The Maldives is renowned for its marine biodiversity and sea life. Due to the small size of the islands, there are only a few land-based mammals such as the endemic species of flying fox and shrew and alongside these is a species of gecko and a number of snakes. This modest display of diversity on the shore stands in stark contrast to the thriving ecology off the coasts. Here, whales (including sperm, killer and pilot whales) and dolphins (liked striped, spotted and bottlenose) are common and so too are sea turtles like the green turtle, the hawksbill turtle and the leatherback turtle. One of our Maldives Island Volunteer projects offers volunteers the opportunity to help protect and rehabilitate endangered sea turtle populations, conserve and repair local coral reefs, conduct marine life surveys and assist community awareness programmes.
There are over 2,000 species of fish found in the waters surrounding the islands. There are manta rays, stingrays and eagle rays as well as many kinds of anemones and jellyfish. Octopus, squid and clams are common, so too are giant clams. All this amidst vivid coral reef systems, which are the eighth largest in the world. For example, Baa Atoll, a UNESCO site near Malé, harbours globally significant biodiversity including rare pink hydrozoan corals (Distichopora nitida) as well as significant concentrations of whale sharks (the largest fish in the world) and manta rays and a unique diversity of benthic fauna, including Bryozoans (Bugula) and sea slugs (Tambja olivaria).
A healthy and diverse marine ecosystem is vital for the functioning of the two largest industries, fisheries and tourism. Vulnerable to natural disasters, the islands depends on healthy coral reefs to protect from the adverse effects of climate change. Beach erosion, powerful storms and higher sea surges will further degrade the fragile island ecosystem. Sadly, the number of sharks in the waters are decreasing due to the practice of shark finning, where sharks fins are cut off and they are returned to the water, where they quickly die of suffocation. Exporting shark fins was a profitable business but the government has since banned shark fishing and conservationists focus on efforts to ensure the ban is enforced and education around the environment is effective.
Another Maldives Island volunteer project we run focuses on developing and sustaining environmental communities, working alongside local communities to develop new events and projects with specific activities including botany and gardening, beach cleanups and eco-waste management. And the last volunteer programme is more directed towards healthcare on the island, here you can work in a local hospital alongside expert staff, treating patients and contributing in a valuable way to healthcare provision on the island. Overall the creation of healthy and environmentally conscious communities and the conservation of the surrounding ecology are crucial to developing a sustainable future for the biodiversity of the island nation.