An Ocean Use Survey Strategy for the Maldives
The Republic of Maldives, a remote tropical nation situated in the Arabian Sea south of India, has long held a reputation as a luxury travel destination. World-class diving, overwater bungalows, and liveaboard tours are just a few of the experiences that entice travelers from all over the world to visit the Maldives. With tourism accounting for the majority of the Maldives GDP and fishing as the second leading sector, it is economically imperative that the Maldives protect their marine resources. According to the Maldives’ Minister of Fisheries, the ocean is also “an integral part of the Maldivian identity...it is the bloodline.” Most of the 194 inhabited islands extend only 1-2 meters above sea level, putting the Maldives and its 530,000 citizens at constant risk of coastal erosion and sea level rise. As the world’s lowest-lying country, the Maldives is often likened to a global “canary in the coalmine,” with scientists predicting that it could be entirely underwater by 2100.
Through the creation of the Noo Raajje program and with support from a network of organizations belonging to the Blue Prosperity Coalition, the Maldivian government has agreed to preserve at least 20% of their waters as fully protected areas. In order to gain a well-rounded understanding of how a potential zoning plan might impact Maldivians and their livelihoods, especially in a country where 71% of people rely on the ocean for their primary source of income, the marine spatial planning process will involve a high degree of stakeholder and community engagement. This is primarily accomplished through the deployment of ocean use surveys, which aim to establish a multistakeholder baseline of ocean use and relative value. Not only does this provide the modeling team drafting the proposed plans with valuable insights on how to minimize negative impacts while maximizing benefits for both people and nature, it enables the community to play an active role in an important decision making process and ideally leads to long-term success because of the level of community buy-in.
In order to understand the populations of stakeholders that need to be surveyed and how best to engage with them, a strategy for the ocean use survey is needed. Through collaboration with and support from the Noo Raajje program, the Waitt Institute, the Blue Prosperity Coalition, and the McClintock lab, I have designed an operational strategy for the ocean use survey in the Maldives that will be implemented as an integral part of the marine spatial planning (MSP) process. The MSP process will be most successful with input from all communities and stakeholders who are dependent on the ocean for their well-being, so the value of this project lies in successfully engaging the Maldivian community in the development of a plan for how their ocean will be used in the future.