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Mantas at Hanifaru: Protection from tourists?


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#1 Drew

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Posted 11 November 2010 - 08:43 AM

The manta rays at Hanifaru have raised awareness of mantas protection in the area and created a marine protected area just because of their congregation. It is said the tourism from the Hanifaru mantas bring in over $500k a year. However, this great influx of tourism has created another problem, overcrowding by tourists and how it is affecting the mantas natural behavior. The bay is small and sometimes up to 200 mantas can be squeezed into that little area. With tourists boats coming from many places, up to 200 snorkelers and swimmers are also vying for real estate to watch the mantas, thus forcing the mantas out of the bay.
This year, people have noticed the great influx of tourists have affected the manta numbers in the bay. There have been calls by local biologist Guy Stevens for a patrol boat to control the number of tourists entering the bay at any one time.
However, this is not going to be an easy task. What system would they put in place to regulate the number of tourists? Time slots? Imagine telling someone who's spending $1000 a night at the 4 Seasons they are only allowed 45 minutes with the mantas, because other people are waiting. Pay for snorkel time would work but would probably shrink the tourism down significantly. With global warming causing rising seas and coral bleaching everywhere, the Maldivean government does face big problems as they try to balance conservation with survival.

BBC:Saving the manta rays of the Maldives

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#2 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 11 November 2010 - 09:27 AM

Everyones talking about this. Especially in the UK. My phone has rung quite a few times in the last two weeks with various journalists asking me this question.

It is particularly complex because the rays only aggregate their when the lagoon is switched on by the correct tidal current. Which means on some days a time slot might hit the action perfectly, while on others there might be a much longer feeding event, or no feeding event at all.

Also, when there is a small feeding event <40 mantas, the rays are definitely more likely to be scared off by too many people, than when there is a big event (>100 rays), when the rays seem 100% unconcerned about having divers in the water.

And finally, it is difficult to predict diver numbers for the future. Was this year the max, following Tom's Nat Geo article? Or is it going to grow and grow from here? If diver numbers fall next year and $$$ would be wasted bringing in a quota system.

From the rays point of view - it would be best to have it snorkelling only, IMO. That way people are pretty much confined to the surface and the rays have the rest of the water column. Even if scuba divers stay near the bottom, their bubbles do not. When you have divers on the floor (& midwater) of the lagoon and snorkellers on the surface - there is little space for the mantas.

That said, saying "no diving" would not be best for the Maldivian economy. So I would suggest trying the time slot system for the next season - and if it proves unworkable use snorkelling only as the fall back. This would also put emphasis on operators to make it work, or loose the earning potential.

How it would be enforced would be tough. Who is going to tell a boat load of eager divers they cannot jump in because the lagoon is full that day?

There is one further problem of snorkelling only - is that divers who have been on scuba all day - may well get bent with an energetic snorkel session, getting dehydrated and then diving down after the mantas. The other solution is to alternate scuba and snorkelling time slots - so at least part of the water column is empty for the rays at any time.

So to summarise - I think they should give the quota system a go. But if it proves unworkable, then it should be snorkelling only, assuming the demand stays.

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#3 Drew

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Posted 11 November 2010 - 10:27 AM

The problem with quota is how to control which boats get in etc. First come first serve and you'll have a traffic jam @ 5am. Time slots and some people will miss the action. It'll be difficult to get a fair system in place without some complaints.
I think with the hype, the numbers were suppose to increase but with this negative spin, perhaps it will be the needed detrimental effect on the tourism influx?

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#4 SimonSpear

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Posted 11 November 2010 - 03:50 PM

Like so many conservation issues getting the balance is extremely difficult. I was going to be one of the many visiting Hanifaru this year until I broke my foot a couple of months ago and had to miss the trip, although I must admit that the reports I've been hearing about the shear numbers of people in the water had made me somewhat nervous about going. I've also heard reports and seen photos / video of some appalling Manta harassment from not just the tourists, but some of the operators as well (ironically some of the very same ones who are calling for regulation, but isn't that often the way!).

The easy conclusion is that something absolutely needs to be done or I fear that this could be a very short lived phenomenon. The more difficult conclusion though is what can be done/enforced/regulated. I don't have an answer to that question.

#5 muckdiver

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Posted 11 November 2010 - 08:38 PM

This is one dive I am going to avoid. Imagine trying to get decent video with the many divers present assuming there are any Mantas. Besides I don't need to add myself into the mix and further stress them out.

If I had to choose a system I favor tickets (aka quotas). One clearinghouse for tickets with a limit on the number/day. Policing will be difficult tho but possibly self-policing? Those that paid to get in enforce access on those that try to poach.

I really hate the idea of controlled access like this but if this helps the Mantas then so be it.
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#6 tpeschak

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Posted 12 November 2010 - 03:26 AM

In July 2009 National Geographic Magazine (NGM) published a article on a unique feeding aggregation of manta rays at Hanifaru Bay in the Maldives. I photographed the feature and the text featured the scientific work of Save our Seas Foundation manta ray scientist Guy Stevens.

The decision by us (Thomas Peschak & Guy Stevens) to publish this feature about Hanifaru in NGM was not taken lightly.

In 2008 the site and its manta rays enjoyed no official protection and the island of Hanifaru was earmarked and licensed for commercial development.

It was through the NAT GEO article and the associated publicity that Hanifaru was proclaimed a marine reserve in 2009 and the development plans were stopped.

Of course we knew that the article was going result in more visitors to Hanifaru. However well regulated marine tourism can be the manta rays and the marine environments saving grace.

The greater the economic value of each living manta ray, the greater the incentive to look after them. This is especially important at a time when Manta ray gill rakers are becoming more and more popular in traditional Chinese medicines and prices paid to fishermen are on the increase.

One of us (Guy Stevens) has spent much of his time since the marine reserve proclamation working closely with the Maldivian authorities to ensure that regulations and a policing strategy would be in place for the 2010 season.

Despite consistent pressure and much to our disappointment the wheels of bureaucracy did not turn fast enough to ensure the implementation of the necessary management and policing in time for the 2010 season, resulting in an unsustainable level of tourism at the site.

The Save our Seas Foundation offered the government sponsorship of a patrol vessel specifically to police the marine reserve for the 2010 season and beyond. However the offer was not taken up due major political restructuring in the Maldives. The government however has indicated that they would take up the offer of the patrol boat in 2011.

We are currently in the Maldives and have just witnessed and documented equally high tourism pressures on another manta dive site (Manta Point - Lankan) further to the south, where many hundreds of divers visit this site per day. While it was visually shocking to see 100 divers surrounding a few manta rays at once, if the tourists are respectful and consciences, their impact can be minimal. In fact for well over a decade this location has been one of the most visited manta ray dive sites in the world and despite these heavy levels of tourism and zero official regulations, manta rays have continued to frequent this cleaning station in consistent numbers.

However there is a limit to the manta rayís tolerance in the face of ever increasing tourism pressure in the Maldives. Therefore it is important that pro-active steps are taken to ensure the sustainable management of marine tourism at these economically and ecologically important sites.

We are about to leave for Sri Lanka to continuo our documentation of a large-scale fishery for manta rays and mobulas. Photographing and surveying the fish markets, walking along rows and rows of dead rays and watching gill raker after gill raker being hacked out of the carcasses, really puts the realities of tourism vs. fisheries impacts into perspective.

To see photographs from Manta Point Lankan and Sri Lanka visit

Thomas P. Peschak & Guy Stevens
Save our Seas Foundation

Edited by tpeschak, 12 November 2010 - 05:36 AM.


#7 Shaff

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Posted 12 November 2010 - 04:36 AM

The best thing to do to protect Hanifaru is to make a good proposal to the Govt about how it can be done. I don't think if you limit the number of divers/snorkeler per day it will be good. That will make a lot of people angry. Why not make the guests pay a certain fee for the duration of their time in Baa Atoll? Say $10 or $20 per week per person. And use that money to help the locals of Baa Atoll education or anything else. If SOS can get a boat for the Coast Guard of Maldives to help in maintaining the place I think that will be good. People will obey if there is a Coast Guard presence on scene. But that means SOS will have to finance for the whole thing for the season. I think the Coast Guard and the government will agree if that can be done.

Edited by Shaff, 12 November 2010 - 06:20 AM.

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#8 Drew

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Posted 13 November 2010 - 02:31 AM

Shaff, isn't the problem overcrowding caused by a huge influx of tourism? If that is the case, then the solution would be to control the ratio of humans vs mantas in the bay. I do agree with raising funds through charging the people for entering the area, IF the money goes directly to funding the overall administration of the area and of course helping the locals. But the larger issue of overcrowding can only be dealt with by limiting the numbers.
It'd be interesting to see how a final number is set though.
Thanks for the edit, btw. :)

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#9 stewsmith

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Posted 13 November 2010 - 04:50 AM

There are a few options.

Total ban on anyone or any boat entering the bay for snorkelling or diving whilst the mantas are there. ( 4 weeks per year )
Limit the amount of divers ( Sipadan style )and snorkellers per day and charge them for the privelege of being there.
Police it with the funds raised from charging divers/snorkellers.
Leave things how they are and hope the mantas are not affected by it.

After seeing the photo of all the divers I would say ban diving and only allow snorkelling/free diving, also with limited numbers. Could there not be roped zones within the bay where snorkellers can and cant go. Dolphin House Reef at Marsa Alam has this and it works. The dolphins there have an area that they can move into to get away from the snorkellers. ( no diving is permtted there )

Obviously I am of the same opinion of everyone else who visits these boards and that the priority is the well being of the mantas.

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#10 Drew

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Posted 13 November 2010 - 05:49 AM

A more local perspective to this issue:

http://minivannews.c...ifaru-bay-11871

Seems there are regulations already in place and it's a matter of enforcement. 80 pax in the area and only 5 boats? Hmmm I'd go not for the mantas but the circus that'll happen during enforcement. :)

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#11 Shaff

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Posted 13 November 2010 - 10:32 AM

I just read the article in Minivan news. We need to enforce a way to limiting like you said Drew. It's going to be hell if the liveaboards don't adhere to the enforcement regulations. They already are making a lot of trouble in that area and also other places. Some liveaboards not all. The govt has to be really strict in what they decide to do. I will be there for the next season, might even get the Coast Guard divers with me to just police the area 'if' the Coast Guard agrees.

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#12 stewsmith

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Posted 13 November 2010 - 10:34 AM

I just read the article in Minivan news. We need to enforce a way to limiting like you said Drew. It's going to be hell if the liveaboards don't adhere to the enforcement regulations. They already are making a lot of trouble in that area and also other places. Some liveaboards not all. The govt has to be really strict in what they decide to do. I will be there for the next season, might even get the Coast Guard divers with me to just police the area 'if' the Coast Guard agrees.


Well if anyone can get it sorted it will be you Shaff.

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#13 Timmoranuk

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Posted 13 November 2010 - 11:00 AM

CJ and I are going to vote with our feet and we'll stay away. Its just another tourist zoo we don't want to be involved with, like the poor dolphins at Sha'ab Samadai. We'll do Mantas somewhere else...
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#14 Drew

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Posted 13 November 2010 - 12:38 PM

I just read the article in Minivan news. We need to enforce a way to limiting like you said Drew. It's going to be hell if the liveaboards don't adhere to the enforcement regulations. They already are making a lot of trouble in that area and also other places. Some liveaboards not all. The govt has to be really strict in what they decide to do. I will be there for the next season, might even get the Coast Guard divers with me to just police the area 'if' the Coast Guard agrees.


Shaff
From the Minivan article, it seems the Maldivian operators are having difficulty cooperating to find a functional compromise. I guess the best solution is to have the coast guard to patrol the area independently, to remove doubts of conflict of interest by all parties. Like many places in the world, operators tend not to work together for the benefit of tourism and conservation but instead adopt a dog eat dog mentality. As you say, not much point to the land operators playing nice if the liveaboards aren't cooperating.
I do wonder if the liveaboard trips which concentrate on the Baa Atoll phenomena will have to cease now? I mean it is still the only well known mass manta aggregation area in the world.

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#15 Shaff

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Posted 13 November 2010 - 12:39 PM

Well if anyone can get it sorted it will be you Shaff.

Stew


Hahaha. Thanks Stew. I'll be meeting the Environment Minister next week and see what the real plans and if you guys have any proposals please let me know. I'll take them to him.

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#16 Shaff

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Posted 13 November 2010 - 12:47 PM

Shaff
From the Minivan article, it seems the Maldivian operators are having difficulty cooperating to find a functional compromise. I guess the best solution is to have the coast guard to patrol the area independently, to remove doubts of conflict of interest by all parties. Like many places in the world, operators tend not to work together for the benefit of tourism and conservation but instead adopt a dog eat dog mentality. As you say, not much point to the land operators playing nice if the liveaboards aren't cooperating.
I do wonder if the liveaboard trips which concentrate on the Baa Atoll phenomena will have to cease now? I mean it is still the only well known mass manta aggregation area in the world.


Drew,

The Maldivian operators each want their say in it and they each want a piece of the place! That's the biggest problem. They don't look at the big picture and they just want money coming in. Not protecting the place. Its not only at Hanifaru. Yesterday morning I was at Lankan Manta Point, in North male' atoll, when me and my guys went to the cleaning station there was one group of divers already there and they behaved. After 30 mins, countless number of groups arrived and wreaked havoc down there. The guides doesn't seem to brief the divers much I think. Cos all we saw were photographer and videographers getting on top of the cleaning station to get a shot of the Mantas. Some of the local dive guides and also expat guides were eyeing us when we came to the durface as we were in a Coast Guard boat. Some of them waited for us to leave before jumping in. I think if the Coast Guard have a presence in Hanifaru to protect and regulate, everyone will hesitate to break the rules.

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#17 Guystevens

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Posted 13 November 2010 - 11:20 PM

You are absolutely right Shaff, the Maldivian Government has to make the decisions regarding the immediate management and policing of Hanifaru. And like you, I also believe that itís the local communities of Baa Atoll which need to benefit most from any funds which are generated from this, and Baa Atollís other MPAís in the future. My motivation here is, and has always been, to ensure that the manta rays and whale sharks which depend upon Hanifaru will continue to be able to do so for many thousands of years to come, while at the same time also benefiting the local communities. Unfortunately however, in todayís world the bottom line is that money talks; therefore this reality dictates that to ensure the real protection of Hanifaru it must earn ($$$) its protection! And it will only earn its protection by benefiting those who have the most vested interests in ensuring its continued economic protection for the future. Right now those people are the local stakeholders, like the resorts and the dive liveaboard boats, but they should, and NEED to be the local communities as well. If there is not the will from the local communities to protect these sites, then no matter how many laws and regulations are written down on a piece of paper, or how much we try to police these sites with boats and wardens, the reality is that these MPAís are doomed to fail, just as all the current MPAís in this country have become nothing more than paper parks to date. There has to be a sense of pride and ownership within the Baa Atoll community for these sites and they have to have the desire to take onboard these responsibilities. I have lived in Baa Atoll for the last 5 years and I know that the desire is here, and people like you are great examples of this positivity, but unless there are more financial rewards and incentives to drive this process then it will not happen.

For the last three years I have been working closely with the Ministry of the Environment in the Maldives to provide them with the solid scientific data (both on tourism numbers and site usage, as well as the continued monitoring of the manta rays and whale sharks themselves) with which they can use to make the necessary informed decisions to ensure the sustainable management of this extremely important site. As well as my scientific consultation the government has also spent a lot of time speaking with the local communities of Baa Atoll and the stakeholders (resorts, dive centres and the liveaboard companies) to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions. In the end I hope that, as Environment Minister Aslam has suggested, Hanifaru and all of Baa Atolls MPAís will be managed by a co-operative, which gives the power to police and manage these sites to the very people who have the most interest in protecting them. This I believe will be the only effective way to ensure that these sites become truly protected.

Baa Atoll is soon to be declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and this will give the perfect framework under which to implement these management plans. I therefore am confident that together we can make Hanifaru an example of how the Maldives marine resources can truly be protected for the benefit of all, for the future, forever. And not just for the short term gains of a few selfish businesses and individuals.

Guy Stevens
Maldivian Manta Ray Project
Save Our Seas Foundation

#18 Drew

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 01:53 AM

Anyone hear about the Maldivian Government's decision not to regulate the Baa Atoll?

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#19 troporobo

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 04:56 AM

. . . it seems the Maldivian operators are having difficulty cooperating to find a functional compromise . . .


Folks need to study the evolution of whale shark interaction in Donsol, Philippines. It is far from perfect, but over the past 5 years it has gone from a free-for-all to something resembling a sustainable operation. Operator cooperation - driven by obvious benefit sharing - was a significant factor in that outcome

Edited by troporobo, 29 March 2011 - 04:56 AM.


#20 gina

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 07:36 AM

Doug Perrine posted this to Facebook yesterday:

"It appears that the Maldives govt is not ready to institute real management of the manta free-for-all at Hanifaru. Anyone not thrilled about continuation of the sad situation described in my Sep-Nov posts could urge Environmental Protection Agency Director: ibrahim.naeem@epa.gov.mv to station a full-time warden there with a boat from July-Nov. You could also write abdulla.mohamed@environment.gov.mv & abdulla.shibau@environment.gov.mv or tourism officials at Afra@visitmaldives.com, shahyr@visitmaldives.com and mtpb@maldives.com to urge them to enact comprehensive management as proposed by MMRP, OGS, and others."

I was in Hanifaru Bay last Autumn with Doug and others. The situation was crazy. Sure, there were 30, 40, 50 mantas at a time. But they were easily outnumbered by people in the water. Some of those people would dive after and try to pet or grab the mantas. But just the sheer number of bodies in the water meant the animals often had to alter their feeding behaviour and swimming patterns which is a definite sign of harassment. Here's just a fraction of what goes on there:

Posted Image
mantas and snorkelers
by g-na
, on Flickr

-Gina