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Recently, several members of our team at Secret Paradise had the opportunity to participate in a Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) short course, organized in collaboration with the Maldives National University (MNU), the UK’s Ocean Country Partnership Programme (OCPP), and supported by the Ministry of Climate Change, Environment and Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency. This insightful course has equipped us with invaluable knowledge and a greater understanding, particularly relevant to the MPAs in the Maldives.


As travelers, we often seek destinations that offer breathtaking beauty and unforgettable experiences. The world’s oceans, covering approximately 70% of the Earth’s surface, are a treasure trove of such wonders. Beyond their stunning vistas, our oceans are crucial to life on our planet. They regulate the global climate by absorbing solar radiation and distributing heat through ocean currents. They also produce over half of the world’s oxygen through the photosynthesis of marine plants and phytoplankton, and they are a vital source of food and livelihood for billions of people worldwide.

Exploring Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) allows travelers to witness firsthand the incredible biodiversity and vibrant ecosystems that thrive beneath the waves. These protected regions are essential for preserving marine life, ensuring healthy ocean ecosystems, and maintaining the natural beauty that draws adventurers from around the globe. Whether you’re snorkeling among coral reefs, diving with majestic sea creatures, or simply marveling at the serene coastal landscapes, visiting MPAs offers a unique and impactful way to connect with and protect our planet’s invaluable marine resources.


The Maldives has a total of 91 protected areas, covering a total of 63588.42 hectares. There are 3 designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, The most well known being Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll. This area famed for its aggregation of manta rays was the first of the three sites to be designated a UNESCO Biosphere in 2011. In the deep south of the Maldives, the mangrove wetland area connected to Dhan’dimagu Kilhi on the island of Fuvahmulah, and Eadhigali Kilhi and Koattey which form Addu Nature Park on the island of Hithadhoo, were designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserves more recently in 2019.

There are a further two designated managed areas which are both within Baa Atoll. Firstly, the island of Olhugiri, which is registered as a terrestrial MPA, and has the only nesting population of Lesser frigate birds within the atoll, as well as nest sites for green turtles and a roosting site for fruit bats.  Secondly, the Mendhoo region which comprises of four lagoons, which stand out for their remarkably high biodiversity, housing a thriving population of hard and soft corals, along with various marine invertebrates and vertebrates and a sandbank which serves as a nesting site for both green and hawksbill turtles.


Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are designated regions in the ocean where human activities are regulated to conserve marine ecosystems and protect species. These areas are managed to achieve specific conservation objectives, ensuring that our oceans remain vibrant and healthy.

The diversity of MPAs reflects the variety of marine environments and conservation goals they aim to achieve:

  • Fisheries Management Areas: These MPAs sustainably manage fish populations, ensuring long-term fishing opportunities while preserving marine biodiversity.
  • Coral Reef Reserves: Focused on protecting critical habitats teeming with marine life from overfishing and pollution.
  • Grouper Aggregation Sites: These specific areas protect seasonal spawning grounds for groupers, ensuring the sustainability of these important fish populations.
  • Archaeological Sites: MPAs that protect submerged cultural resources, such as shipwrecks and underwater archaeological sites, preserving our maritime history and heritage.

Some MPAs are even designated as UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, recognized globally for their exceptional biodiversity and sustainable development efforts.

Exploring these diverse MPAs offers travelers a unique opportunity to witness and support marine conservation efforts. Whether snorkeling through vibrant coral reefs, diving among historic shipwrecks, or observing seasonal marine gatherings, visiting MPAs provides unforgettable experiences while contributing to the protection of our oceans.


Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) play a crucial role in preserving biodiversity, protecting habitats, and promoting healthy ecosystems. For instance, the coral reefs of the Maldives represent 3.14 percent of the world’s reef areas, ranking as the seventh largest reef system and the fifth most diverse globally. These reefs are not only vital for marine biodiversity but also support the Maldivian economy, which heavily relies on tourism and fishing. Marine biodiversity-based exports account for 98% of the country’s exports, highlighting the economic significance of these ecosystems, which contribute 90% to the GDP.

MPAs support fisheries management by providing safe havens for habitats and species to grow and reproduce. They help replenish fish stocks and enhance resilience to climate change impacts. By protecting and conserving rare, threatened, endemic, and unique species and habitats, MPAs contribute to the restoration of ecosystems. For example, internationally recognized protected areas like those in the Maldives protect important populations of migratory species such as manta rays. Healthy coral reefs, which are protected within MPAs, also support ecotourism activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, and boat safaris, boosting tourism and funding opportunities.

Furthermore, MPAs enhance outreach and educational opportunities, providing research and monitoring opportunities for scientists. They protect and promote cultural heritage associated with marine environments and instill a sense of pride in local communities for the importance of their local marine environment. Overall, MPAs are crucial not only for conserving marine biodiversity but also for supporting sustainable economic activities and cultural heritage, making them essential for the well-being of both ecosystems and human communities.



Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) face a range of threats and challenges that jeopardize their effectiveness in conserving marine ecosystems. These include illegal fishing, pollution, climate change, and inadequate enforcement of regulations that have been put in place. In the Maldives, fisheries are predominantly pole and line based, which is far more sustainable compared to other methods. However, illegal fishing practices exacerbate overexploitation of certain species and undermine national and regional efforts to manage fish stocks effectively. Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing activities are particularly detrimental, threatening the balance of marine ecosystems and the livelihoods of coastal communities.

Tourism activities, while beneficial for the economy, can also pose risks to MPAs. Wildlife watching tours and wildlife feeding can disrupt natural behaviors, while increased boat traffic and noise pollution can disturb marine life and increase the risk of collisions. Light pollution from resorts and vessels as well as irresponsible scuba diving and snorkeling practices can damage fragile coral reefs. Pollution from solid waste, plastics, sewage, chemicals, and runoff from development activities further degrade our marine habitats.

Effective management and governance are crucial in addressing these challenges and ensuring the success of MPAs. Proper enforcement of regulations, including monitoring and patrolling, is essential to combat illegal fishing and other harmful activities. Collaborative efforts between government bodies, local communities, and conservation organizations are needed to develop and implement sustainable tourism practices that minimize impacts on marine environments. Education and awareness programs can foster community engagement and stewardship, encouraging local communities and visitors alike to value and protect marine resources.


MPAs offer benefits beyond conservation, supporting tourism, providing recreational opportunities, and contributing to local economies. In the Maldives, MPAs help sustain the tourism industry by preserving coral reefs and marine life, which are major attractions for visitors seeking pristine diving and snorkeling experiences. Healthy ecosystems within MPAs also support sustainable fisheries, ensuring long-term food security and economic stability for coastal communities.

Furthermore, MPAs play a vital role in promoting sustainable development. They serve as models of ecosystem-based management, demonstrating how conservation and economic activities can coexist harmoniously. By protecting marine biodiversity and habitats, MPAs contribute to climate resilience and adaptation, helping communities withstand the impacts of climate change.

MPAs also foster community engagement and stewardship by involving local communities in conservation efforts and promoting cultural heritage associated with marine environments. They provide opportunities for research and education, enhancing our understanding of marine ecosystems and informing future conservation strategies.

In conclusion, while MPAs face significant challenges, their effective management and governance are essential for ensuring their long-term success. By recognizing the diverse benefits of MPAs and supporting their sustainable management, travelers can contribute to the conservation of marine biodiversity and the well-being of coastal communities around the world.