Baa Atoll - a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
Life, economic prosperity and social development in Maldives depend upon maintaining our atoll ecosystems in a healthy natural state. Our reefs, islands and surrounding seas and their component biodiversity are the natural assets on which the tourism and fishing industries depend, which provide us with land for development and materials for building, and which protect us from storms. More than almost any other country in the world, our future is inextricably linked to the quality of our environment.
There is widespread recognition that conventional approaches have not been effective in conserving our natural environment and biodiversity. We are losing charismatic species like sharks, several fisheries are in decline, the land and seas are increasingly polluted, and we are threatened with coastal erosion, storms and sea-level rise. There is an urgent need to plan and manage the country’s natural resources in a more integrated and conservation-oriented manner that is appropriate to the country’s unique geography and ecology, socio-economic development and patterns of resource use. Only by achieving this will future generations have the same rich natural resource base to support them that has sustained our development to date.
Recognising this challenge, the Government of Maldives established the Atoll Ecosystem Conservation Project (AEC Project) in 2004 (with support of United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) with the purpose of designing and demonstrating an effective management system for atoll ecosystem conservation and sustainable development on Baa Atoll, which could then be replicated throughout Maldives.
The project’s vision is to make Baa Atoll: a world class model of atoll ecosystem conservation where sustainable use supports a prosperous economy and good quality of life for all, for ever – for replication across the Maldives.
Baa Atoll was selected as the demonstration atoll for this project on account of its globally significant biodiversity, the commitment and capacity of local communities, the potential to address threats to biodiversity and demonstrate sustainable use.
By working with the communities of Baa Atoll, the private sector and the all the other relevant stakeholders the AEC Project together with the Ministry of Environment has been able to achieve the objectives for which the project was designed for during the course of the project’s lifetime.
Work on declaring Baa Atoll as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve started in early 2009, a series of workshops and meetings were held right across the atoll which involved the participation of all relevant stakeholders.
Discussions were also held at national level as well, which included the environment, tourism and the fisheries ministers meeting to discuss the issue of declaring Baa Atoll as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. With the workshops and meetings completed and the conclusions of these pointing towards Baa Atoll to be declared as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve one final round of community consultation was undertaken in the same year. The outcome of the community consultations indicated that over 95% of the Baa Atoll community was in favour of declaring Baa Atollas a Unesco Biosphere Reserve.
Hence Baa Atoll was nominated by the Government of Maldives to be declared as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve on 28 September 2010 and UNESCO’s declaration of Baa Atoll as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve came on 28 June 2011.
The Government of Maldives on 13 June 2012 established and opened the Baa Atoll Unesco Biosphere Reserve Office under the Ministry of Environment and Energy in the capital of Baa Atoll, Eydhafushi. The Biosphere Reserve Office will be responsible for leading and coordinating implementation of the Biosphere Reserve Strategy which comprises three programmes: Conservation Programme, Learning and Research Programme; Livelihoods and Sustainable Development Programme.