As I flew away from the Maldives my thoughts were thick with its future. I had many opportunities to discuss climate change with people on three different islands.
I had a great conversation with Shaf in Dhangethi (Click Here). I had some side conversations with locals in other islands, but the ones that stood out the most to me were conversations with Ali, Ish, and Yaamin in Dhigurah as well as with Mustafa in Mahibadhoo.
Like everyone else, Ali attributes the biggest change in the Islands to be tourism. He remembers a time before electricity and the island getting its first generator. When asked about sea level rise, he said he hasn’t seen any. However when asked about climate change and its effects, he did relates some stories about coral bleaching. “I remember the first time I saw in 1998, I was with my brother in a beautiful coral garden and we saw many coral turning white. I said they were sick. My brother said: ‘No brother that is coral bleaching’. I said no it can’t be don’t say such things….but sure enough it was. Then it happened again in 2013 and 2016. It appears to be more frequent now. We used to have the most beautiful coral gardens. But now many of them have died. They may come back, but it takes so long.” I looked up the coral bleaching events in the Maldives. Aside from the massive world wide event in 1998 that attracted so much attention, there was also events in 2010, 2015-2016, 2017. He also told me that they read that the Crown of Thorns was an invasive species. Several years ago they organized a event where they caught and removed over 1000 crown of thorns from the reefs.
“I have not seen any sea level rise. I have seen some coral bleaching. But thing that is really different is the weather. We used to rarely get rain this time of year. Now we get rain more often. We also get more of it.”
(Year, Rainy Days In Dec, MM of Rain)
(2009, 22, 80.17mm)
(2010, 21, 178.58mm)
(2011, 23, 109.41mm)
(2012, 22, 143.38mm)
(2013, 18, 102.55mm)
(2014, 25, 114.62mm)
(2015, 19, 145.82mm)
(2016, 12, 124.93mm)
(2017, 17, 107.76mm)
(2018, 18, 147.7mm)
(2019, 21, 504mm)***as of Dec 24, 2019
The quantity of rain days hasn’t changed much, however the overall amount of rain appears to be on the rise.
“We learned about sea level rise when I was in school, but it never happened. So we continue.” Mustafa helped with a guest house in Mahibadhoo. Polite, educated, and open to talking about this topic, he was convinced that sea level was not rising. He did however say that the weather has changed in his lifetime. He also stated: “We are getting far more rain than we we used to” and “We used to have a beautiful coral garden right off the coast; however in 2016, much bleached.”
We met with Chloe and Ish from the Maldive Whale Shark Research Project. The kids received an amazing presentation about Whale Sharks. Chloe was from the UK and Ish was from the Southernmost atoll in the Maldives. We had a great but brief conversation. “Climate change is happening, but much of it is the Science of hopelessness.” Ish instead was dedicated and focused on impacting things she could change. “We live on islands, yet many of our people can’t swim. The more we move towards a Western style education, the farther removed we become from our marine way of life and heritage.” She educated me about the origins of the Maldives and worked to improve her community.
Parley is an organization that is trying to intercept and recycle plastic waste. On every island, we saw giant bundles of plastic in labeled Parley bags for pick up. In Digurah and Dhagethi, at their island waste management facilities, we saw massive amounts of plastic bottles being sorted from the trash.
Were they getting everything? No, were they getting alot? Yes. Sadly, most of these plastic bottles are coming from tourist demand. Locals use 5 gallon refillable containers for their drinking water. Tourists, including us, are too fickle and afraid of bad water driving the demand for water in freshly sealed plastic bottles. Our hotel in Dhagurah provided reusable bottles with access to filtered water. This was great, but an expensive item that some of the hotels have yet implement. A great article about what each island is trying to prevent from happening (Click Here)
I arrived at the Maldives with a sense of wonder and impending doom. My assumption was that this place would be underwater in 50 years or so. I left however with the hope that so many of the Maldivians had about the future. The future is uncertain, and there were so many working to make their place better. They have done so much in such a short time. It would be great if other countries followed some of their example!
Bunbaru Public Beach
The last place we visited was Bunbaru Public Beach. It used to be a dumping ground of garbage and waste. No one went there who didn’t have to. Over the last few years it has undergone a major clean up through community initiatives.
Now families come here a play and pass time. The cynic may say that this is akin to the band playing while the Titanic sinks. I however believe that this the path forward. Many small steps by communities everywhere may make the change needed.