Climate change is a pressing reality for Maldives, the Indian Ocean’s picturesque archipelago comprising 1,200 islands. With the highest points of the island nation no more than 8 feet above sea level, it is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the impacts of climate change—from sea level rise to more frequent and intense weather events.
High population density, dependence on climate-sensitive industries like fisheries and tourism, and over exploitation of natural resources further exacerbate its vulnerability.
As the threats created by climate change to small island nations like Maldives are becoming more imminent, more Maldivians are beginning to recognize the urgency of better protecting their fragile ecosystems. While there is general agreement among Maldivians that resources are being depleted, only groups that are directly involved in resource usage, such as fisherfolk, have strong concerns about this trend, according to a recent survey.
That survey also found that individuals and communities on North Ari Atoll, which comprises the largest clusters of islands in Maldives, tend to rely on the government to come up with laws and regulations to conserve the ecosystem and to prepare for climate change adaptation rather than taking individual action.
Through REGENERATE, or Reefs Generate Environmental and Economic Resiliency for Atoll Ecosystems (link is external), USAID, in partnership with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (link is external) (IUCN), is helping Maldives increase citizen awareness of the impacts of climate change on their lives and livelihoods—and empower citizens to play an active role. The ultimate goal of the project is to strengthen sustainable management of coastal resources, particularly coral reefs.
Coral reefs are precious resources not only because of their beauty and biodiversity, but because they serve as a buffer against waves, storms and floods, helping to prevent loss of life, property damage and land erosion. Reefs also serve as a valuable resource for potential medicines used to treat viruses and diseases—from cancer to arthritis to bacterial infections.
“I see a unique and undeniable connection between the Maldivian people and their sea, a strong interdependency between the social and ecological communities that inhabit these islands and surrounding waters—an interdependency that needs to be sustained for the future well-being of the country,” said Ameer Abdulla, senior adviser at the IUCN global marine and polar program and head of the REGENERATE project. “Such recognition of the importance of marine resources leads to a commitment to find innovative ways to protect and manage them for future generations to appreciate and utilize.”
The REGENERATE project hosted day-long festivals offering conservation-related activities for school children on Mathiveri in 2014 and on Ukulhas in 2015, both located on North Ari Atoll. Festival organizers screened movies and held discussions on pressing climate change threats to Maldives.
“Protection and conservation efforts have to start with the younger generations and they will take the message far and wide. Students learn more at participatory events like these. If this model is replicated on all of the inhabited islands in Maldives, the benefits will be far-reaching and long lasting,” said Abdullah Aadhil, a secondary teacher on Ukulhas.
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