The people of Laamu Atoll came together to advocate and show their support for the protection of sea turtles in Maldives, at the third annual Laamu Turtle Festival held on September 1.
Organised by Six Senses Laamu in partnership with Olive Ridley Project and the island councils of the atoll, this year's event was hosted by Maabaidhoo island, welcoming hundreds of visitors.
The atoll-wide festival focuses on raising awareness amongst local communities and visitors about threats faced by endangered turtles, the importance of marine life protection, and what can be done on both individual and community levels to ensure their safety.
Laamu Turtle Festival kicked off at 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning, with the event inaugurated by Maabaidhoo Island Council's President Ali Faisal and Six Senses Laamu's General Manager Marteyne van Well. The festival was honoured by the chief guest, Zoona Naseem, the first female PADI Course Director of the Maldives.
Speaking to festival goers, Faisal stated, "... this event seeks to pass on the message about the importance of protecting our environment and marine life to future generations. We hope that this message reaches everyone who is participating in the festival today."
Taking to the stage, van Well also echoed similar sentiments and expressed hopes that Laamu Turtle Festival would encourage and boost turtle conservation efforts.
"We are fortunate to see many turtles in the Laamu Atoll and that often makes us forget that turtles are actually endangered in the world over, oftentimes due to human intervention," she remarked.
"There are still people throwing plastic in the ocean that is seen as food by turtles. There are still people digging up turtle nests, and there are still, unfortunately, people harassing and killing turtles. We’re hoping that with the turtle festival and the education shared, we can make everybody appreciate and understand the importance of turtles."
Faisal and van Well also thanked the councils, schools and residents of Laamu Atoll for supporting the festival, as well as the event's sponsors which include Dhiraagu, Maldives Police Service, Reveries Diving Village, HF, Blue Marine Foundation, Fourth Element, Tropicsurf, Manta Trust, Maldivian, Kadhdhoo Airport, and Maldives Underwater Initiative in addition to Olive Ridley Project and Six Senses Laamu.
In addition to residents of the host island, enthusiastic festival-goers from all across the atoll including tourists from Six Senses Laamu, travelled to Maabaidhoo to take part in the special one-day event. Amongst the participants were students from all 13 schools of Laamu Atoll's 11 inhabited islands, which was a first according to van Well. The festival-goers donned tee-shirts especially designed for the event, all in different colours representing their school or island.
A special area by the northwestern beach of Maabaidhoo was allocated for the festival's activities. Several colourful stalls were set up, presented by various schools of the atoll and NGOs including the Olive Ridley Project, Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation, and Maldives Underwater Initiative.
The stalls manned by NGOs focussed on their respective efforts to conserve marine life. Each stall disseminated information and held presentations aimed at raising awareness amongst visitors not only about the importance of turtles, but on how to protect and conserve their natural habitats and food sources, such as coral reefs and seagrass.
Meanwhile, the stalls presented by Laamu Atoll's schools proudly showcased beautiful and crafty creations made by their students, using recycled materials. Some of the prominent displays included maps of their islands and one of Laamu Atoll made from bottle caps, and colourful sculptures of turtles and marine ecosystems made from reused materials with messages urging everyone to protect them.
Laamu Turtle Festival also featured exciting, educational games for the students to engage in, such as matching pictures of endangered creatures with their descriptions, and trying to escape from a 'ghost net' - all fun for the children while simultaneously educating them about the dangers faced by marine life due to human activities.
Hyping up the crowds at Maabaidhoo was local boduberu (traditional drum) group 'K Bola', which gave energetic performances to open and close the event. Students from each school also performed at the festival, presenting traditional and modern dances, and acting out short plays centred around the theme of protecting sea turtles and the environment.
Furthermore, in keeping with the spirit of the festival, Six Senses Laamu and Dhiraagu donated reusable water bottles and bags respectively for students, encouraging them to say no to single-use plastics and minimise plastic pollution.
PADI Course Director and locally renowned diver, Zoona Naseem, praised the efforts of Laamu Turtle Festival, acknowledging the creative works of the students. In her speech as the chief guest, she called on everyone to be involved in protecting turtles and the fragile environment of the Maldives.
"Our country is made up of only one percent land and 99 percent ocean. This means that protecting our reefs is not a choice, it is a must," she declared.
Zoona noted that from amongst the students she spoke with at the festival, only one in ten had ever gone snorkelling while the rest has never seen a reef. She urged parents to encourage their children to swim and snorkel, and see the reefs of their islands with their own eyes.
“You will only love a place when you see it; when you see its beauty and the damages it sustains," she said.
Six Senses Laamu's GM van Well agreed with Zoona, and she concluded her address with a famous quote from the Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum: