The Edition brings readers a dose of positive news over a cup of tea shared with inspirational folk doing all sorts of positive work in the Maldives.
Most people who visit Fuvahmulah agree that it is indeed a very special island, not just in terms of its geographical difference, but because much of the beauty remains preserved in its natural state, along with remnants of history and culture that are unseen anywhere else in the ever-modernizing Maldives.
However, this gem of an atoll-island has not been safe from exploitation, pollution and the effects of climate change. Being so removed from most of the country, the issues faced by the people of Gnaviyani Atoll often pass by unheard, and thus, help unreceived.
Taking matters into their own hands and changing the game is the NGO One Fuvahmulah, and their enduring passion is nothing if not inspirational.
Having started as a small group of people dreaming of conserving the stunning beaches, mangroves and wetlands the island is blessed with, the organization has blossomed into a beacon of hope for young generations in Fuvahmulah, and across the Maldivian environmentalist community.
During a visit to the stunning atoll, The Edition sat down with the executive committee members of One Fuvahmulah in a bid to learn more about their efforts, and perhaps glean off a little of their drive and excitement.
“The main motivation driving the formation of One Fuvahmulah was the prevailing environmental issues like coastal erosion and waste management”, affirmed Ismail Rafeeq.
“Before we became an NGO, we were just a group of youth looking for a solution for these problems and a way to increase general awareness”.
Even having conducted the largest clean up ever in the Maldives, for 11 days straight across close to five kilometres, is a mere blip in the vision shared by the founders of One Fuvahmulah for the future of their homeland.
“We would like to see Fuvahmulah become a single-use plastic-free island”, stated Ismail, his expression cheerful but strengthened by an unmistakable streak of unwavering determination.
Abdulla Waseem elaborated on the clean-up, adding that it is just one of many events hosted by the group to manage waste accumulated on the beach and other public areas.
“The participants were very enthusiastic, removing even the smallest piece of plastic that caught their eye, ” he grinned.
“After we collected all the litter strewn about, we segregated the waste. Next, we carried out research to determine the most common type of plastic found”.
The results offered an unpleasant dose of harsh reality. Nearly 90 percent of waste originated from the island. However, the team managed to send all of the collected plastic waste to Parley Maldives for exportation.
In addition to running door-to-door campaigns and distributing educational pamphlets to increase public awareness, One Fuvahmulah has also conducted awareness sessions for about 270 students from educational institutions such as Haafiz Ahmed School, Mohamed Jamaaluddeen School and Fuvahmulaku School.
“The efforts inspired people to think a lot about the issue of plastic for the first time”, said Waseem.
The four members highlighted that a number of tourism establishments on the island were responding positively to the green call, electing to use glass bottles instead of plastic bottles as well as reducing the overall use of plastics.
“In a way, this demonstrates that there are businesses that do believe in the message”, said Ismail, “We plan to provide any assistance possible to the establishments to reach our zero plastic goal”.
However, not everyone has been too keen on the operation.
“Women don’t really participate the way they used to” , admits Shakeela Ali Didi. “In addition, there are other problems that we face, such as the removal of sand from beaches by womenfolk”.
“It is not an uncommon practice to dump household waste on the beach and return armed with containers of sand”.
“However, we plan to hold programmes to empower and educate the women of the island and involve them more”, Shakeela stated with firm enthusiasm.
Nodding in agreement, Ismail said, “We face considerable obstacles in our line of work. There are days when only four or five volunteers arrive at events. However, our members are too resilient to be so easily discouraged”.
“Six months after the clean-up, garbage continued to be strewn around the island”.
It is not the only issue faced by the island community either. The threat of coastal erosion is very real, and the effects are harrowing. When comparing old photos of Fuvahmulah, it becomes apparent that the island has lost a lot of soil, a result of developmental mishaps, and excessive removal of sand and and beachside vegetation.
Aside from habits of island lifestyle, that is removal of sand for construction purposes and for beautifying household pathways, one explanation is, perhaps, that the unique pebbled beaches of Fuvahmulah is a prized 'collectible' in various parts of Maldives, fetching a substantial price, formerly used to adorn affluent homes in the South as well as the much further off Male' region.
In addition, One Fuvahmulah have also made repeated attempts to tackle the issue of invasive Lotus species that threaten to 'suffocate' the delicate ecosystem of Bandaara Kilhi, one of two fresh water lakes located mainly in the island's Maalegan ward, spilling out slightly to Miskiymagu ward. The biggest lake in Maldives, boasting 0.058 square kilometers and an average depth of 12 feet, it was declared protected by the government in 2012.
Accomplishments aside, the way forward and the biggest challenge they still face, Ismail is convinced, is “by changing the people's mindset”.
“We have to convince them these problems are real, it is already happening and the time to act is now”, said Ismail.
One Fuvahmulah plans to continue their work to improve the environmental status of the island, collaborating tirelessly with Island Councils, Ministries and doing the necessary to achieve their goal.
Recently, the NGO met with members of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s current administration, including State Minister for Environment Dr Abdulla Naseer, Director-General of the Environment Protection Agency Ibrahim Naeem, to discuss the pertinent problems that currently plague Fuvahmulah such as coastal erosion, loss of greenery, sand mining and the possibility of green zone protection.
“In the future, we will focus on carrying out door-to-door campaigns and other activities to increase awareness about plastic disposal methods”, said Ismail.
Individuals interested in helping the organization achieve their dream of a plastic-free, erosion-free Fuvahmulah, may reach out to volunteer or donate funds via the website www.onefuvahmulah.org, at any time.
While all of the islands of Maldives are undoubtedly beautiful in their own right, Fuvahmulah is especially precious for its rich habitat and biodiversity. Thanks to the work of these dedicated southern environmental activists, suffice to say, for the foreseeable future nature and its various little and large occupants seem to be in good hands, or at least heading down a better, greener, cleaner path.