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Coastal Habitats of Maldives: Status, Trends, Threats,
and potential conservation Strategies
Aminath Dhunya; Qinghui Huang; Ahmed Aslam
UNEP- Tongji, Key laboratory of Yangtze River Water Environment of the Ministry of Education, College of
Environmental Science and Engineering, Tongji University, Shanghai, China.
Coastal environments has been always considered as one of the significant source of natural resources for the mankind. However there is growing
threats on these extremely fragile, yet richest ecosystems. Anthropogenic presence, pressures along with natural as well as climate change effects had
adversely affected the wellbeing of marine ecosystems, impairing structures, functions of theses environments and compromising resource gain from
marine and coastal environments. This paper would aim in describing a synopsis of the unique physical and ecological attributes of coastal ecosystem of
the Maldives and analyse the main anthropogenic pressures as well as the climate related issues to these ecosystems. Coastal ecosystems of the
Maldives are at risk from numerous threats with a range of impact scales from local to global level. Some of the acute stressors are those from climate
variability and climate change as well as due to some unregulated fishing practices. Also, chronic stressors like coastal modifications, pollution and
economic activities are serious threats to the coastal habitats of the Maldives. There are plentiful of researches available for the coral reefs of Maldives,
especially with regard to the bleaching events in late1990s. However, for the mangroves, seagrasses ecosystems only a handful of studies are available.
The main threats to these ecosystems are related to human settlements, infrastructure development resulting from the increasing population. In this
paper we highlight the current government strategies for conservation of the habitats and also recommend some applicable ecosystem based
management and conservation strategies that are practiced in other parts of the world.
Keywords: Coral reefs of Maldives;seagrasses of Maldives; mangroves of Maldives;ecological services; conservation
Although researchers have been formally studying about
the archipelago since 1840s  , it was last decade that
Maldives, famous for the pristine water, exquisite beaches
and rich marine biodiversity is being publicised worldwide
due to the country’s vulnerability to the slightest change in
global environment. Maldives is an archipelago of 26
natural atolls with approximately 1,190 small, low-lying,
coral islands stretched over an area of 860 km long chain
from north to south in the Indian Ocean . Coastal and
marine ecosystems in the Maldives is significant, and is the
dominating environment in the Maldives with more than
99% of its territory covered by sea. Maldives has a
landmass of about 300 square kilometres and is among the
smallest six atoll nations around the world  with more
than 80% of the land area less than 1 meter above the mean
sea level . Coral reefs is the major ecosystem in the
Maldives while seagrass beds and mangroves are some the
other coastal ecosystems in the Maldives. In an ecological as
well as socio-economic perspective, natural habitats such as
coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses are assets for the
planet, particularly for the emerging oceanic islands such as
1.1 Coral Reefs
Coral reef islands are formed by aggregating biologically-
produced carbonate sand and gravel accumulated on the
surface of reef platforms , and perceived as highly
vulnerable to environmental change . These low-lying
islands with approximately 1.5 meter above sea-level, are
formed, protected and sustained almost exclusively by
corals . With geospatial data accumulated recently, it is
identified that there are total of 2,041 distinct coral reefs in
the Maldives, of which 529 are located on the rims of the 16
complex atolls, five form the rims and lagoons of the
oceanic faros, four form oceanic platform reefs, also rising
from deep water but lacking a deep lagoon and remaining
1503 patch reefs being scattered within the lagoons of the 16
complex atolls . The sea floor of lagoons inside the atolls
is 50–60 m deep, while the channels between the atolls
reach a depth of 300–400 m . The major ecosystem of the
Maldives is coral reefs which is the building blocks of
islands that makeup the atoll nation. With an area of
approximately 4513 square kilometers, reefs of the
Maldives is considered as seventh largest coral reef system
in the world, representing as much as 3.14% of the world’s
reef area. Biological diversity within the marine
environment of Maldives are abundantly rich and
outstandingly colorful. It has been documented that there
are 258 species of hermatypic corals, 36 species of sponges
, 321 species of algae , 5 species of seagrasses ,
and 80 species of echinoderms in the coral reefs ),
making the coral reefs of the Maldives one of the most
diverse marine ecosystems of the world .
• Aminath Dhunya is currently pursuing master’s degree program in
Environmental Management and Sustainable Development in Tongji
University, Shanghai, China, E-mail: email@example.com
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Currently there are 15 families of hard corals and 12
families of soft corals in the Maldives . Studies indicate
that there are 258 species and 57 genera of corals in the
Maldivian reefs . The most abundant and diverse family
of corals visible in the reefs of Maldives is Acroporidae
belongs under the genus Acropora . In addition some
threatened species listed in the IUCN red list of threatened
species, such as hawksbill turtles are also found in
Maldivian reef areas .
1.2 Mangroves and Sea grasses
There are 14 species of mangroves belonging to 10 genera
grows in Maldives, which locates at the both ends of the
country while no Mangroves are found in the central parts
(Shazra et al. 2008; Saleem & Nileysha 2003) distributes
over 74 islands and Bruguiera Cylindrica is the most
common true mangrove species in the country .
Mangroves in the Maldives are found in saline or brackish
water or in muddy soils . Other than the 14 species of
mangroves in the Maldives, in these ecosystems there are
several other plants and wildlife. So far, 6 species of
associate plants, 37 species of marine fungi, 11 species of
birds are found in the mangroves of Maldives ; ; .
The exact number of fauna within the mangroves are not
indicated in any previous research, however several species
of fishes (such as barracuda, Breams, milk fish etc.),
invertebrates (such as fiddlers Crab, Hermit crab, nerites,
upside-down jellyfish, etc.) and seagrasses can be observed
from these areas .
There has been limited literatures available about
seagrasses in the Maldives. When observed from satellite
images, there are sea grasses visible in the Maldivian seas,
especially around the densely populated islands or islands
with more economic activities. Researches indicate that
there are five species of seagrasses under four genera
identified in the Maldives, classified as Syringodium
isoetofolium, Thalassia hemprichii, Thallasso
dendronciliatum, Cymnodoearotundata, and cumnodocea
sp, of these Thalassia hemprichii is the most abundant in
the country . In the Maldives seagrasses are mostly
widespread on shallow reef flats and can also be discovered
in mangrove habitats . These are habitats of important
fish species such as rabbit fishes, Shrimps, sea cucumber,
sea urchins, seahorses, crabs, scallops, mussels and snails
2. ECOSYSTEM SERVICES AND FUNCTIONS
Coastal ecosystems are of disproportionately high value
and they are responsible for 43% of the estimated value of
the world’s ecosystem services .
2.1 Coral Reefs
Coral reefs worldwide, which is estimated to be habitat of 3
million reef species ; provide bountiful amounts of
ecosystem services. Among these organisms are keystone
process species that regulate ecosystem processes and
functions through grazing and predation  and other
organisms which supports in controlling resilience of coral
reef ecosystems . The movement and migration of
species between adjacent ecosystems widespread such as
seagrass beds provide biotic services within the ecosystem
in terms of grazing, feeding, etc. . Fishes and
invertebrates from coral reefs can also indirectly control the
productivity of benthic algae and sea-grass accumulations
enriching nutrients in the water . These environments
are particularly valuable in regulating the cycling of
nutrients which control the productivity of plants on
land and in the sea . Coral reefs function as a
nitrogen fixers in habitats with less nutrients  helping
the local species and pelagic fishes in the adjacent
ecosystems . Coral reefs can also separate and segregate
anthropogenic wastes, thus providing a cleansing service
 and act as a natural barrier for the low lying islands
extremely vulnerable to climate change, buffering against
floods and erosion.
Coastal ecosystems plays a key role in supporting human
settlements in the Maldives through climate regulation,
storm buffering, and coastal protection . Other than
ecological services, coral reefs act as a bedrock for nation in
building economy. Every year over 350 million tourists visit
the coral reef coasts of the world . The gardens of corals
and rich biodiversity under the turquoise blue water is
essential for tourism, which is the lifeblood of Maldivian
economy. Divers and Snorkelers consider Maldives as the
oasis of large fishes like reef sharks, etc. It is projected that
biodiversity based sectors contribute 98% of exports, 89% of
GDP, 71% of national employment, 62% of foreign
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exchange and 49% of public revenue . Tourism industry
also act as a stimulus to almost all the other sectors in the
economy from transport, construction, trade, financial
services and fisheries. The direct and indirect contributions
to GDP by tourism are estimated at more than 75% .
Tourism being the key contributor to the economy in the
Maldives, is precisely reliant on natural healthy ecosystems
to provide fundamental benefits. Reefs yield a variety of
seafood products such as fish, mussels, crustaceans, sea
cucumbers and seaweeds. Average annual consumption of
fish per person in the Maldives is an astounding amount of
180 kilograms per person, which is 77 percent of all animal
protein eaten in the country .
People living in the coastal areas are considered healthier
and happier than those living in cities . Coral reefs, also
contains numerous medicinal properties. It has been
claimed that the discovery of prostaglandins in many of the
gorgonians in the early 1970s was reason for the expansion
of marine natural products . Old tomb stones, ancient
and historical buildings are evidence that for centuries
Maldivians have been using corals as building and
constructional material. Before the introduction of cement
to the Maldives, lime made by corals were used as a mean
of cement. Nowadays large corals are used in building
coastal protection infrastructures such as seawalls,
harbours, etc. .
2.2Mangroves and Seagrass
Mangrove forests are one of the world’s most dynamic
ecosystems as they enrich coastal waters, harvest
commercial products, defend beaches, and support coastal
. In Maldives economic benefits of existing mangrove
habitats have largely been unrecognized and there has been
a very few scientific researches done to study the mangrove
ecosystem of the Maldives . Currently in Maldives
there are 74 islands with mangrove swamps in either mud
flats, brackish water or saline water ;. These
mangrove swamps provide numerous ecological and socio-
economic services to the ecology as well as to human
Seagrasses is a habitat that provides ecological benefits
such as sediment stabilization, nutrients for the reef
structures; and act as a nursery and breeding area for
several species which contributes offshore fisheries and to
the other coastal habitats such as coral reefs and mangroves
(Ali 2004); (Miller &Sluka 1999); (Short et al. 2007).
Seagrasses and other coastal habitats have symbiotic
relationship as theses habitats contributes to the species
inhabited in the other habitats. The reefs act as a barrier to
defend coastline and the protect the lagoon in between
reefs and shore from waves while providing habitats for
seagrass beds; consequently seagrasses strain sediments
from the sewage discharges from islands and providing a
nursery and feeding ground for the reef species (Short et al.
2007). When the beaches receive inputs from marine
vegetation such as algae and seagrasses it enhance diversity
of crustaceans and insects (Defeo et al. 2009). In the
Maldives nests of turtles and numerous shorebirds are
found in the beaches.
3. ANALYSIS OF ECOLOGICAL RISKS
ASSOCIATED WITH STRESSORS
Human encroachment in the marine environment has
drastic impact to the environment. Coral reefs all around
the world are ecologically declining  due to multiple
threats, ranging from direct destruction by coastal
development to overfishing, pollution and climate change
as a consequence of anthropogenic impacts, natural stresses
and climate change . While tackling along with
international climate change issues, it is crucial to deal with
locally induced stressors . Threats to the coastal
ecosystems can be categorised into acute stressors such
climate change, natural calamities and destructive fishing
methods, and chronic stressors such as coastal
modifications, pollutions and destructive economical
activities. One of the major threats to coastal and marine
ecosystems in the Maldives include increase in the level of
Sea Surface Temperature (SST) resulted from climate
change, pollution and coastal developmental activities .
3.1Issue 1: Pollution and Water Quality
Figure 1: (a) Mangroves of Kaafu Huraa (up) and (b) Fiddler Crab
(Uca burgersi) in Huraa mangrove area (lower)
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Pollution in the marine and coastal environment can be
increased through land-based sources such as solid waste,
untreated sewage disposal; or sea-based sources like oil
spillage and ballast water . Marine pollution is primarily
associated with the unregulated waste management
practices of the country  such as dumping of municipal
wastes in island periphery and open burning of waste by
generating toxic fumes harmful for both human and other
organisms . With the increasing population and growth
in the number of visitors coming to the country, the amount
of waste generated is escalating and Maldives is
considerably challenged in the sustainable management of
approximately 365,000 tonnes of wastes produced per year,
excluding medical wastes, commercial and construction
waste, liquid and raw sewage waste, produced daily ;
. Most common categories of waste visible from the
beaches of Maldives are construction wastes, food wastes,
plastic wastes such as empty bottles, cans, bags, etc. (see
3.1.1 Impact to habitat and marine resources
Pollutants originated from food waste, cosmetic wastes,
runoffs and oil spillage from marine transport and other
activities can degrade coral reef habitats, change the
distribution and density of species, and decrease the
capacity of corals to withstand and recover from coral
bleaching events . In most islands food wastes and fish
wastes are dump to the sea which results in nutrient influx
leading to algal bloom , resulting eutrophication.
Eutrophic water has a reduced oxygen level, high turbidity
which reduce growth of marine vegetation and increase in
harmful algal bloom which is toxic to both human and
marine organism . Untreated sewage contains
numerous polluting substances such as pathogens, organic
substances, heavy metals and trace elements, which has
both direct and indirect effects to the reef habitats and
organisms .The documented mass fish kill events of 2007,
2008 and 2012 in which huge number of dead fish;
especially reef fishes like trigger fish and surgeon fish
found ashore of some islands, could be related to changes
of chemical and physical condition of the marine
environment, algal bloom, infections or combination of
these causes .The main risks associated with plastic
include ingestion by and entanglement in the reef, harming
turtles, corals and other marine life. . Also, there is a
growing concern about amount of hazardous wastes such
as electronic waste and chemical waste produced in the
country. However due to lack of proper monitoring, and
absence of data, it is unable to evaluate the amount of waste
Furthermore it is observed that the atoll with most of the
fish catches in the year 2014 according to the statistical
yearbook of 2015, has more areas of seagrasses in
comparison to the island with less fish catches. In figure 5 is
satellite images of GA. Kooddoo, an island with a fish
processing plant located in the atoll with 15% of total
catches in Maldives in the year 2014; and an island located
in Vaavu atoll which has least fish catches in 2014
according to the statistics which is 0.6% of the total fish
catches in the Maldives. This might be an indication that
more fish waste can result in more seagrass cover in the
Currently there are no treatment facilities available in the
islands except very few resort islands, for sewage and
waste water discharges, and is discharged directly to the
lagoons or coral reefs around the islands . However
government of Maldives recognized the significance of
bringing sustainable, integrated waste management
approaches to solve the problem of pollution. In this regard,
the government established nation’s very first integrated
waste management centre in 2015 with advanced
incineration and fully engineered landfill which would
lodge waste from total 66 islands of 4 atolls . The aim of
government is to provide sustainable waste management
facility to every island in the Maldives within the few years
ahead. Consequently, importance should also be given in
treatment of the sewage and other wastewater that is
Figure 3: (a) Waste dumping areas of Kaafu Maafushi (upper left), (b)
Thilafushi (upper right), (c) Thulusdhoo (lower left) and (d) Thaa Guraidhoo
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directly or indirectly entering to the marine environment
through point and nonpoint sources.
3.2Issue 2: Poaching and Resource Depletion
Fisheries is the second major sector contributing to the
economy of the Maldives .. The coastal resources of the
Maldives can be categorised into bait, reef and aquarium
fisheries, sea cucumber, lobster, grouper, giant clam, black
coral, and turtle exploitation . Studies indicate that reef
fisheries were not much exploited in the Maldives until the
late 1990s, with only two reef resources being exploited in
the Maldives; live baits for tuna fisheries and cowries .
However with the increase in number of resorts, local
demand for the reef fish amplified, simultaneously,
expanding export market for reef fish products ; . It
is estimated that tourist resorts purchase 167 kg of fish per
night to feed their guests and staff and 38% of which was
estimated to be reef fish (snapper, emperor and grouper)
. The total annual catch of reef fish from Maldives is
estimated to be between 10,400 MT to 29,145 MT, with
Elagatis bipinnulata (Rainbow runner), Aprion virescens
(Green job fish), Lutjanus gibbus (Humpback snapper),
Lutjanus bohar (Red snapper) and various species of the
trevallies being commonly exploited reef fishes in the
Maldives . Other than fishes there had been reports that
endangered species like turtles, shark fins are still been
secretly exploited. Despite the legislation banning
exploitation of turtles or turtle eggs, poaching is a high
threat to the fate of turtle species in the Maldives .Coral
mining, for construction purposes, has also been practicing
in the Maldives for generations, and is one of the major
cause of environmental degradation in the Maldives. Corals
are mined in the in water depths of l-2m on shallow reef
flats where, Acropora, most abundant coral genus of
Maldives are plenteous in colonies. Coral mining takes
place in water depths of l-2m on shallow reef flats
throughout the islands, where the coral colonies are
dominated by bigger species and most abundant coral
genus in Maldives, Acropora, which are appropriate for
limestones and building materials (Zahir & Naeem, 1996);
(Sheppard, R. et al. 1991); (Wallace, C.C., 1997). Corals are
exploited for different purposes such as a substitute for
bricks which is used for construction or use to produce lime
to replace cement, to construct breakwaters for coastal
protection, or as more recent times corals are sold to
tourists as ornamental objects.
3.2.1 Impact to habitat and marine resources
The impacts of fishing are particularly severe in coral reefs,
most complex and diverse marine ecosystem . Recent
fisheries status indicated a diminishing of fish stock, reef
fishes such as groupers . Fishing method can damage
coral reefs; such as usage of illuminations like mercury
lights for bait fishing during night and domestic chemicals
like bleach and chlorine for exploiting  molluscs like
octopus in the coral reef habitats. These destructive
methods of fishing kills or breaks apart the living substrates
provided by the reef. When the fishing boat is anchored or
halting in proximity with the coral reefs for long durations
can also damage the coral reefs. Some habitats such as coral
reefs takes many years to recover from the impairment
resulted from fishing activities .
As the majority of the reef fishes caught are carnivorous,
such as grouper and snappers, etc. their absence affect the
effective functioning of the coral reef ecosystem ; ;
. Environmental changes can be the cause of infectious
diseases when natural habitats are destructed or degraded
and the number of predators being lessen, altering the
dominance of species, or creating favourable environments
for disease hosts . Fisheries harvests already exceeds
sustainable levels on many coral reefs. Failure to prevent
ecosystem overfishing will lead to a long-term reduction in
habitat quality, which in turn will reduce biodiversity and
the productivity of the fishery for future generations .
Furthermore sedimentation and pollution associated with
coral mining can results in significant threats to coral reefs
3.2.2 Current Solution
Because of overfishing there was a diminishing in the stock
of groupers, etc. in the previous year’s , therefore
government implemented strategies to prevent
overexploitation and these creatures from becoming extinct,
such as mariculture of grouper farming (MRC, 2015 in
press). Previous studies estimated that by the year 2000
nearly 400, 000 m3 of corals would be exploited to meet the
needs of people in Male’ alone  and because of such
predictions it encouraged the government in formulating a
mitigation strategy: a) by raising awareness, b) by
regulation and c) by providing alternatives .
3.3 Issue 3: Coastal Modification
Coral Reefs which act as a barrier against strong waves;
sometimes is not enough to defend these tiny sand cays in
Figure 5: (a) Satellite images of Ga. Kooddoo (Left), an island from
the atoll with most fish catches in 2014 and
(b) Vaavu Keyodhoo
(Right), an island from the atoll with least fish catches, showing
difference in formation of seagrasses
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the Maldives. Thus coastal engineering such as harbour
dredging and sand bagging act as a buffering to resist
powerful waves from destroying the shores. Likewise
coastal engineering projects such as causeways, dredged
boat channels and reclamation to the coastal zone that
interact with reef-top processes  is adopted in order to
accommodate for the outgrowing coastal population. The
types of general hard engineering structures used for
coastal development includes near and offshore breakwater,
seawalls, revetment and groynes. In addition there are few
causeways and a bridge being constructed in the Maldives
(Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure, 2016. Personal
Reefs and lagoons are being reclaimed to provide land for
both population settlement and economic uses. Since 1911
population of Maldives has increased by fourfold, making
the tiny inhabited islands steadily populous. Among 196
islands where human settlement exists 22 have a
population density of more than 50 persons per hectare .
However replacement of natural coral reefs of the 193
inhabited islands is costly and is estimated to be between
MVR 20 billion and MVR 34 billion . Almost 1,300
hectares of reef or lagoon area have been reclaimed in some
98 inhabited islands. Hulhumale’ is the largest land
reclamation project where nearly 430 hectares were
reclaimed to reduce population pressure on Male’. There is
also an emerging trend to reclaim reefs for tourist resort
3.3.1 Impact to habitat and marine resources
There are consequences associated with coastal engineering
and developmental activities where even the best of
intentions results in undesirable environmental impacts.
The diggings, moving and removal of sediments may lead
to various adverse impacts on adjacent habitats such as
coral reefs ;  or seagrass beds . With the coastal
modification activities have direct impacts on shallow
corals condition and indirectly effects reef structures profile
as slithering of sediments at greater depths are more
probable . Non-anthropogenic pressures such as waves
and currents might also affect coral reefs triggering hard
covers of the corals to shrink . Water turbidity, results
from human and natural events, increase sediment loads
and reduce penetration of sunlight which degrades the
environmental conditions for zooxanthellate corals .
Sedimentation causes problems in reproductive functions
and recruitment of corals, as well as persistence and
habitation of coral larvae . Also impact is in reduction of
hard coral cover, increase of algal cover, and dramatic
augmentation of non-living substrate .
Table 1: Land area reclaimed in Maldives
Atoll Island Area
Faadhippolhu (Lh) Hinnavaru 40.5
Faadhippolhu (Lh) Naifaru 34.4
Male’ Atoll Hulhumale’ 200.9
Male’ Atoll Hulhumale’
Male’ Atoll Male’ 94.7
Male’ Atoll Hulhule’ 76.0
North Ari Atoll
Kolhumadulu (Th) Villufushi 40.2
Kolhumadulu (Th) Thimarafushi 26.2
Addu Atoll (S) Hithadhoo 53.0
Addu Atoll (S) Meedhoo 11.5
Addu Atoll (S) Gan 32.5
Mangroves lives in the littoral areas they are well adjusted
to cope with natural stressors such as temperature, salinity,
anoxia, ultraviolet rays, yet they are mostly sensitive to
human-induced stressors . Reclamation of mangrove
habitats has led to severe erosion in several islands of
Maldives , and degradation of the mangrove ecosystems
in the Maldives. In a previous study its stated that
mangroves are found in 150 islands of Maldives ,
however a more recent estimates shows that the amount
trimmed down to 74 islands, with total area of 7.93 km2
. This might be an evidence that several mangrove
habitats have been destroyed in the Maldives. The reason
for these degradations could be improper environmental
management strategies, coastal modification, and
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destruction of the swamps due to less awareness and by
considering the areas as ‘wastelands’ or breeding ground
for mosquitoes (Figure 6).
Coastal modification activities also have a negative effect
on seagrasses around the islands . As seen from the
satellite images taken before reclamation and after
reclamation in Guraidhoo of Thaa Atoll, it is visible that
seagrass beds in lagoons were being destroyed after coastal
modifications (See Figure 7). Despite the fact that seagrass
beds are feeding area for numerous reef fishes and is
particularly useful for the costal ecosystem, most tourist
resorts also consider them as visually unpleasant and
remove those at the vicinity to resort island, using dredging
techniques or domestic chemicals . This result in loss of
habitat for those fishes, fungi and other organisms subsists
in this ecosystem.
3.3.2 Current Solution
The major reasons for loss of habitats during reclamation
are lack of information and appreciation of reef ecosystem,
lack of planning guidelines at the atoll/island level, lack of
understanding of carrying capacity, and non-compliance
with environmental regulations and guidelines .
Identifying measures to lessen or avoid adverse impacts on
coral reefs needs enhancement in design, and construction
of coastal projects should be undertaken with incorporation
of environmental objectives , such as ecological baseline
surveys, environmental impact assessments, monitoring,
etc. Also, fragile habitats such as mangroves and seagrasses
should be protected to safeguard them from natural and,
particularly human interventions. Furthermore as per
interrogation with responsible departments, it is
understood that government is aiming to minimise the use
of coral, cements/ sand bags during coastal engineering
projects and rock boulders imported from India, geo bags
or geo tubes are trending would be using as an alternative
to those methods.
3.4 Issue 4: Climate Variability and Changes
The global average surface temperature (SST) is projected
to increase by 1.4 to 5.8 ºC by 2100, in the Indian Ocean
region, temperature is expected to increase by 2.1 ºC by the
2050s and 3.2 ºC by the 2080s . In Maldives, the annual
maximum daily temperature is predictable to increase by
around 1.5 ºC by 2100 . The mass coral bleaching event
of 1998 had severely impacted the reefs of the Indian Ocean
;  with following bleaching-induced mortality
degrading coral cover of the Maldivian reefs from about 42%
to 2% . More recently, due to the Eli Nino Southern
Oscillation Event, there has been another mass bleaching
occurred in the reefs of Maldives where around 60% of
corals reefs studied were effected .
3.4.1 Impact to Habitat and Marine Resources
Higher level of SST can result in coral bleaching and
outbreak of crown of thorn starfish (Acanthaster planci)
which impacted the Maldivian reefs in the 1980s ; .
Coral bleaching occurs when sea surface temperatures
(SSTs) are abnormally high (Bozec, YM, et al. 2016). The
Maldivian Archipelago was seriously affected by a coral
bleaching event in 1998, which resulted in coral mortality of
up to 100% with unpredictable effects liable on species and
locality . It is being predicted that by 2030s about half of
the world’s coral reefs would experience thermal stress
sufficient for coral bleaching in most of the years, and the
amount is expected to be increased by 95 percent by 2050s
. Similarly issues like sea level change, thermal stress,
radiation exposure, or increased storm activity might
reduce the distribution and diversity of seagrasses ; 
which is yet to be studied in the Maldivian environment.
Beach erosion, aggravated by climate change and sea level
rise, is regard as a severe environmental issue in the
Maldives . As the majority of the land area in the
Maldives is less than 1 meter above sea level, with the
pressure of climate change and sea level rise, beach erosion
is one of the significant challenges in some low alleviated
islands in the Maldives. Erosion is mainly caused by the
changes in wind and ocean currents as a result of
monsoonal changes . Reef fishes as well as corals with
seasonal spawning cycles would have disturbance in their
spawning, failure in the recruitment due to the changes in
environmental conditions, hence survival of the larvae of
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these organisms depend on the health of pelagic or marine
environment ; ; .
As the country lacks technological and economical capacity,
it is challenging to cope and mitigate climate change and its
impacts. However the government trying to make the
country more resilient to climate change issues by
incorporating it into sectoral planning and (MEE 2017).
There can also be solutions within the ecosystems itself, like
in a recent studies which demonstrated that seagrasses can
reduce the impact of ocean acidification . However
more scientific studies need to be conducted to find better
solutions for the problems.
4. MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION OF
4.1Government’s Policies for conservation
With 99% of its territory being ocean, Maldives has concern
about protection and preservation of environment, and it is
indicated in the constitution of Maldives. In Article 22 of
the Constitution of the Maldives it is articulated that the
State has a fundamental duty to protect and preserve and
protect natural environment, biodiversity, resources and
beauty of the country. Article 67(h) of Maldivian
Constitution more specifically states that the Executive has
the duty to prevent all forms of pollution and ecological
degradation for the benefit of present and future generation.
Apart from the laws, regulations and acts to protect
environment, stated in table 3, there are several
transboundary agreements which Maldives is a signatory.
Some of those includes; Vienna Convention and Montreal
Protocol; United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Kyoto Protocol; Basel
Convention on Control of Transboundary Movements of
Hazardous Waste and their Disposal; Male’ Declaration;
Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants;
Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC); Convention on
Biological Diversity (CBD); Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety;
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
of wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); International Plant
Protection Convention and Indian Ocean Tuna Commission
(IOTC) . Also impact and risk assessments are conducted
for reclamation projects.
These assessments all determine whether the project or
activity poses a low or manageable risk. The cumulative
(over time) or combined (simultaneous) impacts of these
activities on an ecosystem or species should be evaluated.
Risk assessments are often undertaken for specific species
rather than overall marine biodiversity . However,
environmental impact assessment in the Maldives is still
inadequate (Zubair et al. 2011).
4.1.1 Marine and Terrestrial Protected Areas
An important action taken by the government to conserve
the environment is establishing Marine Protected Areas
(MPAs) in 1995 . Currently there are 42 protected areas,
protecting an area of 24,942 hectares which is 0.2% of
national territory  consisting a biosphere reserve in Baa
Atoll, mangroves and wetland areas, islands, lagoon,
beaches and sandbanks, channels and areas with historical
value, etc. scattered around both inland and marine areas of
13 distinctive atolls of Maldives. When human
encroachment is outlawed, Marine Protected Areas help the
degraded habitats from any further destruction and let
the natural resilience of the communities to restore and
flourish. . There are more areas which is biologically
important such as the two north most atolls of the country
with several mangroves, and other coastal habitats, which
needs to be protected and conserved.
4.2 Potential Conservation Strategies
4.2.1 Ecosystem Approach to Management
Ecosystem approach of management can help in
overcoming current issues in the Maldives such as
declining of fish catches  due to various stressors, by
sustainable management of natural resources such as fish
stock, their habitats by considering societal priorities based
on the ecosystem services. The concept of Ecosystem
approach to management is still in the process of evolving.
This concept of management concentrates on ecological
functions, relationships and interactions with humans and
consider management trade-offs . For a country like
Maldives where livelihood depends on coastal ecosystems,
especially coral reefs, Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA)
provides an efficient and cost effective way to prepare for
and cope with the impacts of climate change .
Although mangroves and other coastal ecosystems
compared with coral reefs are not crucial in livelihoods of
Maldivians, government and important stakeholders can
try to apply EbA to these ecosystems as well.To sustainably
increase the diminishing stock of the fishes within habitats,
integrated aquaculture can be implemented. Integrated
aquaculture is a practice that mix varieties of aquaculture
(e.g. fish, shellfish and seaweed cultivation) to reduce the
environmental impacts by creating balanced ecological
systems. This method has been used in freshwater
ecosystems, nevertheless its capacity to withstand in the
marine ecosystems is yet to be understood . It is
important that the functioning elements of ecosystems,
such as habitats, to be conserved in order to implement
ecosystem approach of management .
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Table 2: Goods and ecological services of coral reef ecosystems
Goods and ecological services of coral reef ecosystems
Goods Ecological Services
Mining of reefs Physical
Biotic Services Bio
Sea food products
such as red
Rubble and sand
ecosystems such as
conservation of a
Export of organic
plankton to pelagic
and algae for agar,
Mineral oil and
Live fish and coral
collected for the
Adopted from 
Table 3: Established Laws, Regulations and Acts in the Maldives to protect environment
National Laws, Policies and Regulations
Maldives National Energy Policy and
Energy efficiency and conservation towards the target of renewable energy based
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Maldives Climate Change Policy
2015 Five policy goals;
1) sustainable financing,
2) low emission development and ensuring energy security,
3) adaptation actions and building a climate-resilient infrastructures and communities,
4) building local capacity & taking advocacy role to international level and
5) fostering sustainable development
National Solid Waste Management Policy
Implement 3R concept to reduce waste, and environmentally friendly waste management
practices with constant monitoring, better technologies and infrastructure and spreading
National Biodiversity Strategy and Action
Protection and conservation of biodiversity
Act on Sand mining
Protect Coral Reefs and beaches by requiring to obtain permission from authorities for
The Fisheries Act of Maldives
Protection against over exploitation, trade or export of several species
Environment Protection and Preservation
Act of Maldives
Legal basis of protection and preservation of environment by conservation of biological
diversity, management of protected areas and natural reserves, EIA procedures and
guidelines, disposal of waste, oil and poisonous substances, and transboundary movement
of hazardous, toxic or nuclear waste.
The Maritime Zones of Maldives Act
Defend internal waters, territorial sea and contiguous zone and the Exclusive Economic
Zone (EEZ) of the Maldives
Maldives Tourism Act
Contains provisions for regulations on protection and conservation of environment
Ozone Protection Act
Reduce, control and manage the import and usage of ozone depleting substances,
alternatives to ozone depleting substances and its equipment to the Maldives
Regulates fishing in the lagoons and reefs of inhabited islands and resorts, prohibits
activities which might harm biodiversity or habitats, and outlaws extraction of some
species of corals, fishes and species in the reef.
Regulation on Coral and Sand Mining
Regulates coral and sand mining in the Maldives by requiring prior permissions
Regulation of Cutting, Uprooting and
Removing and Transfer of Palms and other
trees between islands
2006 Removal of vegetation around coastline of islands or around the wetlands and mangrove
swamps, extending to a 15 meters into the island is prohibited and these foliage
Regulation of Protection and Conservation
of Environment in the Tourism Industry
2006 Encourages and facilitate sustainable development of tourism as well as protecting the
National Wastewater Quality Guidelines 2007 Improve public health with enhanced sanitation and providing a safe and clean
environment by regulating wastewater disposal
Regulation for determination of penalties
and obtaining compensation for damages
caused to the environment
To prevent repetition of environmental violation and to penalize and obtain damages
caused to the environment
Waste Management Regulation
To implement national policies related to waste management for conservation of the
environment to reduce the direct and indirect impact due to improper waste management
International Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research, Volume 8, Issue 3, March-2017 57
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on human health and environment with the use of better infrastructure, technology and
human capital, to introduce polluter pay principle, encourage and implement 3R policy in
waste management which is reduce, reuse and recycle of waste.
Source: Information extracted from State of Environment 2016, Ministry of Environment and Energy, Maldives
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4.2.2 Management through Habitat Restoration
Habitat loss occurs when the habitat is degraded or
destroyed and reach to a point where they cannot provide
their ecological functions. To recover ecological functions of
those affected environments, habitat restoration is
necessary. When planning for the restoration of degraded,
fragmented or destroyed ecosystems, the principles of
ecosystem management should be incorporated for the
sustainability and effectiveness of techniques implementing.
Coral recruitment using transplantation of nursery-grown
corals, translocation, reattachment of coral fragments and
the provision of artificial substrate for natural recruitment
has been identified as a potential methods for restoring
degraded coral reefs ; ; ; . Ecological
restoration rather than engineering techniques are being
used lately, such as coral gardening which is about
mariculture of corals in nurseries and planting them when
required in the degraded reefs . However engineered
solutions would still be required in case the substrate is
unstable or ecological plantation is unsuccessful. For a
country like Maldives, coral gardening or mariculture of
corals is important as coral reefs are the bedrock of the
livelihoods and ecology and is vulnerable to changes in the
environment. Gardening can also be done for other
ecosystems such as seagrasses and mangroves, for which
further researches are needed to be conducted.
Artificial plantation is a way of successfully restoring
disturbed mangroves to their natural state and also this
strengthen . However it is important to inspect biotic
and abiotic elements of the habitat such as salinity, soil
condition and hydrology of the mangrove site to know if
suitable for plantation of mangrove . Seagrass
revegetation either transplantation of plants or seeds is
successful techniques used for restoration of seagrasses ;
;  which can also be practiced in the Maldives.
Whichever technique used for seagrass restoration, it is
important to remove any kind of threat in the habitat such
as dredging or eutrophication prior to plantation . In
terms of expenses and logistics, there may not be an ideal
restoration method for restoring large degraded areas, and
the best method for different countries, regions and types of
habitat differs. Hence it is important to do in-depth
research on the intended restoration method and to choose
a method which is most suitable for the habitat, considering
biotic and abiotic factors.
5. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
The major long-term threat to the coastal habitats of the
Maldives is due coastal modification activities. Increase in
population and high population density in small islands
creates need for land reclamation and dredging. Because of
the growing human population and climate change issues,
there is a less actions that can be taken in the short-term.
However implementation of ecosystem based management
approaches and legislations to conserve and restore already
threatened habitats can be the crucial in alleviating the
threats associate with the degradations and fragmentations
of habitats. For this the first step would be eliminating any
activity which would destruct the habitats.
The Maldives contribute only a small fraction of the CO2
emissions that have created dilemma of Climate change.
The Maldives is 172nd in a recent ranking of 217 countries
by emissions, contributing only the equivalent of 0.01% of
the CO2 emitted by the world’s top polluter (China) .
As the islands are only 1-2 meters above the mean sea-level,
the islands are extremely vulnerable to climate change and
any other natural changes. In addition to the natural
changes, human encroachments such a sand mining,
vegetation clearance, coastal modifications, pollution
obstruct the movements of sediments around the islands
which in turn change the natural process of surrounding
coastlines. As the nation consists of tiny, scattered islands;
transportation and supply of other obligatory services is a
challenge, hence there is a trend of migrating to the islands
where these basics needs are easily accessible. Thus,
population density in some islands exceeds and likewise
environment related issues intensifies. Thus, when
implementing developmental strategies, the government as
well as other stakeholders should consider the plausible
threats, their root causes, and aftermaths. As the country is
undergoing a tremendous growth of development, coastal
developments, tourism ; ; social integration is
essential for combatting with climate change and
degradation of the environment . The fate of marine
ecosystems of Maldives and their role in providing welfare
for human and marine organisms highly depend on how
the human uses and impacts on the marine environment is
managed and regulated. For this methodical programmes
to foster awareness among the islanders is imperative as
most of the islanders are unaware of the consequences of
their direct and indirect harm to the ecosystem. However
the main challenges with the coastal management in the
Maldives is deficiency of required resources, such as skills,
expertise and financial requirement to implement the
policies and strategies.
There is also a significant requirement of further researches
in the Maldives to understand the delicate coastal
environments, the wildlife, and their functions to both
human and marine biodiversity in order to fully
understand and implement measures to protect these
ecosystems. Initial stage of protection of any habitat is
spreading awareness and information among the public
and important stakeholders about the status of habitats,
functions and uses for human as well as for the ecology and
how the habitat is related to other species. Legitimising the
participation of stakeholders in the planning and
monitoring of management measures is one potential way
of controlling the threats in the habitats in the short-term,
promoting compliance with regulations (Defeo, O. et al.
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