Facilitating Independent Expansion – Maldives, November 2019 I’ve recently returned from the stunning Maldives where I was helping build capacity for the Green Fins initiative to expand across the popular tourist island nation. The perception of the Maldives as a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list destination, inaccessible to many, seems to be changing. The reputation of the Maldives’ diving and snorkelling offering is attracting tourists from around the world. 2.5 million arrivals are anticipated over the next five years and a new airport terminal and runway are planned to support this growth. The number of resorts is set to almost double; with 130 resorts under development to add to the 150 which are currently open. This includes the more affordable guesthouses on local inhabited islands that have been growing in popularity since the regulation allowing these came into effect in early 2010. Tourism is the country’s main source of income and its marine ecosystems are a key driver of this. For this reason, it’s imperative we protect the coral reefs and marine life in the Maldives’ waters; keeping them healthy and allowing them to thrive so tourists for many years to come can enjoy their wonders. There’s no question in my mind that promoting sustainable diving and snorkelling through the Green Fins initiative is integral to the long-term protection of these reefs and related ecosystems. Since becoming an active Green Fins country in 2014, 75 assessments have taken place in the Maldives. However, due to previously trained Green Fins Assessors based in the government having to go overseas for extended periods, the numbers of active and recently assessed and trained members in the country has dramatically fallen, leading to a rise in the increase in threats to marine ecosystems. Additionally, with several new members awaiting their assessment, the growth of the country’s national team – so they can meet this increasing demand – is key; facilitating this was the main purpose of my trip. Being made up of twenty-six atolls, travel around the Maldives can be logistically challenging. That’s why Reef-World – the charity which coordinates the Green Fins initiative internationally in partnership with the UN Environment Programme – has focused on steadily introducing Green Fins to the country on an atoll by atoll basis. The programme was first introduced in the Malé region as well as North and South Ari Atoll before expanding to Baa Atoll; a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This latest trip was the next stage in this phased implementation process: conducting the Green Fins “Train the Trainer,” which has already been successfully piloted in Malaysia and Thailand. Through the Train the Trainer programme, I trained Hussain Ibrahim, Assistant Environment Officer at the Environmental Protection Agency, as a fully certified Green Fins Assessor Trainer. Originally trained as a Green Fins assessor in early 2014, Hussain is the 7th Assessor Trainer to be trained internationally. He is now qualified to train new Green Fins assessors in the Maldives (both within his department and across others); building capacity in this way gives the Maldives national team more independence in its in-country management of the initiative’s continued expansion. As part of the Train the Trainer programme, Hussain conducted his first assessor training course; this involved bringing three new assessors into the Green Fins Maldives fold and, with my support, getting them up to speed so they are able to conduct their own assessments of dive and snorkel centres in the Malé region and, hopefully, further afield. This involved leading diving skills training dives – to ensure all assessors are up to scratch when it comes to buoyancy and advanced finning techniques – as well as conducting the Green Fins member assessment and training. Congratulations to the new assessors who have completed the training and passed all the tests, meeting the required benchmarks with ease – welcome to the Green Fins team: Abdulla Arif, Sergeant at the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Ibrahim Zuhoor, Sergeant at the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Aishath Raneen, Field Officer at Maldives Marine Research Institute A real win during the training week was our visit to Dive Point Hudhuran Fushi who will use the results of their Green Fins assessment to provide leverage to encourage the resort to switch to large, refillable water containers rather than providing single-use bottles. It’s always encouraging to see tangible examples of Green Fins facilitating positive, impactful change in this way. During my time in the Maldives, I also worked with the Green Fins national team based at the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a new approach to support the initiative. This involved meeting with the Minister of Environment and Deputy Director of EPA to discuss continued collaboration and see if we can identify how Green Fins can support the implementation of the Ministry’s new Strategic Action Plan (SAP 2019-2013) of the Maldives. I also spent some time visiting Six Senses Laamu; the resort out of which Green Fins member Deep Blue Divers operates. Six Senses Laamu aims to raise the bar for sustainability across the travel industry. As a symbiotic partner with Reef-World, Six Senses Laamu are working together to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals 14 (Life Below Water), 12 (Sustainable Consumption and Production) and 17 (Partnerships for the goals) while protecting the Maldives’ pristine coral reefs by improving sustainable behaviours and spreading the word about the importance of responsible practices for diving and snorkelling. As well as conducting their most recent assessment, I also ran some training with the staff of Deep Blue Divers and Six Senses Laamu to refresh and top up their knowledge of the actions they can each take to protect coral reefs. The Sis Senses Laamu team was also kind enough to let me use the visit as an opportunity to collect some photos and video footage demonstrating positive role model behaviour – watch this space, the Reef-World team will be using this to create some new videos in the not-so-distant future. I was thrilled with how well Hussain handled the step up from Green Fins Assessor to Assessor Trainer. I’m proud of how far he’s come since my co-director, Chloe, and I first trained him back in 2014, during which time he’s gained extensive knowledge and experience of the sustainability challenges faced by dive centres in the region as well as finding and providing low-cost, practical solutions to these obstacles. It’s exciting to think how much more progress Hussain and the team will be able to help us make with the Green Fins initiative over the next few years! You can find the current list of active Green Fins members in the Maldives here. If your dive operator is located in the Maldives and you’d like to join Green Fins, please email [email protected] with a completed membership form.