September 16 was an important milestone for the Maldives Grouper Fishery and Conservation project implemented by the Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE), as the Laamu Atoll Council held a ceremony celebrating the research achievements over the past year.
Grouper fishermen, island council members and staff from the Six Senses resort travelled from
across the islands of Laamu Atoll to attend the event along with project partner representatives
from the fisheries ministry and Marine Research Centre (MRC) based in the capital Male.
The project work was part-funded by the three year, United Nations Joint Programme called "Low Emission and Climate Resilient Development" (LECReD). Under the LECReD programme, Laamu Atoll Council, as the lead agency, has been working together with BLUE and project partners Six Senses Laamu and the MRC to address the urgent issue of grouper overfishing.
Groupers are key predatory fish on coral reefs, helping to maintain ecosystem structure. They are also an important resource for Maldivian fishermen, who have fished for grouper on a commercial scale in recent decades, mainly for export as part of the live-fish trade. BLUE is working with the Maldivian government and fishermen to reduce the number of juvenile groupers caught and to protect grouper spawning aggregation sites to preserve the population for future generations and to improve resilience of the reefs, on which the Maldivian tourist economy relies.
Dr. Simon Harding, Head of Conservation at BLUE and Maldives Project Manager said: “The project has made great progress over the last year, gathering knowledge, building partnerships and raising awareness with local stakeholders about the grouper fishery. The next step is to use the information collected to improve grouper fishery management on Laamu”.
The Laamu Atoll Council led the event and were joined on stage by several guest speakers including Ahmed Najeeb (Senior Research Officer at MRC), Marteyne van Well (General Manager of Six Senses Laamu) and Yuko Oaku (Co-ordination Specialist at United Nation Maldives). Yuko Oaku spoke highly of the project, stating that, ‘The Grouper Fishery and Conservation Project is a great example of partnerships, with local and national authorities, the private sector, an NGO and academia working closely together. I hope to see more of such partnerships for the growth of sustainable development in the Maldives”
Under the LECReD programme, BLUE interviewed over a hundred grouper fishermen in Laamu and dived in challenging currents to identify and map the grouper spawning aggregations of Laamu for the first time.
Vivienne Evans, Project Coordinator said, ‘We were impressed by the extent to which the fishermen, when interviewed, expressed a strong desire to manage their fishery better. A large number of fishermen understand that fishing juvenile grouper, before they have had a chance to spawn, will destroy the population and therefore the fishermen’s livelihoods in the long run.’
Shaha Hashim, Project Researcher commented, ‘As fishermen and community members watched their peers on screen, the hall fell silent and it was clear that the message was being heard. The grouper fishery is in trouble and it is time to act.’
Spirits were lifted at the event as people were asked to play an interactive game demonstrating the effect of spill over in marine reserves. Attendees collectively fell into fits of laughter as they were nominated to mimic the boundaries of a marine reserve, fishermen, police and fish inside the reserve. This effective educational tool was recommended to the team by Riyaz Jauhary, Senior Scientific Officer at MRC and has been effectively used throughout the project.
Fishermen and council members came up on stage to receive certificates for those who were best on camera, most helpful and had the best grouper fishing stories. All island councils were also presented with wooden grouper plaques displaying the phrase “A sustainable grouper fishery for healthy coral reefs”.
Hussain Sinan, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture closed the event by delivering a speech on behalf of the Ministry, demonstrating his support for the project and explaining the value of the data collected, which will contribute to the future grouper management plan.
Vivienne Evans said: ‘The most encouraging element of the ceremony was seeing all the stakeholders coming together to celebrate the importance of groupers as a valuable resource and the progress made towards improving the sustainability of the fishery. Such strong working partnerships amongst stakeholders are a great credit to the project and will undoubtedly help to shape future effective management.’
Shaha Hashim concluded: ‘We would like to thank the Laamu Atoll Council for holding this ceremony and to all the fishermen and island councils of Laamu who have supported and assisted with the project. We are also very grateful to our other partners, Six Senses Laamu and Marine Research Centre for all their support and to all individuals who spoke at the event. We look forward to continuing these strong partnerships in future and achieving even more together as the project develops further.’