Government to safeguard protected areas

Monday, 16 February 2009 10:39

The government is taking its first steps to implement a programme to safeguard designated protected areas that represent the nation’s marine and terrestrial biological diversity.


Protected areas are those which are “highly irreplaceable natural areas or areas under high threat or with many threatened species,” according to Zaha Waheed, the project coordinator at the environment research centre

Most of the sites, she said, were initially popular dive sites, which were proposed by the tourism sector to protect them from fishing interests.

Although many of the locations were labelled as protected sites as early as 1995, due to limited financial resources and technical expertise, the sites have been protected on paper only so far, she said. This has led to many referring to protected areas as “paper parks”.

Plan of action


“We need to have a management plan,” said Zaha. “We are saying they’re protected but nothing has been done…international best practices have to be applied…No one is looking at the status of the sites to see if they are degrading or not degrading.”

According to Zaha, the first stage of the programme will involve two pilot projects, one marine and one terrestrial. The marine project will be at Mayaa Thila, one of the most popular dive sites, while the terrestrial project will take place at Ga. Hithadhoo island.

The aim is to develop a management system that can be replicated to oversee all 30 protected areas and the five protected islands across the Maldives.

The initial stages of the programme will be carried out in consultation with all of the stakeholders, said Zaha, including locals, the tourism ministry and the fisheries ministry.

Decentralisation

Ahmed Saleem, permanent secretary of the environment ministry, has said although “a lot of work” on the project has already been carried out “nothing has been seen on the ground”.

Due to a centrally-controlled government and a lack of staff on atolls, monitoring the sites in the past has proved taxing.

“Decentralisation will help a lot,” said Saleem. “It will have a synergistic effect on the work that we are doing…Decentralisation is very timely.”

A lack of adequate resources was another factor which prevented the project from moving forwards.

Although UN funding was secured in 2007 for the programme, Saleem said a system of fee collection at these sites might be implemented in the future.

“That’s how parks are managed anywhere in the world,” he said. “The main source of income will come from users, so ultimately what is generated will then be used to protect the site.”

Paper parks

Saleem has described the programme as “a very positive move”. “Most people would say the parks are paper parks. We don’t want that anymore.”

As party to the Convention of Biological Diversity, the Maldives has a legal obligation to protect both marine and terrestrial biology, he added. “Just giving legal status to a place isn’t going to help it.”

Mohamed Zuhair, director general of the environment ministry, said the significance of the project was “quite simple”.

“Protecting our fragile environment for generations to come and protecting vital biological resources,” was crucial.

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