Out of sight, out of mind is generally the rule of thumb around the globe when it comes to the garbage we create every day. No matter how religious we might be about recycling, invariably each one of us is still responsible for filling a garbage bag or two each week, which then gets sets out on the curb, and—poof!—magically disappears.
In supersized nations like the United States, Canada, Russia, or Germany, landfills are usually hidden from view (out of sight, out of mind) but in small island-nations like the Maldives, entire islands have been turned into dumps.
The name of the Maldivian rubbish island is Thilafushi. It sits just four miles off the main island of Male and is distinguished by the thick black smoke rising from it all day long. To reach the trash-only island, you pass Prison Island (to hold miscreants and scofflaws) and Apartment Island (to hold the country’s ever-expanding human population).
On Male, rocked recently by a presidential coup, more than 100,000 people live squeezed into one-and-a-half-square miles. Despite the cramped space on an island in the heart of the Indian Ocean, theirs is a modern existence, with cars and motor scooters, apartment buildings, shopping malls, markets and government offices. Nearby, Airport Island is connected by a flotilla of floating taxis.
All of this living produces a lot of garbage. Rather than sink it to the bottom of the sea (which I’m sure was the practice not so long ago), it is now all boated to Thilafushi, which is today completely covered in trash. Sadly, a poisonous fog hangs over what might have been just another of the 1,200 gorgeous Maldivian islands.
This one is a faux island, though, created in 1992 to hold the country’s garbage. Today it receives 300 to 400 tons of trash each day. Locals are responsible, of course, but so are the 850,000 tourists who visited last year, each of them producing more than seven pounds of trash a day (five times what small island Maldivians produce). A few of the resort islands have focused on recycling, reducing use of plastic, and have built their own waste-to-energy plants, but just a handful.
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One major worry is that if toxic products such as mercury, lead, or asbestos leak into the sea, it will have a dramatic effect on the undersea environment and will eventually find its way into the food chain. Initially, the garbage was buried on the island; now it is burned. The nasty smoke gives residents of Male headaches and coughs, especially when the winds blow from the west. Bluepeace, the 30-year-old environmental group that monitors local issues, calls the garbage island a “toxic bomb in the ocean.”
Fifty years ago when waste produced on islands was fish bones and coconut shells, getting rid of it was simple. Toss it into the sea. Those days are long gone. On every island I’ve visited in the Maldives, there are trash heaps lining one shoreline or another. This was made most evident the first time I visited—just after the tsunami of 2004—because the big waves that washed over the islands carried the trash everywhere.
With sea levels rising in the Maldives—eight inches in the last century—and with 80 percent of the nation’s land less than three feet above sea level, where to put trash is just one of its many problems.
Maldivian authorities say they are working to reduce the toxic effects from Thilafushi. A proposed law would limit the types of garbage allowed to be burned to only organic materials. Another solution is exporting its recyclable waste, mostly iron and plastic, to China, Malaysia, and neighboring India.
Meaning that soon the Maldives’ two biggest exports will be fish…and garbage.
What should island-nations, like the Maldives, do with the trash they produce: a) bury it; b) burn it; or c) ship it to China? Tell us your answer in the comments.
Jon Shenk had never been to the Maldives when, in the fall of 2008, he read about a young activist named Mohamed Nasheed who had just become the country’s first democratically elected president after 30 years of horrific dictatorship.
Photo: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters
“When I started paying attention to Nasheed’s presidency, I was struck by his willingness to say these brutally honest things about the global environment. His was a truly unique political story.
“A lightbulb went on in my head. Here was a chance to completely shift the conversation about climate change from something a lot of people consider boring or are powerless over—climate change—to a story with both inherent drama and a kind of hero.
Weeks later the San Francisco-based filmmaker—who was director of 2004’s Lost Boys of Sudan and was DP on the Academy Award-winning Smile Pinki—was face-to-face with the new president, attempting to convince Nasheed to be the subject of a David-versus-Goliath bio-doc.
Shenk asked for unprecedented fly-on-the-wall access to the president, his office, his travels, and backroom negotiations. Within three minutes after meeting, Nasheed agreed.
The filmmakers ultimately trailed the president across five continents, filming him 78 times, gaining backroom access to high-level climate-change negotiations at both the U.N. and Copenhagen’s international climate-change conference in November 2009, where the film ends.
But Shenk could not have predicted that just as his film was to be released across the country, Nasheed would be forced out of office by a coup d’état.
“Only later,” Shenk tells me on the eve of the nationwide opening of The Island President, “did he tell me he never thought we’d stick around as long as we did.”
As I talk to Shenk, he keeps his fingers tightly crossed, hopeful that among the film’s opening-night guests at New York’s Film Forum (on Wednesday) will be the now-ousted island president.
Jon Bowermaster/TakePart: What was your reaction when you heard President Nasheed had resigned, on February 7?
Jon Shenk: It was devastatingly sad news. I was immediately worried for his safety, and his family’s safety.
During our research I’d seen hours of [archival] footage of what is possible when people want to use force in the Maldives, and what we saw last month when he was forced out of office looked eerily similar to the protests he’d led during the fight for democracy days.
One of the first things he did when he was elected was to order all of that riot gear be put away. But as soon as he was deposed, all that stuff—batons, pepper spray, water cannons—came out of the closet.
Jon Bowermaster/TakePart: His deposing was amazing in how quickly it happened, a kind of reverse Arab Spring. You had a democratically elected president being forced out by allies of the dictator he had worked so hard to defeat.
Jon Shenk: It was spooky because late last year Nasheed had publicly cautioned activists in Egypt and Tunisia that just because you oust a dictator doesn’t mean it’s over. Sure enough, he became the victim of just that.
Jon Bowermaster/TakePart: Even with the incredible access you had to the president and his backroom meetings and strategy, was it difficult to film a sitting president?
Jon Shenk: Yes and no. While we had his cooperation, having one man’s cooperation in the Maldives did not mean it was all carte blanche. The Maldives is a country that had been traumatized, so people were wary of cooperating with us. These are people who had lived under a dictator, with people disappearing and constantly fearful of disappearing. We would ask questions about politics, and people would whisper back to us, looking around first before answering to make sure no one was listening.
I got the sense from the start that the shadow of the dictator had not gone away. At the time I thought that was absurd, that the dictator was never going to take power again. Of course, now I’ve been proven wrong: their fears were founded.
Jon Bowermaster/TakePart: As a journalist and human rights activist before being elected president, Nasheed had been imprisoned by his predecessor, held in solitary confinement, and tortured. He clearly is a big believer in transparency and a free press and has been very good at reaching out to the media. As president he vowed to make the Maldives the first carbon-neutral country and held an underwater cabinet meeting to illustrate the coming impacts of climate change on low-lying island nations. In your time with him would you consider him more activist…or politician?
“…what you see in the film is this journey, this guy trying to get something done that is so bloody hard, nearly impossible. And then to read at the end that he’s been deposed by his enemies—it’s like twisting the knife in.”
Jon Shenk: He’s been an activist for much of his life, a Martin Luther King/Gandhi-like figure. To put his own safety on the line, to put up with solitary confinement and torture…this is not activism light.
But he is the first to admit that in order to get attention for important issues you have to be dramatic. He’s better at that than any politician I can think of.
So while he’d spent his life organizing on the streets and Internet I was amazed by how really good at governing he became when he stepped into office. But ultimately his efforts to turn out the entrenched corruption in the Maldives and create a functional economy made him a victim of the very wealthy people who were no longer getting their share as he tried to change the system.
Jon Bowermaster/TakePart: What do you think of the criticism Nasheed was receiving in the Maldives before he was ousted that he was spending too much time traveling and working on international climate-change issues and not enough time at home focused on local problems like the economy, crime, drugs, education, etc.?
Jon Shenk: We showed The Island President at a theater in (the Maldivian capitol) Male for a week in November, and it got almost unanimously positive reviews, even from opposition websites. They said they had no idea what he was doing when he went abroad, but when they saw the film, when they saw him trying to get adaptation money and mitigation for the future, then they understood.
When he traveled abroad he was obviously working on international issues that couldn’t be more important to the Maldives. In the film you see him working like a dog. If I were a Maldivian, I would realize this is not some playboy going off to have fun; he was a hard-working negotiator working on behalf of the Maldives.
Jon Bowermaster/TakePart: Though he’s only been out of the presidency a few weeks, do you have any idea what’s next for him?
Jon Shenk: I asked him the same question over the phone 10 days ago. What he said kind of shocked me in its optimism. He basically said he thinks this may turn out to be a good thing, that if and when there are new elections in the Maldives, the people are going to know much more about who the remnants of the corrupt oligarchy are. Perhaps if Nasheed or some decent person is able to take power again, maybe that person will have more leeway to root out the criminals.
I look forward to following his career. The world of international climate politics is virtually impossible to change, because there is so much inertia. But he has carved out a place for himself in the environmental movement, which is looking for leadership.
Of course, that’s all on a back burner right now since he fears for his life and is still trying to maintain democracy in the Maldives. Because he’s smart, charismatic, and knows what’s right and wrong, I think he still has an amazing career ahead of him.
Jon Bowermaster/TakePart: Have you made any changes to the film given that he is no longer the president?
Jon Shenk: We never really saw this film as a news story but as a kind of David vs. Goliath tale about one of the “good people.” You see him standing up to leaders from China, Europe, the U.S. and India, saying over and over, “We’re not going to stand down.” So the film is really about leadership and the story of a man and how he’s chosen to live his life.
To change the film would pierce that. It is about what happened to him during that period, a precious document of that time of his life.
We did add a card at the end of the film that explains what’s gone on in the last couple months. I’ve been in audiences when that card comes up at the end, and there are audible sighs, because what you see in the film is this journey, this guy trying to get something done that is so bloody hard, nearly impossible. And then to read at the end that he’s been deposed by his enemies—it’s like twisting the knife in.
In a move surprising to those not living in the Maldives—where most of the recent press has focused on its green-thinking on climate change and carbon use—the island nation’s president, Mohammed Nasheed, has apparently been forced out in a coup d’etat. Vice president Dr. Waheed Hassan has been sworn in as the new president.
Fingers are being pointed at allies of the previous president, Maumoon Gayoom, for orchestrating Nasheed’s resignation. It was the Gayoom administration, which spanned 30 years, that had locked up and tortured a younger Nasheed before he became the first democratically elected president in the country’s history.
While celebrated internationally for his environmental politics, Nasheed’s presidency has been at risk at home. Critics have claimed the “Island President” (the name of the documentary that has recently won awards and attention at festivals from Toronto to Sundance) was paying too much attention to global issues and not enough to his backyard; others complained his leadership was not “Islamic enough” for the all-Muslim nation.
In recent months the country has experienced its own brand of “Arab Spring,” but rather than oust a dictator, this movement was against the country’s first democratically elected president.
Three weeks ago President Nasheed ordered the arrest and jailing of a high court judge—an ally of the former president—on charges of corruption. Street protests against the president, said to have been coordinated by allies of the former president—including a half-brother and members of his security force—were successful enough for the military to be sent into the streets.
Nasheed’s resignation speech indicated he was stepping down to avoid further and more serious clashes between the military, the police and protestors. It is being reported that he claims to have stepped down after being threatened by policemen with guns and that he is now being held under a kind of house arrest. There have also been reports that the now former president may have been injured during continued street protests.
Coincidentally, when I flew into the Maldives four months ago, I landed at the southern island of Laamu, where a sizable crowd was gathered on the sidewalk outside the airport. The street was clogged with women in headscarves and men in pickup trucks. They seemed to be surrounding a man walking. I asked what all the hubbub was about and was told it was former president Gayoom, who was clearly still liked by many.
One of the ironies of Nasheed’s three-year-long democracy is that a number of political parties emerged during that time, including one devoted to his predecessor. When I met Nasheed later that week, he was clearly worried about his upcoming re-election, especially due to the loyalty of Gayoom’s Progressive Party and a handful of other, smaller pro-Islamic political parties. I don’t think then that he envisioned his presidency would last just another 100 days and that he would be forced to quit.
That same day I had dinner with then-Vice President Dr. Waheed Hassan, a seemingly kind man who had previously worked for UNICEF, and his wife, a teacher who schooled students in her home. When asked at dinner (by Richard Branson) if he wanted to be president, he politely deferred. I’m sure he did not imagine that night that 100 days later he would be sworn into office.
Reports show military men going in and out of Nasheed’s private residence, carrying out boxes, including so-called “illicits” like liquor bottles. Be sure and read the accounts in The Guardian by Nasheed’s environmental adviser, Mark Lynas, who reports: “Gayoom controls the judiciary, now the executive, the media, and in couple of weeks probably the parliament. One thing he cannot control is popular support for President Nasheed, so he needs to find a way to jail or discredit him ahead of the 2013 election,” the spokesperson said.
“Using violence and then taking over the TV station, as well as recruiting converts among the police, the anti-democratic opposition faced Nasheed with a choice—to either use force or resign,” writes Lynas. “Ever the human rights activist, he chose the latter option and stepped down to avoid bloodshed. Even as I write, his whereabouts are still unknown, and though he is supposedly in the ‘protection’ of the military I fear desperately for his personal safety and that of his family. I have heard that he is currently being held against his will under military house arrest, in which case he must be immediately released. All I can do is take comfort from the fact that the struggle can only continue for a man famous in the west for his outspokenness on climate change, but whose real lifelong cause has been his commitment to bringing democracy to his Indian Ocean island homeland.”
Several members of the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) were seriously injured during the lead-up to Nasheed’s resignation and some are reportedly missing. Part of the president’s decision to quit was hoping to avoid a bloodbath on the streets of the capital city Male, where 100,000 citizens live, squeezed into 1.5 square miles.
Kunahadhoo Island — On a very hot, very typical, mid-morning in the Maldives, I walked the streets of this tiny island just north of the equator.
Indian film director Shekhar Kapur, Photo: Scott Needham/Six Senses
Most of its 800 residents had gathered at the shoreline to greet visitors from a nearby island. While they focused on a first-of-a-kind beach cleanup along the rocky coast, accompanied by a drum band and dancing, I took a small walking tour looking for something the Maldives doesn’t have much of: drinking water.
(A late morning visit to its elementary school provided another interesting glimpse into island life. While most of the students raised their hands and said they knew how to swim, virtually none had ever worn a mask and snorkel, so had no idea of the rich life that surrounded their island home.)
It was quickly evident from the jury-rigged plumbing systems fitted to the exteriors of most of the one-story cement homes that the options for delivering clean water were few. Some homes had barrels for collecting rainwater; others had wells dug into the rocky island terrain. Most of them, they admitted, leaked.
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A recent news story from another Maldivian island group exemplified the problem, reporting that a dozen islands had nearly run out of water completely. Everyone on the island also admitted that if it weren’t for the arrival of the weekly cargo boat, and its bottles of water in plastic, they wouldn’t last a week on what they had in storage.
“I am very upset with the government because we need water,” 42-year-old Jameela Aboobakuru from Gaafaru had explained to the Maldives Bug. “We ran out of water, so we borrowed water from our brother. When he ran out of water we started buying bottled water imported from Male.”
She said her 12-member family was spending $22 a day to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking, on a combined daily income of just $26.
“She said her 12-member family was spending $22 a day to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking, on a combined daily income of just $26.”
That means 85 percent of their income was going to buy fresh water.
The response from the government in Male was that it was installing water makers in a boat that could travel from island to island to help out in such emergencies.
Just two days before my walk around Kunahadhoo, the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu had actually declared a state of emergency due to a severe shortage of fresh water. Officials in that Indian Ocean island group were reporting that some parts of the country had only two days of water left. Its tiny island of Nukulaelae reported it had just 60 liters of drinking water left for 330 people.
Like the Maldives, Tuvalu relies almost exclusively on rainwater collected from the roofs of homes and government buildings to supply a population of 10,000.
“Like the Maldives, Tuvalu relies almost exclusively on rainwater collected from the roofs of homes and government buildings to supply a population of 10,000.”
Speaking at the WaterWoMen conference I was attending on the neighboring island in Laamu Atoll, Dr. Jacqueline Chan, president of Water Charity, which helps communities around the world find clean water and sanitation, reminded us all that the lack of clean water was certainly not a problem faced by the Maldives or Tuvalu alone.
“There are 884 million people in the world without access to safe water,” she said. “That’s the equivalent of the populations of the U.S., Vietnam, Germany, the U.K., Kuwait, Russia, Thailand, France, Italy and Qatar combined. “If all those countries had no water, would we do something? Or just stand by and watch?”
In a lively debate that concluded the day, Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age) was specific in his prediction about the planet’s future when it comes to clean water: “Long before we run out of water, we’ll go to war over it.
“Nature loves cockroaches and algae as much as it does people, and it’s possible only they will survive.”
LAAMU, Maldives — A fast-moving rainstorm blew over the small atoll late in the afternoon, briefly cooling a typically humid day just 100 miles north of the equator. But within 20 minutes the sun was back, hot and bright, the air even thicker. Aaaaaah, paradise!
I was desperate for some cooling off, having spent the morning wrestling with something I thought I’d mastered long ago: how to breathe.
The lessons had taken place in a pool behind one of the guesthouses at the new Six Senses Laamu resort, where I’d joined a dozen superstar water athletes from around the world—surfers, kite boarders and windsurfers—for a unique conference of ocean doers and thinkers, dubbed WaterWoMen.
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The morning test was actually less about learning how to breathe and more about practicing how not to.
Our supervisor stood waist-deep in the pool, the Indian Ocean serving as backdrop, as we dunked our heads. Stopwatch in hand, German free diver extraordinaire Anna von Boetticher was serious about the task and admitted to being a little daunted by the water talent in the pool with her…even though she is an elite as well: one of the world’s best at holding her breath and going deep.
While we were experimenting in the relative safety of a four-foot-deep, suburban-variety chlorinated pool, Anna has dived to record depths of more than 200 feet with one breath wearing just a pair of oversized swim fins and a mask.
“…Anna has dived to record depths of more than 200 feet with one breath wearing just a pair of oversized swim fins and a mask.”
The goal of the four-day conference was to connect water-doers with water-thinkers and see where their lives and experiences overlapped and what they might learn from each other’s experiences.
While intellectual surfing may sound a bit presumptuous, that’s exactly what went on between sessions in the pool and ocean.
Talks held under the shade of palms took on some of the trickiest questions facing the ocean today: how to protect more of it, how to provide clean drinking water for island nations and how to preserve and regrow damaged fisheries and reefs.
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To my right in the swimming pool, taking deep breaths and then hanging by fingertips to its edge, was one of the best-known big-wave surfers in the world. This was a guy who had on many occasions been washing machined by 60-foot waves, having to fight to get back to the surface for a life-saving breath before being hammered again by thousands of pounds of crashing water.
It made sense that he’d lower his pride to hang out in a swimming pool to pick up some pointers on how to stay under longer. I think we were both surprised that his initial try lasted barely two minutes. Others in the pool were keeping their heads under nearly five minutes (and admittedly nearly passing out). It became quickly clear that thinking about holding your breath under water only made it more difficult.
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My skimpy personal best was just under three minutes; if you’d asked before the lessons began, I would have guessed I’d make it 30 seconds, tops.
“It’s all about the first breath you take,” said Anna, “and then relaxing. You can think about anything you want while you’re underwater except when you are going to get your next breath. Think about your girlfriend, or climbing a mountain, or the book you are reading. Whatever you do, don’t think about how desperate you are for a breath.
“When you are about to give up, don’t. Stay under.
“And when you come up to the surface, don’t gasp and suck in air. Be calm, relaxed.” She explained that when she comes up from record free dive attempts— formally known as competitive apnea—she has to take off her mask, smile and wave with one hand, beauty-contest-style, to show judges she’s made the dive successfully and is not suffering from hypoxia and about to pass out.
“You can think about anything you want while you’re underwater except when you are going to get your next breath.”
During the morning pool session, to my left was 20-year-old Bethany Hamilton, recently in the media as the subject of Soul Surfer, the feature film about her being bitten by a shark off the coast of Hawaii and losing her arm when she was 13. Somewhat shyly, she had agreed to subject herself to Anna’s testing (she’d just come in from a dive and would later in the day try kite surfing for the first time). Her first attempt was just over two minutes, her second three and a half.
“It’s not as hard as everyone thinks,” said Anna, congratulating her. “Holding your breath is mostly about learning how to breathe.”
Anna’s big take-away came at the end of the session when debunking the Baywatch image of saving near-drowning victims by pumping violently on their chests and blowing spittle into their mouths.
She demonstrated the preferred method—the most efficient at actually saving people, she said—which involves light blowing on the cheeks and a little slap.
Of course if that doesn’t work, she admitted—and it had happened to her recently, on the way up from a record attempt to nearly 600 feet below— then move quickly to the chest pumping and spit swapping.
Laamu, Maldives — The recent four-day, ocean-focused conference—dubbed WaterWoMen by its sponsors, Six Senses Resorts and +H2O—was a first-of-a-kind blend of water sport activities and intellectual athleticism.
Photo: Cat Vinton/Six Senses
In attendance were not just some of the world’s top water athletes (surfers, windsurfers, free divers, kite boarders) but also some of the planet’s more thoughtful thinkers on ocean issues.
On the athlete side were surfers Layne Beachley and Buzzy Kerbox, windsurfers Levi Silver and Keith Teboul, kite surfers Mark Shinn and Alex Caizergues, and extreme wake boarder Duncan Zuur.
The slightly less active contingent included biologist and oceanographer Dr. Callum Roberts; aquatic filmmaker and third-generation ocean lover Fabien Cousteau; director of the IUCN’s Global Marine Program, Carl Gustaf Lundin; Bollywood producer/director Shekhar Kapur; executive producer of the film The End of the Line, Chris Gorell Barnes; and Water Charity cofounders, Dr. Jacqueline Chan and Averill Strasser.
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The conference was also a coming out party for the resort, located on this remote Maldivian atoll just 100 miles north of the equator. The Maldives is perhaps the perfect place for such a meeting since warming sea temperatures have put its coral reefs at risk, thus endangering both its local population and the tourism industry that is its economic base. The event was prudently also a fundraiser for a trio of ocean nonprofits:
The Blue Marine Foundation (www.bluemarinefoundation.com), a recent initiative created by Barnes pushing for ten percent of the world’s ocean to be placed into marine reserves by 2020 (today less than one percent is protected);
Plant A Fish (www.plantafish.org), Fabien Cousteau’s hands-on marine education and restoration effort to “re-plant” aquatic plants and animals in environmentally stressed areas by engaging local communities around the globe through schools, businesses and government agencies;
and Water Charity (www.watercharity.org), which is focused on providing safe drinking water, effective sanitation and health education to those most in need via the most cost-effective and efficient means.
One of the key subjects discussed whenever marine folk gather is how to better protect the ocean at the edges of our coastlines. The statistics are simple and seemingly ridiculous: More than 12 percent of the Earth’s land is protected, whether as park, reserve, preserve or sanctuary. Of the ocean, which covers nearly 72 percent of the planet, far less than 1 percent is formally protected.
“Lundin liked the example of Malaysians, who, after catching a boat poaching in its waters, sink it within 24 hours.”
The Maldives is proudly home to the new, 1,200-kilometer-square Baa Atoll World Biosphere Reserve. And at one of the gathering’s frank talks about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Callum Roberts, whose Unnatural History of the Sea is perhaps the best book out there about how man has so badly treated the ocean over the past 500 years, launched the discussion and was most direct: “So-called paper MPAs won’t work,” he said, referring to all the talking and thinking about protecting parts of the ocean that goes on without actually doing anything. “Establishing them, then enforcing the boundaries is key.”
“And only local protection works,” he continued. “Bringing in environmental groups or government agencies from outside won’t work. Local people have to protect their own waters.”
Calling MPAs “barometers” of the ocean, he said he was thankful for the newly announced set aside of the Baa Atoll—one of 26 big atolls that make up the Maldives, which include more than 800 individual islands or smaller atolls—because the Indian Ocean that surrounds the island state has been badly impacted by development stress, overfishing, pollution and, particularly, the impacts of climate change.
Chris Gorrell Barnes, whose Blue Marine Foundation—created as a follow up to the success of the End of the Line—was among several instrumental in getting the Baa Atoll approved as an official UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, excalimed, “What we need now is not more science, but money. The biggest challenge is how to fund marine reserves, especially in bad economic times,” said Barnes.
Working with the IUCN, an MPA five times the size of the one in the Maldives has been set up in the Chagos Islands. “But in order to get that accomplished,” said Barnes, “we had to raise outside money to help the U.K. government, which is a prosperous First World nation. Imagine how difficult it is for countries in the developing world to find money to protect the ocean.”
Roberts chimed in that the money needed to protect even 30 percent of the ocean was not that much, in the big picture. “That would cost just over $14 billion,” he said, “or about the amount spent on beauty care products each year.”
Carl Gustaf Lundin, who oversees marine and polar programs for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which is responsible for helping create MPAs around the globe, suggested that $14 billion was paltry compared to the $70 billion spent by countries around the world to subsidize fishermen. “The big question for MPAs, including here in the Maldives, is how do you subsidize people not to fish?”
He dove off Laamu earlier in the morning and had seen just five big fish in a stretcher where “I should have seen 50.”
“We have to do better at teaching people that a live manta ray, which helps bring millions of tourist dollars to the Maldives, is a far better deal than killing and selling its gills to China for a few hundred dollars.
“But the time to act is now,” he continued,” since we’ve only got 10 percent of the fish left.”
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“We have helped many areas in India gain protection, but enforcement then becomes a low priority. The reality is that you have to hang a few people high from time to time, as example, to help with enforcement,” he said. He agreed with Roberts that enforcement was key to making MPAs work.
The IUCN keeps a list of scofflaw vessels around the globe, including the names of ships and their captains, but Lundin liked the example of Malaysians, who, after catching a boat poaching in its waters, sink it within 24 hours.
“‘Warm and fuzzy’ doesn’t always work,” he said. “For MPAs to work, enforcement must be swift and effective.”