Archive for Biodiversity

MALDIVES ALLOWS HARVESTING OF ENDANGERED TURTLES EGGS: Isn’t it the High Time Maldives Outlawed all Marine Turtle Egg Consumption.

All marine turtles not all the eggs are protected in the Maldives and the most recent legislative measure to conserve turtles came into effect from January 2006, when for the first time harvesting turtle eggs from 14 islands was prohibited in the Maldives. In addition, the regulation prohibited catching or killing of any marine turtle species nationwide, and their sale, import and export of its products for ten years.

Bluepeace from very its inception in 1989 has been adamantly advocating for the conservation of marine turtles in the Maldives. Prior to the Rio Summit in 1992, the Maldives was the second largest exporter of the tortoiseshell (hawksbill turtle shells) in the world, and Bluepeace felt the seriousness of the issue, and raised our concern with the President of the Maldives and requested to take measures to protect the endangered turtles in the Maldives. Few months later, the Government enforced a tortoiseshell  export ban, while the export of processed ornamentals made from tortoiseshell was permitted. Even then it was prohibited to capture Hawksbill turtles less than two feet (61cm) in carapace length and other turtles less than two and half feet (76cm) carapace length.

The Environment Investigation Agency (EIA) , a leading non-profit organization that works undercover to fight environmental crime in March 1995 found tortoiseshell products were openly available in shops in Colombo despite a complete ban on its sale in Sri Lanka. The EIA infiltrated the trade and their investigation revealed that four main dealers were exporting tortoiseshell to Sri Lanka from Maldives, often smuggled in consignments of dried fish, and tracked down the biggest supplier in the Maldives. The entire EIA investigation was filed with hidden camera. On 30 March 1995 as part of the “Animal Detectives” series British national television broadcasted the entire investigation.

Under heavy pressure from environmentalists around the world and even threatening to boycott Maldives resorts, intervention of Parliamentarians from Europe and at a time when momentum was gathering for huge protest in front of the Travel Market in London by environmental groups. Bowing to this pressure, the Maldives Government had an Emergency Cabinet meeting on 21 June 1995 to protect marine turtles.

The Emergency Cabinet decided a 10 ten year moratorium prohibiting catching or killing of any marine turtle species, and their sale, import and export of its products for ten years. However, the poaching of marine turtle eggs was not banned. According to the Press Release the Cabinet decision was “aimed at conserving the dwindling turtle population in the Maldivian waters, which the Government saw as a serious threat to the marine environment of the country.” The Press Release also stated that the Government of the Maldives had decided to take a number of other measures towards conserving marine turtle. They consist of “the formulation of legislation for protecting endangered species, the setting up of sanctuaries for turtle conservation and the presentation of national awards for conservationists.”

When the first 10 years moratorium expired on 2004, it was extended for another 10 years in 2006, apart from prohibiting catching or killing of any marine turtle species, and their sale, import and export of its products for ten years, for the first time harvesting turtle eggs from 14 islands has been included. The Press Release  by the Fisheries Ministry says that while the new 10-year moratorium was adopted after the earlier one expired in 2004, catching turtles and taking turtle eggs from specific islands were banned because it takes a long time for turtles to grow and because the measures taken before to protect sea turtles did not show satisfying results. However, Fisheries Ministry’s announcement said that when banned on catching or killing was imposed in 1995, turtles have started to become more visible in the waters of the Maldives.

Turtle egg harvesting has been banned from the following islands, but not enforced in the Maldives. HA. Mulidhoo, HDH. Muiree, HDh. Vaikaramuraidhoo, R. Furaveri, R. Vandhoo, B. Maamaduvvari, B. Maaddoo, B. Olhugiri, B. Miriyandhoo, Th. Kanimeedhoo, Th. Fonaudoo, Th. Kandoodhoo, L. Gaadhoo, GDh. Gan.

Under the 2006 ten years moratorium, 14 sanctuaries have been declared protected and its nesting beaches in the Maldives. Sadly there has been no proper management and enforcement of regulations.  Some of the resorts do protect the nesting beaches, however most nesting beaches are not protected from human encroachment. Eggs harvesting and even removing eggs from turtles stomach while it alive and illegal poaching of turtles have become most critical issue facing in the Maldives to save dwindling stock of marine turtles.

The Maldives should declare a nationwide total ban on harvesting of turtle eggs, and properly protect and manage feeding grounds and other important habitats for effective conservation and management of these interesting endangered turtles. Almost all the uninhabited islands are leased to individuals or companies. The Government should include a new clause prohibiting the harvesting of turtle eggs from their nests and to protect the nesting beaches to the existing agreement on leasing of uninhabited islands. However, this would not solve the problem of poaching of eggs completely without strict enforcement.

While enforcement of regulation is critical, refreshing public memory on the need to protect and preserve turtle population in Maldives has also become important. Responsible public agencies, such as Island Councils, civil society organisations and media should make an effort to raise awareness on and enforce the regulations on turtle protection.

 

REFERENCES
Anderson R. C and Waheed A (1990) Exploratory fishing for large pelagic species in the Maldives. Bay of Bengal Programme. BOBP/REP/46: 46pp.

Didi N. T. H (1993) DhivehirajjeygaiUlheyVelaa.Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture of Fisheries and Agriculture Malé Republic of Maldives. 74pp.

Frazier J. G (1975) Marine turtles of the Western Indian Ocean.Oryx. XIII (2): 164-175.
Frazier J. G., Salas S., Didi N. T. H (1984) Marine turtles in the Maldives Archipelago. Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture of fisheries Malé Maldives. 53pp.

Gardiner J. S (1906) The fauna and geography of the Maldive and Laccadive Archipelago. Cambridge University press.2 vols.

Hackett H. E (1977) Marine algae known from the Maldive islands.Atoll Research Bulletin. 210: iii + 30.

Laidlaw F. F (1903) In: Gardiner J. S The fauna and geography of the Maldives and Laccadive Archipelago 1: 119-122.

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IMPACT OF TSUNAMI ON INDIAN MANGROVES

Impact of Tsunami on Indian Mangroves

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Mangroves that saved Kendhikulhudhoo from tsunami under threat now

Six years ago, on 26 December 2004, when the Indian Ocean tsunami created havoc across the Maldives, coral reefs, coastal vegetation and mangroves played a crucial role in mitigating the impacts of the tsunami, reducing the force of the deadly waves. In the island of Kendhikulhudhoo in Noonu Atoll, mangroves formed in a depression of an islet, known locally as kulhi, absorbed much of the impact of the tsunami, saving the island from destruction of property and loss of human lives. However, the mangroves in Kendhikulhudhoo are now under threat as an illegal aquaculture project is being carried out to harvest an alien species of sea cucumber.


Mangroves in Kendhikulhudhoo absorbed the lethal impact of tsunami

Bluepeace first received the information about the illegal aquaculture project in early 2009 and raised concern with the relevant government authorities. The issue was also covered by Minivan News. A similar illegal aquaculture project being conducted in Maalhendhoo, an inhabited island located near Kendhikulhudhoo, was exposed by local photographer Ali Nishan (Millzero) on his blog.

We have received information from our sources in Kendhikulhudhoo that the illegal aquaculture project has reached an appalling stage with modification of the structure of the mangroves through extensive excavation. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed to Bluepeace that to this date no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been submitted to EPA for approval to conduct an aquaculture project in Kendhikulhudhoo or Maalhendhoo.

In 2007, Bluepeace published an article on its website stressing the importance of mangrove ecosystems in the Maldives, and the role they play in mitigating the impacts of natural disasters. We also noted several mangroves were under threat while some mangroves were destroyed by reclamation for tourism, housing, agriculture and other commercial purposes.

Mangrove areas are highly productive ecosystems contributing to the food chains of atoll islands. They are also important to the atoll ecosystems, as they filter out silt, nutrients and sand that would otherwise go out to the house reef around the islands suffocating corals and encouraging algal growth.

Most of the native plants in the Maldives, including the plants that grow on the coastal vegetation belt around islands, are very salt tolerant. This was quite visible in the 2004 Asia’s tsunami disaster, most of the native plants survived leaving dead all the introduced and naturalized plants in tsunami-affected islands.

Mangroves with hanging long branches reaching into sand and below the surface of water absorb the shock of tsunamis. Behind mangrove trees is a second layer of taller native plants, which slow down the waves. Mangrove roots with aerial roots and salt-filtering tap roots not only provide support in uneven soils but hold up currents and storms.


Mangrove trees in Kendhikulhudhoo

Mangroves depressions or Kulhi, protect coastline from erosion and provide a breeding ground for crustaceans and fish. Milk fish is the common fish found in fresh water dominated mangroves swamps, on which the local population depends on as a staple food when the sea is rough and tuna and other pelagic fish are scare. Harvesting and managing of milk fish in the mangroves is done traditionally by the island community as whole.

In Kendhikulhudhoo, the mangroves have been traditionally regarded as a vital source of livelihood. In certain periods of the year, based on nakaiy – the traditional Maldivian calendar used for predicting weather – the community cuts an opening to the sea from the mangroves on rainy days, allowing saltwater to enter. Along with sea water, milk fish enters the mangroves. The opening to the sea is closed after a few days. The community feeds on the milk fish when the sea is rough or when tuna and other pelagic fish are scarce. In the past, milk fish was harvested for traditional feasts and ceremonies such as Maulood as well. After the tsunami, the people of Kendhikulhudhoo said it was a ‘safe island’ because the mangroves protected the island from the wrath of the destructive waves.


Mangrove in Kendhikulhudhoo: A unique ecosystem

Mangrove crabs that are found in mangrove swamps are a vital part of the mangrove ecology, influencing both nutrient cycling and forest structure by flow of water through crab holes. The rich mangrove ecosystems are now under threat in several islands of the Maldives through the illegal harvest of alien species of sea cucumber, posing a threat to other organisms that use the mangroves as a habitat. The illegal aquaculture projects are accompanied by modifications to the structure of mangroves through excavation or reclamation.


Mangrove crabs in Kendhikulhudhoo

In a report Vulnerability and Adaptation of Ecologically Sensitive Mangrove Habitats to the Changing Climate published by National Institute of Oceanography, Dona Paula, Goa, India and authored by T. G. Jagtap, V. A. Kulkarni, X. N. Verlekar, the significance of atoll mangrove ecosystems is highlighted.

“Loss of mangroves and similar habitats aggravate the fury of natural calamities”, the authors have argued, and noted that reclamation of mangroves has resulted in severe erosion at a number of islands from Maldives.

“Irrespective of Sea Level Rise (IPCC, 2001) or sea level chop (Morner et al., 2003), Maldives islands are likely to be under severe threat of flooding due to constantly increasing human pressure. Conservation and restoration of various Ecologically Sensitive Marine Habitats would not only enhance the productivity but greatly benefit in mitigation adverse impacts of natural as well as human created hazards,” the report concludes.

After the tsunami, international aid agencies poured thousands of dollars for disaster preparedness programmes in the Maldives. The programmes, conducted in collaboration with government agencies, have not spared vital mangrove ecosystems – an essential protective shield against tsunamis, storm surges, tidal waves and climate change – from destruction.

Reference:

Adams, D., 1988. Plant life. In: Paul A. Webb. Maldives people and environment . Identification. Report No. RAS/79/123. Rome: FAO. 40p.

Maldives: State of the Environment 2002 ; 3.5 Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity

Untawale, A.G. and T.G. Jagtap, 1991. Scientific report on status of atoll mangroves from the republic of Maldives. Unpublished manuscript. National Institute of Oceanography. India. Goa.

T. G. Jagtap, V. A. Kulkarni, X. N. Verlekar., 2008. Vulnerability and Adaptation of Ecologically Sensitive Mangrove Habitats to the Changing Climate. National Institute of Oceanography, India, Goa.

A. Shazra, M. Omidi, 2009. Work on illegal aquaculture project underway. Minivan News.

A. Nishan. 2010. Alien species cultivated in the Maalhendhoo mangroves. Millzero’s Blog.

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