Prince Andheen, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, all guests present here and of cause the staff and Eco Centre.
We are in one of the most unique eco systems of this country. Rasdhoo Atoll stands out from Ari Atoll. This is an atoll by itself and it has a very long reef system stretching all the way from Kuramathi and it goes all around the atoll, it stops a little bit before it gets to Veligandu, and then it comes all the way back again to Rasdhoo and then it stops again for a little bit and then we have Kuramathi.
We’ve all seen, rather as a much younger person I used to snorkel and I have, seen the whole of the ecosystem of Rasdhoo and I am glad about that. But recently after many years, as a President, again I had the good fortune of having a look at the reef.
It is always trendier to say the reefs have deteriorated a lot. But as I remember 20 years ago and what I see now, I am actually very encouraged by we are seeing. The reef is looked after very well and I congratulate Andheen for that.
I am delighted that Kuramathi is getting this prestigious award. There is no doubt in my mind of the extent of the work that Juramathi has done in understanding Maldives ecosystem. Back in the late 90s, as it has been pointed out here, the El Nino forced us to understand corals much more than we used to.
Andheen did mention to me it was Mr Hassan Manik, one of the most renowned marine biologists of this country who has now passed away, who initially understood that the only way we can look after our reef system was to integrate them – looking at them or looking after the reef system with the tourism trade.
In the past, it was surprising, the first thing resort owners would do with an island was to take the house reef off and then build break water outside. Of course, we need the break water. Reef is important mostly and most importantly for the islands because it is the first line of defence against erosion. It is, of course, home to number of species, including us. We survive because of the reefs not just simply the stars. The islands survive because of the reefs and it is therefore that much more important now for us to understand what is happening to our reefs in our eco systems.
They are forests, they are gardens underwater and surprisingly they are also one of the biggest carbon sinks – but I am told by my environment minister never to mention this – because of acidity. We cannot allow reefs to be classified, apparently, as carbon sinks, in the same manner as rain forests has been identified as carbon sinks. But if we are to look after the reefs in an economically and an environmentally sustainable manner, I feel that it is important we have a much bigger, greater focus on the reef systems.
Reefs have sometimes a very short life. Corals sometime take [to grow]. It grows fairly easily, some species of coral I am told. But at times it takes ages to grow and it finally becomes an island, or rather an island washes away and finally it becomes a reef. We are yet to understand what happened to the Maldives. Are we washing away or are we becoming bigger? Where do we stand in the grand scheme of nature?
Climate change has become a serious issue for us, it is a ongoing issue it’s not something in the past, in the future, it is something in the present. Even now we have 76 islands where the water table has been contaminated because of sea level rise and slat water intrusion into the water lens. In 76 islands we have to provide desalinated water, of course, desalinated water is extremely expensive. But we have to do that because we have to provide fresh water to our people.
Reefs are also important as a livelihood. This country in the past long time ago, 500 years ago used to look after the reefs very well because that, in that time was the main bread winner or main resource for this country because we were the minting bag for cowry shells. Cowry shells come out from, I am told, though the reef systems and we used to, the Maldives, used to control a fair share of the cowry trade in the world. In 1700s the trade collapsed and with that the systems that we had, the reef management systems that we had, in the county. So yet again we now have to come up with a reef management system. We look after our islands very well – everyone looks after the island, they look after the coconut palms, they look after the beaches, they look after the trees. But the reefs have been foreign for a very long time, and now we want to bring it back again and see how we maybe able to look them up.
Of course integrating this looking after with the most successful trade in this country, tourism, is a blessing and to have agents such as Andheen and the Eco Centre here doing it, is a blessing again.
The amount of work done here is not only reflected by looking after just simply the reefs but the work that the centre provides or assists, to the island next door Rasdhoo is immense as well. We are fortunate that Rasdhoo is now a plastic bag free island, all because of the co centre here. We are also glad that Rasdhoo people are told and taught on how to look after the environment and how they may be able to manage there waste. None of these things are booming, its all in its infant stage. But we believe that, in time to come, with eco centre as this, integrated into inhabited islands and the tourism trade, we are on a winning track.
We will be able to do much more with the recognition that we are getting from the international community and also from the tourist trade. It gives us lots of encouragement, of course, I will take all my time to come here for tonight. I believe that this is important. I believe that our reefs are important and also we believe that it is, in a sense, a double advantage, because we have the trade also at the same time we have a system to understand the reef.
Centres such as this have been opened all through out the country in many resorts, but this of course is one of the leading centres and one of the first centres and therefore I am so glad that I am here tonight.
The Maldives intend to become an example in looking after its environment. We make a living out of the environment. What we sell is our environment - the sea, the sand, the sun and the reefs. Therefore, it is so important for us to be continuously looking after. We are attempting to find a development pattern that gives us this blessing of looking after reefs as well.
We also intend to become carbon neutral in 10 years time. We feel that it is ludicrous to keep on saying or equating development with carbon emission. We feel that it is possible for us to have a low carbon development strategy. To this end, we’ve done a carbon audit for the country. If we are to become carbon neutral, our carbon audit suggests that there is a fare amount of work to do. But the carbon audit always asked for investments from all sorts of areas. If Kuramathi can become carbon neutral in time to come, in the next ten years, and if the resorts are able to transform as rapidly as they are doing now, we think we would really be able to achieve our objectives much faster and much quicker than we thought we were going to do it.
So again, I am glad that Kuramathi has started the work in trying to make the island as carbon neutral as possible and the work is on going.
I am so glad that I am invited here tonight to say a few words. I will not take so much time I am sure there is lots to do. We have a good full moon, its full moon Poya day and we have good weather it’s very important that you enjoy yourselves in the Maldives. A part of your life is trying to have a good time. Make your self happy and make your self at home.
We will look after our environment because it’s for us, it’s not because some one is telling us. It’s not because someone is forcing us. It’s not because we’ve signed a protocol. It’s not because we agreed on this convention with international community, but it is because of our children and our children’s children.
The Maldives has to survive. We have being in the middle of the Indian Ocean for the last 2000 years. We have a written history, or rather the last 5000 years we have a written history that goes back more than 1000 years. We cannot leave this place. We have to find ways and means of embracing ourselves. We call that adaptation and growing reefs as breakwaters is our best form of adaptation.
Biological engineering is what we are looking at and we hope that though these centres, we will be able to have better harbours without all the concrete.
You will now be able to see, you will wonder what is happening in the next door island in Rasdhoo. The government is building a harbour and I am the culprit. The government is building the harbour the islanders demand, they want a harbour there is no way I could say no to the harbour. So with a huge cost we build the harbour because they have to have there boats safely anchored and moored. But if we are able to understand nature much better than we do now, it is really quite possible, I am told, that reefs can be grown and it can be made as our first line of defence against erosion and as safe harbours.
There is so much work for the biologists for the academics. There is so much work for all of us and I am sure we will be at it. We will leave tonight and we will not relent, I am sure that Andheen will not relent. And it will go on and on. I am so glad again to reach you all and thank you very much.