Marking the International Day for Biodiversity, the Minister of Environment and Energy Mr. Thoriq Ibrahim, delivered a speech highlighting that despite the vast economic benefits of eco tourism, the whale sharks of Maldives continue to face increasing risks.
The Minister of Environment and Energy Mr. Thoriq Ibrahim, said that despite the vast economic benefits provided to the Maldives by its Whaleshark population, a large amount of people continue to engage in behaviour that threatens these gentle giants.
In his address marking the International Day for Biological Diversity, the minister revealed that according to surveys conducted by the Tourism Ministry, 33 percent of tourists visiting the Maldives, said that seeing a Whaleshark was at the top of their wishlist.
Although Whalesharks are regularly sighted in certain areas of ADh. atoll all year round, in addition to an elusive reputation, the shark’s global status remains increasingly endangered, making these frequent appearances a rarity worldwide.
The South Ari Marine Protected Area, as it is known, has become a hub for travellers eager to catch a glimpse of the biggest fish in the world, with an abundance of neighbouring resorts and guesthouses featuring hugely popular whale shark excursions as well as underwater encounters.
The minister noted that while the lucrative Whaleshark eco-tourism contributes largely to the lifestyle enjoyed by many Maldivians, people continue to inflict harm to the species by disturbing their feeding habits and damaging their habitats.
According to the minister, the most imminent threat faced by the marine creatures is caused by the various litter that people dump into the ocean.
“The litter and debris created by humans and dumped into marine environments, are often ingested via the mouth and gill openings of Whalesharks and other fish, accumulating in their digestive systems and eventually killing them”, said the minister.
He also spoke about the massive amount of waste in the oceans, expressing fear that it may soon lead to the extinction of Whalesharks and other species.
Stating that Maldivians stand to suffer the greatest damages should those fears become reality, the minister warned against partaking in practices harmful to marine life.
Describing the Maldives and an island nation formed on-top of coral reefs, he said that the country is an example of rich and natural biodiversity, as well as being an invaluable economic resource.
The minister said that while humans may be incapable of perceiving the true value of nature and the life within in, we continue to cause immeasurable harm to it.
“Humans are responsible for the extinction of countless species across the world. Numerous ecosystems continue to perish. In a single moment, thousands of tonnes of plastic are dumped in the world’s oceans”, said Minister Thoriq.
Environment advocates around the world have been raising concerns regarding marine litter, with several NGO’s and activitists conducting awareness campaigns and organising independent clean ups and waste audits even in the Maldives.
Most scientists agree that marine and coral life are being killed, and prevented from reaching maturity, by the litter of plastic particles finding their way into the world’s oceans.
Some juvenile (young) fish have been found to prefer tiny particles of plastic to their natural food sources, effectively starving them before they can reproduce.
The presence of these near-indestructible micro plastics also pose particular dangers to the population of Maldives, as the typical Maldivian diet consist heavily of fish, seafood, and fish-derived products.
The warming and resultant acidification of the worlds oceans are the greatest risk faced by island-faring citizens of the world today as the destruction of their livelihoods and their homes loom closer and closer, catalysed by the global waste epidemic.
Many ocean-lovers and divers in particular, continue to raise concerns regarding the protection of marine environments and the creatures that live in it. Environmentalists and eco-awareness pages have posted examples of bad practices involving both tourists as well as locals, calling out issues of overcrowding at whale shark locations, drifting ghost nets, pelagic species cut by propellers from careless speedboats, and the mass of marine litter that threaten sea life - to name a few.
Although laws and regulations concerning the conservation of marine environments are in place, many issues still remain in debate the concerning further development and stricter enforcement of these policies.