Local divers have raised concerns about a whale shark research programme being conducted in the Maldives by a UK charity. The divers say tagging of whale sharks in a Marine Protected Area near Maamigili island in South Ari Atoll – and an aggregation site for whale sharks – is causing whale sharks to abandon the area.

A local diver with 10 years experience of diving in the area told Bluepeace that whale sharks were spotted throughout the year at the site, but are hardly seen anymore because of the tagging.

The charity named ‘Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme’ (MWSRP) has been conducting research in the Maldives since 2006. According to the programme’s website the tagging project was launched in 2008.

MWSRP, on the other hand, has raised concerns about unregulated diving boats visiting the Marine Protected Area. In the programme’s website MWSRP wrote on 3 January 2010 that whale sharks are back in the South Ari Atoll but were facing threats from unregulated tourism.

“Unfortunately the reef is also busier than ever with the unregulated tourism that flocks to the whale shark ‘Hotspot’. Since the recent designation of the area as the largest MPA in the Maldives, nothing has changed, in fact it has inevitably become more busy, increasing habitat disturbance as a major threat to the animals. The tour industry have not been made aware of the rules or regulations within the MPA and boats (sometimes 10 at a time) consistently converge on any shark that is spotted. So the madness is set to continue until such times as the government makes the necessary communications with the stakeholders.”

The research team, which is receiving assistance from the tourist resort Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, also takes tourists staying at the resort to the whale shark aggregation site, according to Easier Travel.

“The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island will once again provide support by giving the team accommodation on a local island, supplies, as well as diving equipment and the use of their boats. Guests at the resort will also be able to take part in the research by accompanying the team on their excursions to study the whale sharks, taking samples and measurements and assisting the team with their conservation work.”

MWSRP’s website says it has been in touch with the government of the Maldives and the local community to develop the Marine Protected Area.

“The year 2009 has seen the successful development of South Ari Atoll’s MPA, which is on its way to becoming the first collaboratively managed and regulated, revenue generating MPA in the Maldives, ensuring the local community benefits from their natural resources whilst making tourism more sustainable. Resorts are already committing to sponsoring the initiative following consultations with the MWSRP.”

Local divers are having a different opinion. They believe the tagging of whale sharks is driving the sharks away. They also raise questions about the methodology used in tagging and claim the use of spear guns by the research team is harming the whale sharks. In addition, local divers raise their concern that the authorities are not regulating the research.

A number of divers working on liveaboards, which take foreign tourists to the whale shark aggregation site, are disappointed with the research team conducting the research at the site during the peak tourist season. They claim that it is detrimental to their business as most of their clients come to the Maldives with the hope of spotting whale sharks. The peak tourist season also coincides with the arrival of North-east monsoon which brings more plankton to the area and attracts whale sharks. However, divers claim the number of whale sharks spotted in the area is significantly less this season. One prominent diver told Bluepeace that divers were not opposed to research in general, but were not happy with the research being carried out inside the Marine Protected Area.

Divers Association of Maldives is planning to raise the concerns of Maldivian divers with the relevant government authorities. Zoona Naseem, the President of DAM, told Bluepeace that the organisation was not opposed to whale shark research but their main concerns were the methodology used in tagging; lack of government regulation and monitoring of the research; and the concerns being raised by the divers that the number of whale sharks frequenting the Marine Protected Area is decreasing.

Maldivian divers also question whether the communities in South Ari Atoll have received any benefits from the research programme. They say MWSRP has not consulted the divers in the area and does not involve Maldivians in the research.


  1. Dave said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 8:23 am

    Yes… Guy Stevens and MWSRP had many Seminers with his student, what they say volunteers, which actually taught to us what is research, and made us aware about the marine animals more than 20years ago here in MALDIVES, hehehe.
    Sorry did i say morethan 20years? Guy Stevens Probably didn’t have any idea about any marine animal,the only thing they would heard is FISH only FISH….GUY!! Sorry if you have been as a marine biologist for more than 20years.

    I bet most of them they saw these animals yesterday or day before, and they are saying they are the experts of these animals. what a JOKE…


  2. D.Brown said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 3:29 pm

    They are just selling our whale-sharks. Sponsor this and that.

    Give a name for $$$$
    Put a hat on it for $$$$
    Have a 1 on 1 romantic time for $$$$$ ( Video extra $$$$)

    This is more or less the idea behind all this….

  3. fehurihi said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 8:14 pm

    Hey, you coconut heads!

    Did you know these mwsrp scientists have it all planned out to colonize the Maamigili area to accommodate friends from america and various other power yielding communities in the name of research. In their web site they already announced their intentions and partners!.SOOO,…make the best of it now cos later on you will not be allowed to enter that area. The scientists will conserve the place until nothing lives there anymore!
    Once the research team is done, we will have to search and re-search and re-re-search for signs of life.
    They will soon bring the new tags reseached by the australian research teams.
    They are here because they can just go get them like peas in a grocery. In other places you need to search and locate with light air craft and then drive by speed boat to harass the animals!

  4. Thakuru said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 9:22 pm

    Bottom line is simple – we Maldivians will not let a bunch of charity workets (who chooses five star accomodation and sell our resources & live in so called ‘doations’) – in specific MWSRP or GUY STEVENS to take away what we have!!!
    So in short GET LOST and do ur research elsewhere !!…we don’t need you stupid excel sheets to find our how many whalesharks or manta’s are there!!..
    MWSRP – u better be prepared for the result of negative propaganda against our tourism…
    Nice articles on DO & Minivan… – if u think u can get away with this – you are wrong…
    A 23yr old school boa (Adam Harman) has what qualifications to work as a scientist?… we coconut heads can teach u more….

    S pack ur bags and be ready to leave – government cannot stop us!!.

  5. En Madi said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 9:25 pm

    Guy Stevens – haven’t u had enough of living ur luxury life at four season?… Do’t u get it- that we don’t want you here?… Aren’t u ashamed of your self>>>!!
    So Don’t Talk nonsense…. you can do ur talks and presentations to the government guys who doesnt have a clue of how precious our Marine life is – NOT FOR US!!!

    No more Manta taggings in the Maldives!!

  6. issay said,

    January 28, 2010 @ 6:49 pm

    James Varndell said
    (time to clear a few lies out of the way. Sindi, “Dave” and “D.Brown” (i know these aren’t your real names), how can you write such horrible things without any evidence? You are so happy to insult peple like Mr Stevens and the MWSRP, and yet you are too cowardly to meet with them and open into healthy dialogue?)

    Now Now, Mr. know it all, gone are the days when the retarded island people bow down to the french conquistador. The names you have mentioned above are actually the names i my self also call them.
    There is no coward here..!!!! Ask them they also call me Issay. Do you want my address… but i got no time to go and sit with you. we have more important things to do.

    The fact that no Maldivians are willing to go help you is because, why do we waste our precious time to help you write and publish your egos..??

    If you are still not willing to stop harpooning the fishes in the Maldives in the name of research. then things can turn pretty nasty. Please go tag each other, and do it out of Maldives. We are the Maldivians, we are the ones who dive with the fishes in these water, we know what they are, we do not need you to come and tell us, Whale sharks got spots on their backs.

    This the problem with you guys, you just feel that you can go anywhere in the world and do whatever you want.. sorry pals. not here.. we will stop you from Tagging any fish in these water.. weather you like it or not.
    Get a life. For the last time dont go talking abt I did this I did that. some Maldivians still thing that since your skin is fairer you know everything.. but not the divers in the diving industry. we know more than there is to be known abt your likes..
    Get a life. shooo shooooo..LOL

  7. fehurihi said,

    January 29, 2010 @ 2:46 am


    Can you believe this? They got it all figured!

    “2010 promises to be very busy – The whole team hopes to be able to build on the MWSRP’s achievements in the coming year. 2010 goals: The development of a one hundred percent self sufficient eco-facility, to enable a year-round presence for visiting researchers, scientists, students, teachers and volunteers is being planned in partnership with Sheppard Robson (leaders in sustainable design) and the Maldives’ Ministry of Tourism, two foreign student exchange schemes are in motion (one in the UK, the other in Qatar), the MPA development will continue with baseline coral reef and species specific studies and a MPA management specific NGO is being initiated. An American based ‘Friends Of’ organisation is also in the process of registration and the whale shark research will continue to provide the scientific basis behind the programme’s broader conservation goals.”

    Charity will develop a one hundred percent self sufficient eco-facility!
    The last bit is really scientific….”provide the scientific basis behind the programme’s broader conservation goals.”

    It is really shocking how these smarts are scheming like modern day pirates.
    Their reports have already published information from some australian research. Somehow, the same methods and tags are being used here. Obviously no new information can be collected. Its just a matter of who can deploy most number of tags.
    What could be the scientific basis behind the programs broader conservation goals.
    Thakura, you will have to go to a scientific research lab to verify and simplify the meaning behind broader conservation goals. To me it sounds like NONSENSE!
    Sometimes nonsense makes sense to pseudo scientists! hehehehehehe!

    “The tagging research program was authorized under Marine Research Permit No. IR-P/2008/03 from the Ministry of Fisheries, Agriculture and Marine Resources, Male, Republic of Maldives to B. S. Stewart. We also thank Mohamed Faiz, Adbulla Naseer, M. Shiham Adam, Charles Anderson, and Mohamed Hameed for helping with and facilitating issuance of the research permit and for their support of our research program.”

    Quite a network they built for themselves. This Charles is also a very interesting character….! Many publications..!
    The stories never end…………..
    Thakura…lets research these guys……mwsrp. Some fellows even challenge an audit!…now…why did that come up?..can you guess? I have no idea!
    my….my….my…. Im stunnnnnedddd!!!!!

  8. Maldivian Eco lover said,

    February 3, 2010 @ 5:39 am

    What’s obvious to me from the comments here is that those on the liveboard/divers side is exteremely defensive, insulting and aggressive.

    I’not too sure if dive teams would care too much about the the long term survival of the whales or eye the short term, quick dollar approach through the dives. I can perfectly see the rush of the boats close to the whales and possibly sometimes huritng and scaring the beautiful elegant creatures.

    At the same time, we, as Maldivians need to be given more assurances about this tagging technique used by MWSR. Anyway, how long is the contract for the tagging in this zone? Is this unlimited, and do you go on tagging the whales forever?

    I believe some sort of migration monitoring technique is essential (as well as the amount of dives), if we want to study the behaviour in order to aid protection. At the heart of this is the issue of an independent research team that doesn’t favour the tourists of its sponsor resorts. That needs to be looked into.

    Regulating the whale watching divers is important, but its their right too. The dives add to our livelihhod, but they must be done with care and protection of the whales, as an esential element. This needs to ensured through effective policy implementation.

    MWSR needs to work more closely with the local community and the tourism industry, not by getting their tourists involved to aid sponsorship – that’s too tircky. Get sponsorhsips from other sources (it’s hard) but shoudl you really go for the quick buck approach too?

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