Hanifaru, an island in the Maldives Archipelago, is one of the world’s most important sites for the majestic manta ray. Each year between May and November the tide works its magic to suck krill and other plankton into Hanifaru Bay. The tiny creatures then become trapped and form an irresistibly thick soup. This delightful offering attracts manta rays from all over the Maldives and they converge here to feed in the hundreds.
The National Geographic Magazine exclusively reported on this phenomenon in their July issue. It covers the work of Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF) marine biologist Guy Stevens and features photographs by SOSF chief photographer Thomas Peschak. Stevens, who has been running the manta ray research project from the Four Seasons Landaa Giraavuaru resort for the past five years, says, “Hanifaru and the is one of the last places on the planet where rays and whale sharks still roam in numbers reminiscent of times gone by.”
In a giant step towards protecting these threatened creatures the Maldives Government has proclaimed the waters around Hanifaru in the Baa atoll a marine protected area (MPA). This and the creation of two other MPAs, An’gafaru in the Baa atoll and Maamigili in the South Ari atoll, demonstrates the new governments forward thinking in marine conservation.
“The government is committed to protecting and preserving the Maldives’ exceptional biodiversity. The marine environment is the bedrock of our economy, supporting our largest industries, tourism and fisheries. Not only will this initiative protect whale sharks and manta rays, but also other important mega-fauna including reef sharks,” stated Mohamed Aslam, the Environment Minister. “The Marine Protected Area sites are globally significant. By protecting them we are helping to protect manta rays and sharks throughout the Maldives,” he said.
The SOSF is supporting the government’s acclaimed decision by providing a patrol boat for the MPAs. “President Nasheed deserves much praise for his push to protect these ecologically valuable marine areas in the Indian Ocean. His action protects one of the world’s most vital populations of manta rays by prohibiting all forms of commercial fishing only permitting traditional bait fishing by local fishermen,” says SOSF Director, Chris Clarke.
Earlier this year the Maldives Government imposed a countrywide ban on reef shark hunting, and President Nasheed announced in March that the Maldives will become the world’s first carbon-neutral country by 2020. There is also the possibility that the BAA atoll will be designated as a biosphere reserve. “This nation is one to watch. I hope that the rest of the world will follow its lead, and we can raise the area of ocean protected worldwide to a meaningful percentage,” states Clarke.
Watch a video of SOSF Chief Photographer Tom Peschak’s Manta Ray photo assignment for National Geographic Magazine here.