The recently established Maldives Coral Institute successfully concluded its first 'Coral Festival' on Tuesday.
Partly funded by the government of Canada, the event was hosted at Season Paradise in the island of Thulusdhoo, Kaafu Atoll, attracting hundreds of visitors.
The event brought together various stakeholders from the executive and legislative branch, in addition to various organizations and businesses including Save The Beach Maldives (StB), Blue Marine Foundation, Parley, Manta Trust, Coral Doctors, Moodhu Bulhaa, Dive Desk and more.
Kicking off early Tuesday morning, the full-day festival began with remarks from the festival's Chairperson and Maldives Coral Insititute Founder, Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed.
"Coral Reefs have hosted Dhivehin (Maldivians) for thousands of years. They have protected us, fed us, gave us homes and shaped our culture", said the Maldives Coral Institute.
"Today, the lives of our coral hosts are threatened by our activities and the changing climate. It is our responsibility to maintain and protect them".
A number of activities were curated for young people, including opportunities to learn how to snorkel and to identify fish and different types of corals.
The main highlight of the event, however, was the series of panel discussion hosted during the second leg of the festival:
Panellists: Deputy Director-General of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Ibrahim Mohamed, Hassan Ahmed from STB, Ahmed Iyaz from Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC), and Policy Secretary at the President's Office Aminath Shauna.
The panel largely focused on the tangible effects of coastal modification and potential ways to minimise damages and adopt greener alternatives.
Panellists: Minister of Fisheries Dr Zaha Waheed, Dr Shiham Adam from the International Pole and Line Fisheries, Ahmed Shafiu from 'Dhivehi Masverin', and Dr Ellen Kenchington from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Panellists discussed how fishing practices impact the reef and the importance of management in protecting reef fish populations from harm.
Panellists: Minister of Tourism Ali Waheed, Hussein Zahir at the Small Island Research Centre, Environmental Consultant for the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) Abdul Azeez, and Dr Yimnang Golbuu from the Palau International Coral Reef Centre.
They deliberated on the controversial relationship between tourism and the environment, and explored the importance of observing best practices, and implementing strategies and tools to protect the reef and marine ecosystems.
Panellists: Minister of Environment Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from the University of Queensland, Hudha Ahmed from Renewable Energy Maldives, and Dr Mahmood Riyaz from the Maldives Coral Reef Society.
Discussions revolved around the general state of coral reefs, how tourism development has shaped the ecosystem and possible solutions to address the globular climate emergency.
Coral Festival also featured pop-up stalls for local entrepreneurs and art collectives such as Toddy, Avahteri Gallery and Arty Fingers.
Attended by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Minister of Environment Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan, Minister of Fisheries Dr Zaha Waheed, Minister of Tourism Ali Waheed and other high-level state officials, the festival provided critics, experts and young individuals the opportunity to create a national dialogue over the sensitive issue.
The first segment of the event also featured local music band 'Naaba', performing various original songs. Their music revolves around the traditional percussive music of 'Boduberu'.