2014 SLOW LIFE Symposium participants explored the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve both figuratively and literally. It is a sanctuary for hard and soft corals and marine life, including manta rays and whale sharks, and it provides the livelihood of the island communities, both through fishing and tourism.
As with reef systems around the world, Baa Atoll is in a precarious state. Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the Australian Research Councils Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, reminded participants that climate change, run off and over-fishing are the three big drivers destroying the global reefs. Climate change is a particular problem for the Maldives. Professor Hughes’ research concludes that the coral reef crisis is a crisis of governance and management, not biology.
Professor Hughes outlined how much of the coral cover has disappeared from Baa Atoll in recent years, but that with appropriate management there are encouraging signs that it can flourish once again. Healthy levels of herbivore fish that “behave like mini lawn mowers” are vital to reducing the concentration of seaweed and enabling the coral beneath to survive.
Governance is a particularly hot topic in the Maldives at the moment. Maldivian Minister for Environment and Energy, Ibrahim Thoriq, focused on the complex issue of how to protect the biosphere reserve whilst also protecting the livelihoods of the local community. Compared to global fisheries, Maldivian fishing is largely a shining example of best practice with 50% of catch by pole and line and certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. There are no big nets allowed in the Maldives and all the catch is from individual fisherman rather than big companies. Shark fishing is also prohibited, in order to help protect the future of these “key stone” ocean creatures.
To achieve success in protecting the reef ecology, it is vital to protect the livelihoods of the local communities. Maldivian Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture, Mohammed Shainee, took to the Symposium floor to describe some of the key challenges he faces and ask a clear question: How can we make good fishing practices truly sustainable? In particular, how can this be achieved in a world where sustainable fisheries have to directly compete with unsustainable fisheries? How can we continue to convince our fishermen that sustainable practices are the right course of action when it is difficult to compete with trawler and net catches on world markets?
Learn to Swim
Fish, coral, and humans – we all benefit from protecting the oceans and this was the message from Hanli Prinsloo, Founder of I Am Water and the inaugural SLOW LIFE Scholar. Describing the incongruous reality of youth living by the ocean around the world but with limited ocean experience – as addressed by the Soneva Learn To Swim programme – Hanli inspired the room explaining quite simply that, “when we love something, we protect it”. As a world-class free diver with a love of the ocean, Hanli and her partner Peter Marshall, world record holder of 50m backstroke, work with children in South Africa, Bermuda, Mozambique and South America. Her belief is that planting the seed early is the key to the future safety of the oceans, so changing the mindsets of the young is essential.
And so, with snorkels and flippers safely packed up and back on dry land the participants are preparing for tomorrow’s schedule, which will focus on the future of philanthropy, with contributions from Peter Wheeler, Christ West, Jean Oelwang, Jamie Arbib and Jim Norton.