The first ever Laamu Atoll inte-risland “Save the Sea Turtles” Festival took place on the local island of Maavah on April 30, 2016 and began as a partnership between Six Senses Laamu and the South Central Division of the Maldives Police Service.
With the theme “Turtles in Laam (Laamu) – Safe and Protected” the aim of the all-day festival was to unite the islands of the atoll, while raising awareness and providing education about the importance of turtle conservation.
Sea turtles are an integral part of the fragile marine ecosystem and they play vital roles in maintaining the health of the ocean. These roles range from balancing productive coral reef ecosystems to transporting essential nutrients from the oceans to beaches and coastal areas. Unfortunately, worldwide, six of the seven sea turtle species are classified as threatened or endangered due to human actions and lifestyles. Poaching and illegal trade of eggs, meat, and shells, commercial fishing, loss of nesting habitat and ocean pollution are among the human-caused threats pushing sea turtles towards extinction. As sea turtle populations decline, so does their ability to fulfill vital functions in ocean ecosystems. Through education and awareness, Six Senses Laamu hopes to help further conserve the important turtle population in the Laamu Atoll.
The festival had over 600 attendees throughout the day including students, parents, resort hosts, community organisations, local officials and residents of the various atoll islands and the Laamu Project Manta Trust team. Five main schools, students, parents and faculty participated in this important event namely the Maavashu School, the L. Maamendhoo School, the Laamu Hithadhoo School, the Laamu Atoll Education Centre and the Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani School.
Six Senses Laamu were honoured to have United Nations Resident Coordinator and United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative to the Maldives, Shoko Noda, and Ministry of Environment and Energy Senior Policy Executive, Dr. Abdulla Naseer, as chief guests.
Dr. Abdulla Naseer said, “It was an unforgettable experience which symbolises the environmental standards that we wish to send in the country. I wish to note the high level of attendance to the Festival from all sectors and agencies active in Laamu. This is the type of commitment and awareness we wish to raise in all the atolls. The leadership Six Senses Laamu has shown in accomplishing this is commendable. The relationship the resort maintains with communities through its hosts was particularly noteworthy and that is the secret of its success.”
Shoko Noda added, “Six Senses Laamu, in organising the first Sea Turtle Protection & Awareness Festival in the Maldives, has demonstrated industry leadership in advancing conservation in Laamu Atoll. The festival has been a great step to raise community awareness, so that people can care enough to trigger meaningful change. Collective efforts from partners are vital to ensure this magnificent creature continues to grace our world. We are heartened by such efforts that share in the UN’s vision to sustain healthier and more resilient marine and coastal ecosystems in the Maldives.”
The day included various contests, games and educational booths surrounding the importance of sea turtles. Events leading up to the final day included a t-shirt design contest and a drawing competition. Beach and reef cleans took place prior to the event to educate students on the importance of keeping waste out of the ocean. The collected waste was used in a large turtle display to demonstrate that if we do not keep waste out of the oceans, it becomes life-threatening to sea turtles. The most popular event proved to be the turtle-themed sand sculpture competition between the schools, judged by Shoko Noda, which brought incredibly creative designs by all students.
Superintendent Ahmed Shakir, commander of South Central Police Division of the Maldives, said, “As per the Environmental Protection and Preservation Act (4/93), all marine turtles, their eggs and habitats are declared protected. We will do everything possible to create awareness among the local communities, as any act of violation is punishable under the Environment Liability Regulation. We advise the local community to protect and preserve the marine turtles and take pride in saying Turtles in Laam – safe and protected.”
Marteyne van Well, general manager, and Megan Latta, sustainability officer of Six Senses Laamu shared, “We pride ourselves on being a sustainable resort and this day is a perfect embodiment of what this means; multiple groups from different parts of the community coming together to do something positive for the environment. We hope this is the first step of many in the continued efforts of this atoll, not only around environmental awareness, but also around unique and important ways of educating our students. Students truly are the future and we must do our best to engage and support everyone to make sure that we set the right path towards a very bright and positive future.”