Whale Shark conservation in the Maldives

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Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Whale Shark conservation in the Maldives

Environment

This project offers volunteers the fantastic opportunity to get involved with vital whale shark conservation and research.

Almost all of the staff present on this project are volunteers working from home – all driven by a passion for the conservation of this magnificent species – and all donations go towards work within the field, the running of the volunteer programme itself, and the very modest running costs of the charity. With the ethos to ‘To conduct whale shark research and foster community-focused conservation initiatives throughout the Maldives’, the programme reflects not only the ongoing commitment to just the whale sharks, but also to increasing the participation of the local communities in managing this magnificent species.

The project is very lucky to have the help of some world renowned marine biologists, and with their help have been building up an ongoing demographic profile of the whale shark population through a non-invasive process called photo identification. Having documented (via ground-breaking satellite tagging and DNA analysis programmes), over 3000 encounters with whale sharks, the team have identified over 208 individuals, cataloguing them into a worldwide database and making some interesting and vital observations of the whale sharks that aggregate in the South Ari Atoll of the Maldives.

What's more, volunteers will also be involved with regular beach sweeps and clean ups - this is integral work, as rubbish is a major problem in the Maldives (both in the sea and on land). This not only helps to keep the island clean, but also helps to try and counter-act the damage done to the marine environment and the wildlife within it - including whale sharks, manta rays and turtles.

Community

This project is extensively involved with the local community on Dhigurah island - located in the Maldive's South Ari Atoll. Dhigurah is a local island, with a population of about 600, and it has all the necessary facilities for human habitation - including a school, a medical centre and a generous harbor. The population is concentrated on a small area in the north of the island, and the rest is mostly for fruit and vegetable gardening.

Here, volunteers will not only live within the TME Resort (located in the island's north), but their activities will include regular talks with local fishermen and students about the importance of whale shark conservation and the Marine Protected Area in which the population of Dhigurah resides in. What's more, you may also be involved with a local initiative to improve the understanding these sharks and the overall marine environment. In June 2013, the project hosted a ‘Whale Shark Festival’ for the pupils of schools whose islands are within the Marine Protected Area, with the volunteers involved in every step - from designing the festival to running it.

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