Maldives president unveils plans for marine reserve with sustainable fishing
June 29 2012 Fish2Fork
Con Son Bay in the Maldives
President Waheed of the Maldives has said that he wants to turn all 1,192 coral islands of his country into a marine reserve by 2017.
The president’s initiative would make the country the first in the world wholly surrounded by a marine reserve and follows an approach by the Blue Marine Foundation which called for waters around the Maldives to be protected.
But while President Waheed is determined the reserve will be extensive and will protect a host of wildlife, including valuable commercial species, he insisted it will be designed to allow sustainable levels of fishing to continue.
In a telephone call with Blue he said that fishing is too important to Maldives to be halted altogether. “I have made a lot of trouble for myself by announcing that we want to be a country that is a marine reserve,” he told Charles Clover, chairman of Blue and co-founder of Fish2fork. “But I have put a caveat in it, I said that I would like to allow sustainable fishing, which is what we already do in the Maldives. I said we would end destructive fishing such as purse seining and trawling.
“People said to me you can’t do that, you can’t have fishing in a marine reserve. I said we have got to fish! I think we have to play with this concept and look at the economic aspects of it, the legal and law enforcement aspects of it and the international co-operation aspects of it.”
The Maldives derives a large income from its pole-and-line tuna fisheries and the skipjack tuna from them are now sought after by retailers in the UK and other countries because they are thought of as more sustainable than purse seined tuna which often has a large by-catch of other species.
There is currently no long-lining or purse seining in Maldives waters but there was pressure for this to be allowed, he said, and there were numerous incursions into Maldives 200-mile limit by international fleets.
Any protected area would have to be demonstrated to local people as a way of keeping fish stocks for themselves and not foreign fleets.
One option under consideration by the president is a potential solution suggested by the Blue Marine Foundation which is to create a ‘doughnut’ marine reserve. This would allow sustainable fishing to continue within 75 miles of land and for a no-take marine reserve to occupy the remainder of sea out to the 200 mile limit.
President Waheed announced the plan at the Rio-20 summit in Brazil after discussions with Sonu Shivdasani, chief executive of Soneva which operates luxury tourist accommodation in Maldives.
Mr Shivdasani organised a fund-raising event with Blue at his Soneva Fushi resort last September, with the proceeds going to the Baa Atoll biosphere reserve. President Waheed now says he would like the Baa Atoll reserve, which boasts abundant wildlife amid beautiful natural habitat, to be a model for what happens all over his country.
Baa Atoll was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve last year by the United Nations which hailed it as “an excellent example of sustainable development partnerships, seen here as the successful collaboration between the Government, private sector, communities and international partners”.
Having announced the intention of turning Maldives into a marine reserve, President Waheed is now discussing how to achieve it with Blue and partner organisations including Fauna and Flora International.
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