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The final weekend in April found both Secret Paradise Co-Founder, Ruth and Tour Leader, Kamey flying south to the most southern atoll – Seenu or as it is commonly known Addu. We had been invited by The Maldives Coral Institute to participate in The Coral Festival which was being held at the Addu campus of The Maldives National University


The Maldives Coral Institute is a science-led body that aims to help coral reefs to survive and adapt to the changing climate. Their mission is to research, develop and implement the means to build coral resilience, mitigate adverse human impact and save Maldives corals and reefs from irreversible loss and degradation.


The festival was designed to bring together participants and attendees from the local island community, respected local and international coral scientists, NGOs, marine organisations, ocean experts,  students, tourism industry representatives and artists. The aim, to better appreciate and understand the importance of our coral reefs and marine ecosystems to the economic and ecological well being of the Maldives, the Indian Ocean, and the planet.




Worldwide coral reefs occupy less than 0.2% of the seabed but it is estimated that they are home to over one million plant and animal species. The coral reef systems of the Maldives are the seventh largest in the world and cover an area of almost nine thousand square meters, approximately the fifth most diverse ecosystem in the world. One hundred and eighty different species of coral have been found in the Maldives. Approximately, 25% of the ocean’s fish depend on healthy coral reefs. Fish and other marine life shelter, find food, reproduce,and rear their young within coral reef colonies.


It is not only the coral reef ecosystems that are important, coral reefs reduce coastal damage in the event of high waves/tides, storms and floods. They create a protective barrier to ecosystems such as sea-grass beds, mangroves and coral flats all located between the reefs and shoreline. Without this protection countries like the Maldives would not exist.


The outermost ‘layer’ of the coral atoll is known as a fringing reef. This layer composed entirely of coral provides a formidable barrier to incoming ocean waves. Even on the calmest of days, with hardly a ripple on the surface of the sea within the reef-enclosed lagoons, waves continue to crash and thunder onto these outer reefs. Each island within the atoll has its own coral reef often referred to as a ‘house reef’. This double-reef protection is what has kept the people of the Maldives safe from the ocean for centuries. 


Economically, coral reefs provide resources and services worth billions of dollars every year. Millions of people around the world depend on coral reefs for food and employment. In the Maldives coral reefs hold an important value for tourism, allowing visitors to experience the reef and its biodiversity through activities such as diving, snorkeling, water sports and fishing.




In the days running up to the festival Addu High School organised an inter school debate competition for under 15 years and under 17 years, focused on the climate crisis and threats to the ocean and natural environment. It was a great forum for students to demonstrate their knowledge and share their thoughts about the importance of preserving coral reefs .The students had certainly taken their preparation seriously, as our friends at Maldives Whale Shark Research and Olive Ridley Project advised that they had received many calls and texts asking for supporting information.


Former President Nasheed, current Speaker of the People’s Majis (parliament) and founder of the Maldives Coral Institute opened the festival. He urged the government ‘to use nature as infrastructure, instead of killing it for infrastructure’. He also noted the importance of development projects for the country, stating in relation to the current reclamation projects underway in Addu ‘ (it is) very unfortunate we will lose this biodiversity, but try to understand what might come after this.’ 


The opening day keynote speaker Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation, University of Exeter, UK and Scientific Advisor to the Maldives Coral Institute highlighted  that ‘for most of human history, we have taken corals and all that they do for us for granted. But if the Maldives is to prosper in the future, that neglect must change to active protection and stewardship across every atoll, every business and every citizen of the nation.’ He took the opportunity to set the scene of the festival  explaining what corals are, why they matter, how they are threatened, and what we can do to help them.


The remainder of day one allowed NGOs including Noo Raajje, EcoCare, Manta Trust and Miyaru to voice a ‘Call for Action’ and ended with the first full viewing of ‘Our Ocean: Basis for Blue Economy”, a short film produced by Noo Rajje featuring leaders in fisheries, tourism, marine protection as well as the communities who are working for a more sustainable ocean future in the Maldives.


Day two brought the opportunity to learn about our ocean and reefs and be inspired by the varied work, individuals and organisations are doing to research, protect and support the health of ocean ecosystems.


Throughout the day there were creative and informative workshops:
– Olive Ridley Project showed how to up-cycle ghost-net into bracelets
– Women in Tech Maldives demonstrated how AI can be used to help protect our oceans
– Save The Beach Maldives held fish ID workshops
– The Maldives Manta Conservation Programme demonstrated how manta rays could be identified and what happens with the data collected.
– Maldives Resilient Reefs showed how to identify and map sea-grass
– Soneva Academy focused on coral reefs. What are they? How are they built? What lives on them?


Lessons on whale shark, turtle, manta and coral biology were hosted by Maldives Whale Shark Research Program, Olive Ridley Project, Manta Trust and Maldives Coral Institute respectively.


While on the main stage presentations and panel discussions covered a range of topics including:
– Financing coral reef preservation and restoration
– Can we harness nature to save corals?
– Hope grows in Maldives
– The search for resilient corals
– Does sustainable tourism exist?
– Historical trends in the condition of Maldives coral reefs
– Environmental citizenship through climate assemblies
– Coral Coastlines and Infrastructure


Day three provided some great experiences for students and members of the local community. Olive Ridley Project, Addu Nature Park, Aquaventure Maldives, Manta Trust and Addu Travel & Tours provided a range of fun activities which included exploring the unique cultural and natural sites in Addu Atoll both over and underwater! We joined Olive Ridley at Addu Nature Park to snorkel the house reef at Koattey, the northern part of the Protected Area and were lucky enough to encounter 8 turtles! 




The world has lost approximately 15% of its coral reefs since 2009. If this trend continues it is predicted that over 90% of coral reefs could die by 2050.  The worldwide health of coral reefs is being impacted by pollution, over fishing, destructive fishing practices using dynamite or cyanide, and coral mining, but its rapid decline is most certainly down to climate change. Closer to home, reclamation, dredging, development, poor waste management practices and lack of care or awareness by ocean users all contribute to the demise of our coral reefs alongside the impact of increased ocean temperatures.


The Coral Festival provided a host of scientific learning opportunities and conversation. Minister Flavien Joubert- Minister for Agriculture, Climate Change & Environment of Seychelles shared how they had set aside 30% of their economic zone for marine protection. How it had required the buy-in of local communities, the financial support of local businesses, the motivation of the fishing industry and the will of the politicians. 


Professor Madeleine JH van Oppen, Australian Institute of Marine Science University of Melbourne introduced us to assisted evolution, which involves accelerating naturally occurring adaptive processes to enhance coral heat tolerance. 


Jos van Oostrum, Senior Director, Mars Sustainable Solutions Mars Incorporated, took us on a journey of hope. Sharing the success of coral reef restoration in conjunction with local partners and communities to build capacity, attract investment and monitor restored reefs to ensure positive ecosystem impact.  For guests who have traveled to Fulhadhoo with us, you will already be familiar with this project.  


Noo Raajje discussed their recent nationwide survey, the  world’s largest Ocean Use Survey representing how 25,000+ Maldivians use and value the ocean space. This survey will shape the Maldives Marine Spatial Plan and decisions being made in line with the worldwide initiative for governments to designate 30% of  the ocean area as protected by 2030.


There was far too much subject matter to relay in one article but there were however, some specific quotes that really stood out for us:

  • ‘Coral reefs are not owned by anyone, but they are used by everyone, impacted by everyone and are the root of the survival of everyone’
  • ‘Without knowledge, there is no love. Without love, there is no sense of protection’
  • ‘We have to shift from taking care of what we have, to also fixing what is broken’
  •  ‘Protection of coral reefs is about the survival of the world’s eco-system’.

In summary it was a thought provoking three days. It is evident that Maldivians involved in the environment including marine life, ocean and coral science and protection have a strong desire and passion to protect their ‘back yard’ for future generations. They are driven to educate, build awareness and importantly inspire those that come after them to follow their lead. Their voice is strong but is not yet being heard by those who do not share the same passion and as we have stated on previous occasions, the Maldives requires all stakeholders from policy makers to local communities to join the conversation and take actions towards a more sustainable future’.


“For us to carve a sustainable future for our oceans, we have to start inspiring people, sharing stories and making sure everyone sees themselves as an agent of change” Dr. Asha de Vos