Fourth Maldives Marine Science Symposium takes leaps forward in research

The Maldives Marine Research Institute (MMRI) held the fourth Maldives Marine Science Symposium (MMSS) from August 13 to 14, with resounding success.

The symposium was inaugurated by Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture, Hon. Dr. Hussain Rasheed Hassan. In his inaugural address, Minister Hussain highlighted the importance for marine research in a country that is 99% of ocean, made up of coral structures.

“This symposium provides a platform for research, researchers working in marine science in The Maldives to share knowledge and bring together a wide range of expertise. We have papers on corals, reef ecology, megafauna, seagrass and mangroves, fisheries management and plastic pollution. It especially encourages local scientists to conduct research, and provides prospective students to get involved in marine science.”

The scientific committee of the MMSS, which evaluated the abstracts sent in for submission and selected the topics for oral presentations, included state minister for environment Dr. Abdulla Naseer, Director of Science & Maldives for International Pole and Line Foundation Dr. Mohamed Shiham Adam, MMRI’s marine biologist Mohamed Shimal, and long-time marine researcher Dr. Charles Anderson.

Over 46 abstracts were submitted for review to the committee, out of which 34 were selected as oral presentations. These were presented over a two-day symposium at MNU Auditorium, which was open to the public. Students from the marine science class of Ghiyassudin international school also attended the symposium.

At the end of the ceremony, the scientific committee handed out awards for Best Presentation, Best Abstract, and Best Poster Presentation.

In addition to the topics expanded on below, research findings about plastic pollution, seagrass and mangroves was also presented at the symposium.

Research into fisheries included preliminary assessments of tuna behaviour and associations at anchored FADs across the country, local ecological knowledge of tuna behaviour by interviewing fishermen, and assessing the biomass of commercially important fish in Laamu. Additional research was also done on understanding gleaning fisheries in Laamu.

The research on corals in The Maldives covered monitoring mechanisms for coral reproduction, restoration, and gardening. Italian University University of Biccoca’s MARHE Center in Faafu Magoodhoo, in association with The Maldives government, also launched a national framework for monitoring corals.

In Laamu, The Maldives Underwater Initiative team has been monitoring coral reproduction for over a year, and identified that coral reproduction takes place in other months of the year – and not just April and November as previously understood.

The MMRI also presented findings from the first national red list assessment of corals.

Research topics for megafauna covered whale sharks, mantas, cetaceans, and turtles.

The cetacean study conducted in The Maldives in 2022 found a decrease in sightings since earlier years. This is possibly related to the cetacean hunting happening across South Asia outside of The Maldives. The Maldives is the only country in the region with historical data on cetacean sightings. Other cetaceans studies were conducted by analysing environment DNA to find the species seen in Maldivian waters, and guidelines for responsible dolphin watching tourism.

Additionally, research conducted in South Ari with The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme shows that the rate of injury for whale sharks has increased over time, which is leading to a decrease in sightings in the South Ari Marine Protected Area despite the same amount of whale sharks staying in the region. Further research is being conducted to understand the ‘carrying capacity’ for whale shark sightings.

Research conducted into mantas by the Manta Trust include looking at the different hitch-hikers associated with mantas, manta ray injury rate, feeding ecology and behavior of mantas, and an assessment of sublethal injuries and physical deformities in mantas.

Sea turtle research presented by the Olive Ridley Project included the national red list assessment of marine reptiles conducted in the country, preliminary findings from a socio-economical study to find the value of sea turtle tourism in 2019, and turtle nesting research and analysis from 2018-2021.