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Fostering collective action through community empowerment

By Aishath Reesha Ahmed, 25th April 2024

We are a tiny country that is 99% water, with just 1% land scattered in the middle of the Indian Ocean. While we stare starkly at climate change and anthropogenic habitat destruction, our lives inherently depend on ocean ecosystems for sustenance. Working to preserve these places often means working with a lot of different hurdles.

At the Maldives Manta Conservation Programme (MMCP) we are working hard to maneuver around these obstacles. At present, we are focusing a significant amount of our resources to engage more with the local communities who are at the heart of these ecosystems. As described in the fourth goal of Manta Trust’s present Five-Year plan; we hope to see a greater number and diversity of people taking action for manta and devil rays and their habitats. Considering these intentions, here are some of our most recent updates (of/in) community engagement.

A Makunudhoo Atoll community member swims with a manta ray during a research experience day on the Manta Trust research boat. Photo © Jasmine Corbett

The RahVeshi Programme – Makunudhoo Project


The RahVeshi Programme which began in 2022, is going strong thanks to our dedicated team currently stationed in the North, in a remote location of the country. We were invited by the atoll community in 2022 following a successful expedition in 2021. Currently, in its third research season, the Rahveshi Programme has 3 projects under its umbrella and aims to train community members to lead their own conservation and research initiatives.

Now, some days in Makunudhoo, you can find locals of all ages hanging out on joalis, some wearing VR headsets, witnessing underwater worlds, some with their eyes shining as they share memories, hopes and dreams for their remarkable marine environment and amazing people. Fauz, Umar and the team organise these meet-ups in casual settings every week, along with sessions for school children and even open up free slots on the research boat once a week!

These are all efforts to share our work in interactive and joyful ways for everyone. The best part is that the community is very cooperative and really appreciates these initiatives to truly make conservation a collective effort.

The RahVeshi Programme team take Makunudhoo Atoll community members on a virtual dive with manta rays. Photo © Tiana Wu

Community Outreach in Laamu Atoll


Further south, thanks to Six Senses Laamu, we have been able to increase our community outreach activities in Laamu Atoll. While we have had two MMCP staff members there for years now, due to them being based on the resort, it is often impractical to frequently reach islands that are further away in the atoll. This is why we are excited to have opened up the position of the Manta Trust’s first Community Outreach Internship in Laamu.

Since 2023, we have already had two interns in this position who stay on local islands to enable more direct contact with the communities by living with them, understanding their needs and concerns and identifying ways to bridge the gap between conservation efforts and local livelihoods.

Our first intern Ni, was from the community of Laamu Dhanbidhoo and her highlight was teaching school children from her own island about manta rays and their relatives. Our current intern, Reesha, is exploring Ocean-themed Kid’s Club activities with a local preschool. Along with that, talks are on the way with the Fonadhoo Women’s Development Committee about organizing activities to bring locals closer to the ocean, including very excitingly, snorkelling camps – which many women themselves have expressed interest in participating in. Surely there are glimpses of hope when we get to know our people.

The RahVeshi Programme team briefs the Makunudhoo Atoll community members during a research experience day on the Manta Trust research boat. Photo © Jasmine Corbett

Moodhu Madharusaa marine education programme continues in Baa Atoll


Since 2019, the Moodhu Madharusaa programme has been successfully conducted across 4 different atolls in Maldives. Combining the efforts of different staff and collaborators over the years, Moodhu Madharusaa (“Ocean School”) is a locally tailored marine education programme (MEP) with the ultimate goal of ensuring a personal connection with people and their marine environment; an understanding of its importance, and a passion to conserve it. It is a six-month programme where we coordinate with each interested school to conduct theory lessons and nature-based field trips in a very exciting mode of study.

Nuha Rasheed, our Maldives Education Manager, just inaugurated the programme at Kihaadhoo School in Baa Atoll.  The school students and teachers alike are very enthusiastic in their participation. “It’s a pleasure to not only encourage but facilitate that connection to the environment and see the children grow within and awaken their love for the ecosystems on their doorstep.”

We know the importance of engaging with local communities as much as possible, every step of the way. How else can we foster stewardship within the heart of the communities that are ultimately the greatest stakeholders in any conservation effort? With a little love and dedication, we are finding that this process could actually be fun for everyone, as it should be.

Women Equality Day snorkel for the Kunahandhoo Women’s Development Committee, led by the Maldives Manta Conservation Programme team. Photo © Afaaz Zahid

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