marine Foundation
Known as BLUE, this UK registered charity was set up in 2010 by some of the team behind the award-winning documentary film ‘The End of the Line’. BLUE aims to restore the ocean to health by addressing overfishing, one of the world’s biggest environmental problems. BLUE is dedicated to creating marine reserves, restoring vital habitats and establishing models of sustainable fishing. BLUE’s mission is to see 30 percent of the world’s ocean under effective protection by 2030.
About The Manta Trust
The Manta Trust is a UK-registered charity formed in 2011, with a mission to conserve manta rays, their relatives, and their habitats, through a combination of research, education and collaboration. The Manta Trust co-ordinates global manta and devil ray research and conservation efforts, with a network of over 25 projects worldwide, and a team of researchers, scientists, conservationists, educators and media experts; working together to share and promote knowledge and expertise.
About The Olive Ridley Project
The Olive Ridley Project (ORP) is on a mission to protect sea turtles and their habitats through rescue and rehabilitation, scientific research, and education and outreach. At the core of our work is a passionate and dedicated team of scientists, veterinarians, conservationists, citizen scientists and volunteers. We pride ourselves in being able to collaborate with a wide range of diverse groups in order to reach our goal and fill data gaps in sea turtle conservation.