Connecting the dots for life below water
31 May 2017 by Shoko Noda, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative of the Maldives
I had just finished my two dives for the day and was waiting for the boat to pick us up at our surface location. It was a beautiful calm day with the water as clear as crystal, and all I had to do was look down to see the small colourful fishes beneath me.
While waiting, my thoughts floated back to my childhood. Growing up in Kobe, Japan, I could not jump into the ocean whenever my parents took me to the beachside, because back then the nearby sea was polluted with industrial waste. Many years later, I feel very lucky to enjoy the beauty and uniqueness of the Maldivian ocean just around the corner of my apartment.
While each dive is as breathtaking as my very first one, these days, I look beyond charismatic turtles and sting rays and appreciate smaller marine creatures that play such an important role in maintaining the much needed delicate marine life balance.
The so-called “cleaning stations” are a perfect example of how all the elements in the food web and the ecosystem are interconnected in a seamless harmony. The cleaning stations are the places on the reef where special “cleaning fishes or shrimps” live. Those colourful tiny fishes play a critical role by cleaning dead skin, bacteria and parasites, which are their main food supply, off the bigger fish such as groupers.
The grouper fishery is an important livelihood activity in the Maldives. They are exported either live or chilled to foreign markets, and over 40 percent of Maldivian exports are fish. Yet, the grouper population in the Maldives is declining sharply, mainly due to overfishing, disturbances to spawning sites and a lack of regulations on catch size.
Climate change further exacerbates the situation. In 2016, Maldives experienced an incident of major coral bleaching, where 60 percent of the coral colonies surveyed were affected. Severe coastal erosion and longer drought periods are also becoming the norm.
It is time to connect all the dots: from the smallest of marine creatures all the way up the food chain to us, humans. We need to find better solutions to conserve and protect the ocean and all marine life, so that its benefits are shared equally and sustainably by everyone.
In Maldives, UNDP is currently working with the state institutions, the Marine Research Center, and the Maldives National University in a unique and pioneering programme to develop marine spatial maps of Laamu Atoll, an administrative division of the Maldives. The work is being done using modern satellite imagery and advanced marine surveying equipment such as drones. Data was collected on seascapes, coral health, habitat classification, certain fish communities as well as coastal terrestrial habitats.
The findings will help us better understand and monitor impacts of climate change on the marine ecosystem, assess mortality in different reef sites, and predict future bleaching. This combined with a social use map will identify how the local communities uses the marine ecosystems for their livelihoods. Further, the national authorities can zone the atoll, according to different protection categories in order to better manage the limited natural resources such as the groupers. The data currently gathered for Laamu Atoll can be also utilized to classify habitats across the Maldives. This initiative would complement the Government’s plan to become the first Biosphere Reserve Nation.
We do not often look beyond the beauty of marine life. Diving has reminded me how above and under water lives are inter-dependent. I believe we are the last generation, who can still protect the ocean from the adverse impact of climate change. I am committed to working alongside Maldivians, who are spearheading efforts towards SDG 14's realisation, to protect “Life below Water”.