The Maldives is a country renowned for its white beaches, crystal clear waters and amazing underwater vistas. Our economy is heavily dependent on our natural beauty and resources. Our two most financially-lucrative industries, tourism and fishing, rely heavily on the resources found in our waters.
Which begs the question; why are we not doing our utmost to protect these god given gifts, the sea, the lifeblood of our economy?
Today we are shining a spotlight on our reefs. The Maldives, an archipelagic island nation that is 99% water, is home to over 2,000 coral reefs, making them the seventh largest in the world.
These reefs protect our fragile, low-lying islands from the open seas and storms. The role they play is vital in attracting tourists who are fascinated with the abundance of vibrant life found in these seascapes.
Unfortunately for us, Maldivian coral reefs are under constant threat. A study released in 2017 by the Marine Research Center indicated that over 70 per cent of the corals in our reefs were affected by the 2015-2016 El Niño weather phenomena. It was the largest event of mass bleaching in the Maldives.
More recently, an assessment carried out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on 39 species of corals in the Maldives showed that 23 are critically endangered, six are endangered, seven are vulnerable and three are near threatened– meaning 36 species are included in the ‘threatened with extinction’ categories.
Granted that we cannot fight global warming and the ensuing unusual weather phenomena by ourselves, but there are some things we can do to ensure the protection of the fragile ecosystems that our livelihoods so heavily depend upon.
A passage illustrating examples of buoyage
Now one may wonder how much a marine buoyage system could help in the protection of our reef systems. The truth of the matter is that we have been damaging our reefs daily, albeit unintentionally. Sometimes this is by stepping on corals as we snorkel, oftentimes while anchoring our vessels and most devastatingly when boats capsize or run aground on reefs, causing devastating damage to vast portions of the fragile ecosystems. Currently, there are two buoyage systems in use around the world under the jurisdiction of the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA). The shown by the colour red, and the starboard is indicated by green. This system covers Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand. IALA System B works the opposite way, with the port shown by the colour green and the starboard red. This system covers North, Central and South America as well as Japan, Korea and the Philippines. This may seem confusing to many, but seasoned mariners have mastered this system thoroughly
Currently, buoys are also being fitted with sensors that can detect and transmit the flow rate of water and wind — enabling navigators to predict accurate set and drift. Linked with a radio signal or GPS timing, buoys and channel markers can even flash together in sequence, improving the identification of a channel by creating a runway etc. Additionally, buoys can be fitted with LED lights helping to reduce power consumption and improve visibility. In a country such as the Maldives, in the middle of the equator with sunshine year-round, solar-powered systems are also an option.
Would It Work Here?
Not only does a comprehensive buoyage system keep vessels away from reefs preventing major damage but it also acts as an anchorage system for vessels visiting the reefs. This means that we would be preventing the damage that the reefs suffer from multiple anchors being thrown in daily.
This system would also prove invaluable to the various vessels travelling through the waters of the country as currently, a large swath of the reef systems remain unmarked.
This could prove treacherous and costly while navigating at night or through a storm. A large number of grounding incidents could have been prevented if the reefs were marked by a bouyage system. In December 2021, the MV Navios Amaryllis paid a fine of USD 10 million to the Maldivian Government for damages caused to the reef of Kaafu Atoll Rasfari. This had been the highest fine levied to date. It must be noted that even though it is widely acknowledged that these instances of vessels running aground damage the reef system extensively, no comprehensive study has been carried out to study the extent of the damage or prevention. However, one does wonder whether such incidents might be preventable with the correct buoyage system in place.