Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll - Maldives

The protected waters of Hanifaru Bay, in the Baa Atoll, are a popular destination for liveboards, especially during the month of August. During the southwest monsoon, scores of manta rays and whale sharks congregate in the small channel to consume zooplankton that is trapped in huge densities. A spectacular natural phenomenon, not to be missed!

The Baa Atoll has recently been designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, a significant achievement for the Maldives. This has prompted a surge of tourism interest in the area, requiring local bodies to balance the impact and sustainability objectives of the biosphere with the new income. Government organisations and environmental bodies have highlighted the need for proper management of the area in order that the programme is successful.

The listing recognises “where local communities are actively involved in governance and management, research, education, training and monitoring at the service of both socio-economic development and biodiversity conservation,” UNESCO said in a statement.

Baa Atoll, Maldives, harbours globally significant biodiversity in its numerous reefs and demonstrates a long history of human interaction with the environment. Covering approximately 139,700 ha of coastal/marine areas, the site is representative of the Maldives’ high diversity of reef animals, with stony and soft corals, reef associated fish species, marine turtles, manta rays and whale sharks. In addition to its 12,170 inhabitants, some 350,000 tourists visit the biosphere reserve annually. As part of a Global Environment Facility (GEF) project, the site has great potential for demonstrating sustainable development throughout the Maldives and the region, while relying on a green economy. (UNESCO)

As of 01 July 2011, the local resort islands only offer snorkelling in Hanifaru Bay and the liveaboards with permits will continue to offer diving until the end of the season. Regulations on number of visitors are already in place and from January 2012, no one will be allowed to dive in the bay.

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