Industrial Activity in Maldives a threat to Whale Shark mating area
A whale shark mating area in Maldives, called Vandhumaafaru adi is to be leased for developing into an industrial site. The Maldives is a party to the Biodiversity Convention, Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Under these treaties the Maldives has obligations to ensure the conservation and protection of habitats and species in both national and international context.
Local Maldivians are outraged by the Maldives Fisheries Ministry, as they have recently leased Hanifaru to a private party on a long term basis, to be developed for industrial purposes. The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, which is empowered by the Fisheries Law to establish special marine sanctuaries, and who also in June 1995 imposed a ban on all fishing, capturing or the taking of whale sharks under the Fisheries Law, is now the party responsible for allowing such industrial activity to take place. The Whale shark is also listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). According to a Maldivian blogspot, the island was not put on tender, and no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was done.
The Maldivians feel that any industrial activity on Hanifaru will upset the fragile ecosystem of Vandhumaafaru Adi. This ecosystem, vital for the aggregations of whale sharks for mating, is a unique natural habitat and one of the very few such places in the world. It is imperative that this bay is protected from human encroachment and declared as a whale shark sanctuary. Hanifaru in Baa Atoll, is an uninhabited island with a natural underwater bay -locally known as ‘Vandhumaafaru Adi’- famous for whale sharks. The bay, known to divers as ‘Aquarium’ is home to a large numbers of whale sharks, grey sharks, manta rays and sting rays, is also a nursery for these species.
It is believed to be ‘one of the very few places in the world where whale sharks congregate to mate.’ Divers might have known the bay very recently, however, the fisherfolks of Baa Dhonfanu and other nearby inhabited islands had known the place for centuries, not as a dive spot, but as a whale shark fishing point; whale sharks, caught for their liver oil and/or fins, used to be an important source of livelihood for them.
Maldivians are looking for international support and more information can be found at http://www.bluepeacemaldives.org/blog/.