A recent underwater festival at LUX* South Ari Atoll resort in the Maldives celebrated whale sharks, turtles and more. Several PADI directors, including Dr. Drew Richardson, CEO and President of PADI Worldwide and Project Aware, were on hand as well to celebrate the underwater world and shine a light on local and global marine conservation issues. The island is located in a fully-protected marine reserve, with thriving marine life including schools of fish, healthy coral reefs, a large population of sea turtles and a resident population of over 300 whale sharks.
An army of ocean advocates: PADI’s vision for the future
In an effort to showcase the region’s underwater world and highlight local conservation efforts, LUX* invited the global heads of PADI to the festival.
With over 25 million PADI-qualified divers around the world, PADI is now changing its focus from developing safe and responsible divers to nurturing an army of ocean advocates; “champions of the water planet” according to Richardson.
Whale sharks guaranteed
The festival took place in a special part of the Maldives, already well-known for whale sharks. The Maldives Whale Shark Research Program (MWSRP), located on nearby Dhigurah Island has identified 388 individuals. Consequently, chances of a whale-shark encounter here are fairly high. In fact, the dive-shop manager tells us we’d have to be “pretty unlucky” not to see one at least once during the week (famous last words).
In fact, we see two. One while diving and one while snorkeling in between dives. Despite their popularity, we actually know very little about whale sharks. The MWSRP has established that this Maldives site is a secondary nursery. The statistics they gather highlight the site’s importance as a tourist attraction and help convince government to maintain its protection.
Anyone can contribute to the MWSRP research by sharing photos with the team via their mobile app. And, if they can’t find a match, you get to name the new shark.
The Olive Ridley Riddle
From one endangered species to another, the next day we learn about the Maldives’ sea turtles, and specifically, the plight of the olive ridley. Turtle vet Claire Petros manages the Maldives’ Marine Turtle Rescue Center in Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu Resort in Baa Atoll, part of the Olive Ridley Project (ORP). The rescue center provides veterinary care and rehabilitation to injured sea turtles across the Maldives. Other programs managed by ORP also manages programs on removing ghost gear from the ocean, education and outreach and sea-turtle monitoring.
And the riddle? Researchers rarely see olive ridleys nesting in the Maldives, yet they are the turtle species most frequently found entangled in ghost fishing gear. Between 2011 and 2018, the ORP recorded 528 entangled olive ridley turtles — 87.9 percent of all reported entangled turtles. Because they are largely pelagic creatures, olive ridleys are the most susceptible to ghost-net entanglement.
The project has enlisted the help of Trans Maldivian Airways to help transport injured turtles to the sanctuary and aims sometime soon to have a turtle biologist on every atoll.