Country Profiles

Maldives - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The Republic of Maldives consists of 1,192 tiny islands spread from north to south. With the islands surrounded by the ocean, the greatest diversity occurs in marine life. The 1,192 tiny, low-lying coral islands form 26 natural atolls. Coral reefs are the dominant ecosystems found in the islands of Maldives. The coral reef systems of the Maldives are the seventh largest in the world and cover an area approximately 8,900 km2 in size, which is approximately the fifth most diverse ecosystem of the world’s reef areas.

The Maldives has a total of 1,100 species of demersal and epipelagic fish, including sharks, 5 types of marine turtles, 21 species of whales and dolphins, 180 species of corals and 400 species of mollusks. There are 120 species of copepods, 15 species of amphipods, over 145 species of crabs and 48 species of shrimps. There are also 13 species of mangroves and 583 species of vascular plants. Additionally, two species of endemic fruit bats have been found. The bird species number 170 of which most are sea birds (103 of these birds are protected).

The terrestrial biodiversity of Maldives is limited due to the small size of the islands. Fauna and flora mostly associated with the tropical climate, coral soil and coastal regions are found on the islands. Native plants of the islands can be ecologically grouped into five categories of vegetation: beach pioneers, littoral hedge, sub littoral thicket, climax forest and mangrove and swamp forest. Many islets provide a number of natural sanctuaries for birds. Due to the absence of large freshwater bodies to support the system, there are only a few mangroves and swamps in some islands but these are not well-developed. Nearly three-quarters of available land area is less than 1 metre above mean high tide.

Being in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Maldives provides a fertile ground for the transfer of planktonic larvae of reef organisms and other marine life across the Indian Ocean, providing for the possibility of a rich endemic marine biodiversity. The living coral reefs are an ecosystem in their own right and among the richest in the world in terms of species diversity. One hundred and eighty different species of coral have been found in the Maldives. It has two of the largest natural atolls in the world: Thiladhunmathi Atoll with a total surface area of 3,788 km and Huvadhoo Atoll with a total surface area of 3,278 km.

Maldives is a country highly dependent on its natural resources for its national income, food and other basic needs. A study done on the economic values of biodiversity indicates that 98% of national exports, 89% of the GDP, 62% of foreign exchange and 71% of national employment are derived from biodiversity.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The pristine marine ecosystems of Maldives are being threatened by natural factors such as climate change and related factors such as coral bleaching. They are also threatened by anthropogenic activity such as tourism and over-exploitation without consideration given to biodiversity. Pollution from uncontrolled waste disposal, untreated sewage and land reclamation and channel building are major threats to the biodiversity. However, turtle and shark fishing have been banned, as has coral mining. Threats or pressures on terrestrial biodiversity include damage due to unsustainable agricultural practices, such as overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, removal of vegetation for infrastructure and human settlement, and developmental practices.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The guiding principles of the NBSAP (2002) are: ecological sustainability, individual responsibility for biodiversity conservation, equitable sharing of benefits, accountability and transparency of decision-makers to the public, and community participation. The NBSAP was formulated with wide consultation and extensive stakeholder participation and built on three fundamental goals, 15 objectives, including an objective on implementation, and associated strategies or measures. A comprehensive approach is adopted where biodiversity conservation issues are integrated into all areas of national development, planning, policy and administration.

The Ministry of Environment and Energy is responsible for implementing the NBSAP, with other lead institutions taking responsibility for activities which fall within their mandate. These institutions incorporate the relevant activities into their work programmes. The lead institutions include the Environmental Protection Agency, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, Marine Research Center, Ministry of Tourism, Local Councils, Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Education, and local institutions, such as Island Development Committees and Women’s Development Committees and NGOs.

The Maldives has prioritized a review of the NBSAP, with guidance provided by the provisions of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and has completed the consultation process with 20 administrative atolls and all relevant government organizations. Additionally, Maldives has established a technical committee to guide the process of NBSAP review.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The Maldives has made progress in achieving success in a number of global goals and targets, with 44 protected areas, covering 428,569 hectares of marine area and 273 hectares of land area, currently protected under the Environment Protection and Preservation Act 4/93 (this figure includes marine and terrestrial protected areas).

A list has been established which identifies 387 areas rich in biodiversity as sensitive areas. These include possible fish breeding areas, bird sanctuaries, micro atolls, islands, mangroves and marine areas. In addition, turtles are protected by a ten-year moratorium and certain rare species that are likely to be threatened or endangered are prohibited from being exploited and exported. Harvesting sea turtle eggs is prohibited in ten selected parts of the country where sea turtles are under severe threat; a turtle management plan is in the final stages of development. A whale shark aggregation area (the “Hanifaru”) was declared a marine protected area in 2009 and a management plan has been in effect since 2013, and a ban on shark fishing since 2010.

One key program is the Atoll Environment Conservation (AEC) Project funded by the Global Environment Facility which has supported biodiversity-related projects, especially in Baa Atoll, under which Baa Atoll was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2011.

The National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), developed in 2007, as well as the National Environmental Action Plan III (NEAPIII), developed in 2009, contain plans, policies and strategies to address challenges to biodiversity from climate change.

Regulations and efforts have been made to reduce pollution through waste management measures, roadworthiness requirements, applying ICAO standards for air quality and IMO standards for marine pollution control and biosafety.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

Very little of the country’s biodiversity is currently protected. Policies and action plans regarding the management and integration of protected areas exist in all key national policy documents, such as the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), National Environment Action Plan (NEAP) and National Development Plans (NDPs). Most existing measures and policies on protected areas in the NBSAP are being implemented through the National Development Plan (NDP). The Maldives does not have any specific legislation for protected areas but is currently formulating a new regulation on protected areas.

Protected status has been granted to 42 areas including dive sites, mangroves and some ecologically significant islands, 103 species of birds, 14 marine species and black turtles.

Environmental protection currently accounts for an extremely low share of the budgets of the Government and overseas donors. There is currently a need to create a variety of financing mechanisms, notably between the Ministries of Finance and Treasury, and other relevant implementing agencies. Through the AEC project, Maldives has established a Conservation Fund for Baa Atoll to fund conservation and many other sustainable activities in Baa Atoll. However, funding and resources are still inadequate for long-term conservation of the atoll.

There are increasingly more attempts to raise public awareness of biodiversity issues. In Maldives, biodiversity is taught through the subject “Environmental Science” which is in the curriculum of all primary schools. Additionally, environment-related issues are incorporated into education programs for primary teachers. However, environmental studies, especially biodiversity, is not included in secondary and higher secondary education. Information on biodiversity issues is provided in the media (television, radio) and on the Internet and, more recently, social media has become an effective means of communicating to the public.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

There is currently no coordination system in place which helps monitor and review implementation strategies. It is hoped that regular monitoring and review mechanisms for the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan can be established through a focus on community participation and establishing clear indicators in the new NBSAP.