Back in April we went to the Maldives for the last core class of the M.Sc Marine Systems and Policies programme.
I had never been so far East or far away from home. The journey to the Maldives was long as you can imagine. We first stopped in Istanbul, however, our layover was so short we didn’t leave the airport and instead we explored the airport, which is quite huge! Then we flew to the capital of the Maldives, which is Malé. I tried to sleep the entire flight. That was quite trippy as I woke up so far away from home in a different time zone without having felt the time pass by. The airport is on a little island, and upon exiting you are already greeted by the clear blue waters of the Maldives.
When I first saw the waters right outside the airport I remember thinking “Oh wow, it looks just like how it looks in magazines and on TV!”. The waters are seriously beautiful. We spent the day at the capital which lies on a surprisingly small island, jam-packed with buildings and motorbikes, leaving small sidewalks and roads to contend with.
That night we ate some Maldivian food on a restaurant with some delicious sugary mock-tails (Maldives is a Muslim country, which means they serve no alcohol for the most part). The following day we set out on a long and bumpy boat ride to the island of Dhigurah, were we would be staying for the remainder of our time.
Upon arrival we were greeted with smiles from the local groups we would be working with. After getting settled in our hotel we had an orientation and explore the island a bit. Throughout my time there I realized that this little island was very quiet and peaceful. While there are a reported ~600 people living on this island, I did not usually see many people walking around. I attributed this to the hot sun beating down on the island for most of the day. Despite the little people I saw, the people I did meet were extremely nice, albeit a bit cautious and shy at first.
Over the next few days we went diving tons! We did a total of five dives, and I was able to see so many amazing things. In my first dive there I ended up swimming along a sea turtle. I will never ever forget that! I never thought that would be something I would be lucky to experience something like that. The sea turtle was so calm and stared at me. It was amazing. I also saw sharks, rays, and so many different types of fish. As part of the diving we also learned how to do fish counts, using quadrants, and underwater transects. Fish count methods during diving were probably the hardest, it is really hard to stay still underwater and trying to be still gave me anxiety. I think, however, using quadrants underwater gave me more anxiety, as the current wants to move you and as you work on a transect it is pretty hard to stay still. Transects were really fun though! Since you have to move it isn’t hard, the current helps and you can jot down your data as you glide.
We also went on a trip with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme who taught us how they perform their on-going monitoring research of the whale sharks in the area. We luckily got to see a whale shark, which I will forever remember. When I was in second grade I found out what whale sharks were and used VHS to tape the Discovery channel documentary I was watching. I then took it to class and showed my classmates during show and tell. Little me did not expect to ever get the chance to see one only a few meters in front of me.
Following these experiences we also had a lecture on geomorphology, and we got to learn about the creation of sandy beaches, determine elevations of different parts of the island, determine which parts were eroding or accreting, and also learned about micro-atolls!
The last few days we were given the chance to develop a project using methods that we had learned, and then execute it. My project was on the perception of socio-culture change by the people of Dhigurah due to the increase in ecotourism and dependance on it for livelihoods. I worked with an anthropologist that came on the trip to help craft my questions and also worked with a local translator to help me communicate with some of the locals that didn’t know English, or were shy. I am beyond glad I chose to do this project because I was able to talk to islanders about their views and gain a greater understanding of their lifestyles. I was also even able to talk to a chief on the island council. There were islanders wary of how westerners would change their traditions and thought that the creation of a bikini beach for tourists did not fix the problem of foreigners walking around town in less-than acceptable clothing.
They also thought that this would be a bad influence for children and give them bad thoughts. Despite this view, many realized that their economic development was dependent on foreign tourism, and they had to balance their traditions with the economic needs of the community. The majority of people I talked to believed that there was a balance, and one women believed that there was even opportunity to practice their culture. An example she gave was the youth-produced Boduberu (traditional drumming) that could now be performed for visitors, and was not done as often in the past. This project has led to my interests in examining the community socio-cultural and economic development driven by increasing coastal tourism in the newly accessible, traditionally Islamic Maldivian islands. And what how vulnerabilities these islands may be acquiring from dependence on tourism, such as through climate change impacts on reefs and coasts.
After we finished the projects we presented our final outcomes on the last day on Dhigurah, which was very nice. While I knew the topic everyone had chosen, I, for the most part, had little knowledge of what everyone had exactly done. So it was great to hear how the complex and thorough job everyone had done. Some of these projects included waste management on a local island, examining microatolls for sea level rise, biodiversity of the intertidal zone, and tourist and whale shark interactions.
Overall I had the time of my life, learned lots, and the three buffet meals each day were a huge lovely bonus especially after running around the island all day!! 🙂 10/10 recommend.