Project visit Maldives: Protecting endangered whale sharks
In this review you can learn more about Daniel's personal impressions he gained during his visit to our fascinating whale shark conservation project in the Maldives.
Located at the heart of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are the perfect habitat for the largest living fish in the world: the whale shark. You can observe these impressive animals in the waters around the island country almost all year long. But since they are more and more exposed to severe dangers like finning, marine pollution, boat accidents, and uncontrolled tourism – not only in the Maldives, but on a global scale – they are now considered an endangered species. Our species conservation project in the Maldives is committed to the protection of these animals – and received support from NATUCATE founder Daniel in fall 2017 who wanted to gain an insight into the work of the project on site.
Daniel’s flight started in Frankfurt and brought him to the Maldives via Dubai. He arrived in the capital Malé on the main island of the Maldives from where he took a half-hour connecting flight to Maamigili. He was now just a boat ride away from his final destination – the island Dhigurah in the southern Ari Atoll. “It may sound like a long arrival procedure – but since all domestic and internal travels are arranged for you by the project getting to Dhigurah is really convenient.” Once he arrived, Daniel was greeted with a warm welcome and was brought to the project’s accommodation. He spent his first day with the staff members and volunteers and had the chance to discover the beautiful island before starting the project work the next morning.
Volunteers are accommodated in a small but well-equipped guest house near the island’s main village. The guest house has four double rooms, each with their own en-suite bathroom. Furthermore, you can find air conditioning, a TV and a stocked mini fridge. Three daily meals are served in a nearby restaurant which can cater people with diverse food preferences (e.g. vegetarians, vegans). Volunteers can also use the restaurant’s Wi-Fi as well as the table soccer and pool table. “I was really thrilled by the accommodation! It offers pretty much anything you need and complies with western standards. Not only the equipment is great, but also the rooms are cleaned daily which clearly marks it out from many other accommodation options.”
The first day of the project usually starts with a briefing of the participants: you try out the snorkel equipment, get background knowledge about the project and its aims as well as the scientific work behind it. The practical work starts on the second day. “After breakfast you get a lunch packet for the day in the nearby restaurant. The whole team then meets at the port, stores the equipment and all necessary utensils safely on the boat, the so-called Dhoni, and goes on deck. Once the boat takes off, you start to look out for whale sharks – but also for other marine animals like rays, sharks, dolphins, turtles, or whales.” As soon as someone spotted a whale shark, all team members go in the water and take ID shots of the animal. Other data like wind speed, current, water temperature, visibility in the water, and location of the sighting are also gathered.
You not only collect information about the animals themselves but also about passing boats. In order to calculate the financial value of a whale shark for the region and this way to contribute to the support of its protection, you record information like amount, type, and passenger number of the boats. The team goes back onshore in the early afternoon, has a short break, and deals with uploading and comparing the data in the system until dinner. The project pauses two days a week and the volunteers have the opportunity to discover the island on a hiking tour, to go snorkeling and scuba diving or to simply relax at the beach – which was actually just voted no. 34 in the world’s best beaches.
“The project is simply breathtaking. Each team member is fully committed and together they are doing some great work. Everyone is passionate about sustainable species conservation – and about educating the participants. The way the staff members teach the volunteers scientific work – may it be practical data collection or data maintenance in the system – is incredibly well structured and thorough. This has deeply impressed me. So if you are looking for a project really pushing the science side I definitely recommend you to join! As a participant, I have to admit that it can get quite exhausting from time to time: at the end of the day you can feel how much have done during the day after spending several hours in the sun on deck of the Dhoni and having multiple swim session in between.
If you are interested in the project you should also keep in mind that there are stricter rules than you may be used to due to the Muslim background of the country: it is not allowed to consume alcohol and tattoos should not be visible in public. You should also wear clothes that are not too revealing, especially as a woman. All in all and according to my experiences, the project promises an enriching and unforgettable time and the experience of swimming with a whale shark is something that you will still remember long after your stay in the Maldives. The project is really founded on science and will give you the chance to get hands on learning new field skills while enjoying very comfortable accommodation, good food and some of the best snorkelling and diving in the world.”