Marked by a continuous 130km reef, the Laamu Atoll is found in southern-central Maldives in the Indian Ocean. Laamu’s striking marine habitats have been a focal point for conservation and research within the atoll’s biologically unique and valuable seagrass meadows, isolated inner reef formations and mangroves since the opening Six Senses Laamu resort in 2011.
Laamu Atoll has been declared a Hope Spot by international marine conservation nonprofit Mission Blue in recognition of Six Senses Laamu’s work in demonstrating sustainable ecotourism practices and creating the framework for scalable marine conservation methods to help shape a healthy future for generations to come in the Maldives.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, says: “To look back to 2011 when Six Senses began collecting information, to now as we’re celebrating the designation of the atoll as a Hope Spot – it’s truly a reason for hope. It’s so important that we protect the ecosystems there, especially the seagrass meadows that we now understand are so important to generating oxygen, capturing carbon and providing a home and security for so many creatures not only within the atoll but throughout the depths beyond. By promoting understanding of the value of the ocean to the people of the Maldives and the rest of the world, one Hope Spot at a time, we’re creating a true network of hope.”
The Hope Spot Champions, Marteyne van Well and Adam Thalhath are hopeful that Laamu will become an atoll composed of locally managed marine protected areas (MPAs), and to continue developing educational programs that will influence the next generation of environmental stewards with pride for their atoll.
Adam Thalhath, Sustainability and Community Outreach Manager of Six Senses Laamu says: “In the Maldives, it is very rare for an atoll not to have multiple resorts and developments. Six Senses is the only operating resort in Laamu Atoll and just 20% of the islands here are inhabited. It’s important that we continue to have a sustainable relationship with the ocean and have protections put in place to support those efforts.”
Laamu Atoll has been the location of consistent scientific monitoring from Six Senses Laamu since 2011. Through collaboration with its three partners- The Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation and the Olive Ridley Project– Six Senses Laamu created the Maldives Underwater Initiative, a team working towards protecting Laamu’s marine habitats through establishing MPAs and a management plan. This has involved gathering ecological data, fostering support within the community and working with the local government in addition to establishing sustainable and profitable livelihoods for the surrounding islands. The Manta Trust and the Olive Ridley Project have been working to understand the population and habitat use of manta rays and sea turtles. Both Manta Trust and the Olive Ridley Project are Mission Blue Alliance partners.
“It is through our partnerships with these three experienced and specialized organizations that we have been able to collect such detailed information on Laamu’s species and habitats,” explains Philippa Roe, the Maldives Underwater Initiative’s Head Marine Biologist. “Our work through collaboration has also led to other successful projects, from nation-wide seagrass conservation to community knowledge sharing, none of which would be possible without the expertise and qualities each partner brings.”
“The community is also involved in every project and initiative,” explains Marteyne van Well, General Manager of Six Senses Laamu. She continues, “It is truly a grassroots effort. In order for marine protected areas to be established, maintained and enforced, it has to come from the bottom-up, and it has to be sustainable in an economic way as well.”
The Maldives’ government is expected to announce new protected areas in Laamu, in accordance with the new Government’s Strategic Action Plan, in late-2021. The Laamu Atoll Council and Blue Marine Foundation have communicated the evidence of the need to protect this area. Blue Marine Foundation is working with Laamu Atoll Council to undertake resource use surveys, participatory planning sessions and community education and awareness programs, and is a Mission Blue Alliance partner as well.
Laamu Atoll’s three richly diverse ecosystems possess an enormous amount of healthy life. Researchers have counted 47 coral genera to date, with some inner reef coral cover recorded up to 50% – very rare in the Maldives since a mass coral bleaching event in 2016. These areas likely supply other damaged reefs with coral larval supply, vital for reef recovery. More than 400 species of fish have been recorded in Laamu, including endemic, endangered, and critically endangered species. The mangroves within the atoll consist of both open and closed systems, containing four mangrove species, providing a haven for migratory birds and juvenile fish.
Seagrass meadows act as a carbon sink by absorbing and storing carbon in their roots and the surrounding sediments. In Laamu, the Six Senses Laamu team is measuring the extent to which carbon is stored in Laamu’s seagrass meadows.These meadows also provide a key food source for green sea turtles, of which Laamu contains the most significant nesting beach in the Maldives, on one of Laamu’s uninhabited islands, L. Gaadhoo. Despite this, scientists have determined that 38% of nests on this island were poached in the 2019-2020 nesting season, indicating the need for further enforcement of regulations protecting this species in the atoll.
The Olive Ridley Project is working with Maldives Environmental Protection Agency to implement community-led monitoring and patrolling of nesting beaches. Community led projects also extend to monitoring of Laamu’s marine habitats. Blue Marine Foundations’ Laamaseelu Farundun (Exemplary Citizen) program, trains volunteer local residents to monitor and survey seagrass, mangroves and coral reefs, contributing to further understanding of the present situation of the atoll’s ecosystem and any future changes.
“We hope that the Laamu Atoll Hope Spot can be a flagship for functional MPAs in the Maldives with the support of the local community, who will benefit both economically and ecologically,” says van Well. “We are capable of preventing unsustainable development without holding the community back economically. It’s important to show that it’s achievable – it’s been possible for Laamu, and it’s possible anywhere.”
Thalhath adds: “The Maldives relies on tourism, but now is the time to protect the marine ecosystems. If we put protections in place now, we’ll create a healthier future for all life here, humans and fish alike.”
The Maldivian government has pledged to protect at least one reef, one mangrove and one uninhabited island from each atoll by 2022. In 2018, the local government, the Laamu Atoll council, pledged to protect five ecologically significant areas in the atoll. Recently, significant progress has been made on these goals and the designation of nationally Protected Areas within the Hope Spot is expected in the coming months.
“Through these ongoing projects, it will be demonstrated how networks of marine protected areas provide a haven to replenish other areas impacted by either human or natural damage, increasing ecosystem resilience on an atoll-wide scale,” says van Well.
For more information about Mission Blue visit the website by clicking here.
Diverse Travel expand Maldives programme with Boutique Beach
Dive holiday experts Diverse Travel have added Boutique Beach to their Maldives programme.
Designed specifically with divers in mind, Boutique Beach is a charming boutique hotel, perfect for those who want a taste of the real Maldives without compromising on incredible diving. This award-winning hotel is situated just steps away from a spectacular 2.5km stretch of white sandy beach on the ‘local’ island of Dhigurah in the famous Whale Shark area of South Ari atoll.
The waters surrounding South Ari atoll are renowned in the Maldives for their unique, year-round sightings of Whale Sharks, and the area attracts many divers and snorkellers involved in Whale Shark conservation and research. There are over 50 dive sites within close reach of the island of Dhigurah including many of the most famous and exciting thilas – deep channel reefs full of marine life – in the Maldives. Spectacular sites such as the marine protected reef of Kudarah Thila are just minutes by boat from the island. Mantas regularly feed in the lagoon directly in front of Boutique Beach, as well as at the cleaning station at Rangali, which is within easy reach of the hotel.
With six large double / twin guest rooms, each with balcony or private garden, Boutique Beach is the perfect base for a small group of divers or snorkellers. In-room camera workstations also make this hotel an ideal choice for underwater photographers. The PADI 5* dive centre specialises in guiding in small groups with an emphasis on safety, personal service and maximising marine life encounters.
As well as boasting excellent diving and snorkelling, Boutique Beach’s location on Dhigurah adds another interesting dimension for visitors. One of the longest islands in the Maldives, Dhigurah is home to a population of around 600 Maldivians who are happy to share their way of life with international guests. Boutique Beach supports many community initiatives on the island, and visitors staying at Boutique Beach are able to partake in local activities such as cooking, crafting and sports, allowing for a unique travel experience.
Diverse Travel Product Manager Phillip Connor says:
“Adding Boutique Beach to our programme is an exciting move for Diverse Travel. The Maldives is one of our top destinations, and it’s great to be able to offer our guests truly spectacular diving, alongside the chance to experience a little of real island life, at an excellent price. We’re confident that this unique, British diver designed and managed hotel will become one of our most popular holidays, and look forward to hearing about all the tremendous marine encounters from our guests.”
Introductory Special Offer
Diverse Travel are currently offering an introductory saving of up to 25% on holiday packages to the Maldives staying at Boutique Beach. Dive holiday packages start from just £2575pp (based on November 2022) and include return flights London to Male with 30kgs baggage + extra 15kgs for dive baggage, 7 nights at Boutique Beach in a double / twin room with a ‘soft’ all-inclusive meal plan, up to three dives per day with boat trips, tanks and weights, return speedboat from Male (sea plane at an additional charge), local taxes and green tax, plus ATOL and full financial protection as standard.
Discover more about Boutique Beach on the Diverse Travel website at www.diversetravel.co.uk/dive-resorts/maldives/boutique-beach
Euro-Divers celebrates 50 years! (Watch Video)
Euro-Divers is celebrating its 50th anniversary! October 1972 marked the beginning of the Maldives’ tourism industry and the opening of the country’s first resort, with the first Euro-Divers dive centre providing scuba diving activities. A great passion for diving brought the right people together in the right place, which has developed over the years.
Euro-Divers would like to say a big THANK YOU to all their clients to all their partners who gave them the trust and opportunity to provide diving services throughout all those years.
The Euro-Divers team look forward to continuing to provide world-class diving, watersports, and excursions, giving clients access to the best locations in the world in a safe, friendly, and professional manner.
Congratulations Euro-Divers on five decades of incredible diving with friends!
Find out more at www.euro-divers.com