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Support builds for code of conduct to protect gentle giants of South Ari Marine Protected Area

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A campaign launched this week is urging tourists to choose tour operators who have signed up to a new whale shark code of conduct when visiting the Maldives’ magnificent marine wildlife.

Launched by Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWRSP) and marine conservation charities Maldives Resilient Reefs (MRR) and Blue Marine Foundation, #BeGentleToGiants seeks to encourage both tour operators and marine wildlife visitors alike to protect this iconic gentle giant of the ocean from negative effects of marine encounters.

The South Ari Marine Protected Area (MPA), located in the Maldives, plays host to a unique and naturally occurring year-round aggregation, and to date, no whale shark found here has been recorded anywhere else in the world. Sadly, they are declining in abundance, reduced in numbers by at least 16 per cent since 2014.

Some 45 per cent of whale sharks in the South Ari MPA waters now show signs of major injury – many of which can be attributed to boat strikes. These happen when boats speed within the reef where whale sharks cruise in the warm, shallow waters to regain energy after long periods in deeper, colder water. The code of conduct requires operators to cruise below ten knots within the reef to reduce the risk of these collisions.

The code also recommends limiting disturbance to these filter-feeding sharks when swimming with them as encounters that are too crowded or noisy can alter their natural behaviour. The code of conduct promotes just one boat per shark, encouraging those in the water to give the whale sharks space and keep splashes and sudden movements to a minimum.

Shaha Hashim of Blue Marine and MRR said: “The current whale shark tourism in the South Ari MPA is not only unsustainable, but it is also dangerous for the whale sharks and the tourists. It is crucial that all tour operators who use the area sign up to the #BeGentleToGiants code of conduct and abide by it to safeguard the whale sharks and their businesses while providing an enjoyable experience to their guests. In the past, we have seen how the Maldives tourism industry can be a driver of conservation and it’s time for them to step up again.”

Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme said: “South Ari atoll MPA is desperately in need of better protection, and we can all agree that full-on enforcement of the regulations set in place can only be achieved through a proper management plan. That said, each and every one of us using the area for its various ecosystem services have a role in ensuring our individual impact on the area is minimal, and that our actions do not lead to the degradation of the population and habitat of these gentle giants.”

Ibrahim Usman, President of Dhigurah Council: “Dhigurah has always been a partner to protect South Ari Atoll MPA since the work began in Maldives by the Maldives whale shark research programme. Whale shark snorkelling is the most important marketing tool for the nearby resorts and our island guest houses as well. Therefore, protecting whale sharks is very vital to promoting tourism in South Ari and the Maldives. To protect whale sharks, we must give our commitment and support in all activities and practices that promote policies and regulations in the South Ari MPA. Dhigurah Council and the whole community will definitely support the campaign.”

John Rogers, General Manager of LUX* South Ari Atoll which is championing the code of conduct, said: “We actively promote and follow the code of conduct for swimming with the whale sharks during each excursion; educating our guests on the importance of respecting these amazing creatures by providing awareness sessions prior to entering the water. It would be great to see whale shark tourism in the Maldives carefully regulated to avoid losing sight of whale sharks completely. Proper regulations will not only protect the sharks but it will continue to attract the tourists to visit South Ari Atoll and benefit the tourist industry in the long term.”

Alexandra Jamaica at Scubaspa:  “With increasing number of tourist vessels entering SAMPA every day, we observe whale sharks being harassed by visitors and struck by speeding boats on a daily basis. Guides and operators need to take responsibility for the protection of our whale sharks, starting with extensive safety briefings and enforcing the simple Code of Conduct among their guests. Hopefully the Gentle to Giants campaign will reach many local and tourist ocean enthusiasts and inspire them to make a difference.”

Amir Schmidt at MV KEANA said: “It seems like whale sharks are home to Maldives before there were even humans. Over time human impact has reached alarming levels on the atoll ecosystems. Nobody actually wants to hunt down a whale shark together with a dozen different boats but it’s happening. Nobody wants to encircle a whale shark together with dozens of people not giving the fish its space but it’s happening. Nobody wants to ride over a whale shark with the boat but it’s happening. All stakeholders need to make a choice. Time is running out.”

Andre Horn at dive centre from resorts, EURODIVERS, said: “Whale sharks have roamed the oceans for over 70 million years and are an indicator of a healthy ocean itself. As whale sharks feed on ocean plankton, their role in regulating the ocean is as important as other species of sharks. These gentle giants are on the list of endangered species. Euro-Divers believes in the code of conduct as we are fortunate enough to visit the South Ari Marine Protected Area frequently with our guests and use these events to educate the various guests about the importance of whale sharks not only here in the Maldives but around the world.”

Tour operators who have signed up to the whale shark code of conduct can be found by visiting www.begentletogiants.org/maldives

Excursions

Uncover the Gems and Untold Tales of the Maldives’ Baa Atoll Through Personalised and Free-Spirited Adventures with The Nautilus Maldives

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When envisioning the Maldives, one often conjures images of pristine white sands and  luxurious resorts. However, beyond the typical tourist attractions lies a realm of adventure,  cultural immersion, and natural wonders waiting to be explored. The Nautilus Maldives, an  ultra-luxury private island hideaway, is crafting extraordinary journeys in the captivating Baa  Atoll, inviting its guests to embrace escapism through immersive cultural experiences. 

Inspired by The Nautilus’s brand hallmarks of the Art of Bohemia and Free Spirited  Adventures, guests are encouraged to step outside their comfort zones and indulge in  transformative experiences. Through encounters with local personalities, guests gain an  insight into island life, delving into cultural roots, traditions, nature, language, cuisine, and  more. 

The Nautilus prides itself on tailoring bespoke experiences to suit the unique preferences of  its guests—whether adventurers, culture enthusiasts, or families seeking more than a  beachside retreat. Guests embark on one of The Nautilus’s luxurious yachts, exploring  treasured spots of the Atoll and creating unforgettable memories that will linger in their  hearts long after their journey ends. 

Discover the roots at the Kendhoo 

Nestled in the northwest of the Baa Atoll, Kendhoo carries a rich tapestry of experiences  weaving together history and culture. Once a vital hub along ancient maritime routes,  Kendhoo’s vibrant cultural landscape is shaped by centuries of influences from Indian, Arab,  and Southeast Asian merchants, as well colonial conquests. Guests can wander its streets, 

indulging in local culinary treats with distinct flavours, and exploring landmarks like the 800- year old house marking the place of prayers of Abdul Barakaath Yoosuf al Barbary, a renowned Islamic scholar. 

Weave your memories of the Maldives into art at Kihaadhoo 

On the beautiful island of Kihaadhoo, guests can immerse themselves in the therapeutic art  of coconut leaf weaving, a cherished tradition passed down through generations. Through  hands-on experiences with the island’s residents, guests can learn to create baskets, hats,  and decorative pieces, fostering a sense of cultural identity and belonging.

www.thenautilusmaldives.com 

Traditional lacquer masters at Thulhaadhoo 

Venturing to the southern tip of Baa Atoll, guests discover Thulhaadhoo island, renowned for  its exquisite craftsmanship in traditional lacquerware. Here, artisans share their secrets of this  ancient art of decorating items with vibrant colours and intricate designs inspired by the  Maldives’ marine life and lush tropics, which has been passed down through generations. 

Guests can even try their hand at creating these unique art pieces, serving as precious souvenir  of their tropical getaway. 

Exploration of the Deep Blue Waters of Dhonfanu 

At Dhonfanu, one of Baa Atoll’s premier diving spots, vibrant coral gardens and diverse marine  life awaits beneath azure waters. In season, there’s also a high chance for guests to encounter  graceful manta rays and majestic whale sharks, igniting the senses with excitement and awe. 

Delve into Poetic Ambiance of Dharavandhoo 

Guests can make a stop at Dharavandhoo island, which boasts a rich tradition of Maldivian  poetry, where locals celebrate history and folklore through the art of storytelling, expressing  emotions, beliefs, and aspirations in the most poetic ways. These enchanting verses, inspired  by the islands’ natural beauty, love, nature, and daily island life, transport listeners to a world  where ocean rhythms intertwine poetic imagery.  

To craft your own cultural journey across Maldivian islands, contact The Nautilus at hello@thenautilusmaldives.com and begin creating your ultimate bohemian dream escape. For more information visit www.thenautilusmaldives.com.

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InterContinental Maldives invites guests to third Manta Retreat in March 2024

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After the successful launch of the Manta Retreat in 2022, the InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort is gearing up for its third Manta Retreat, scheduled to take place from March 9th to 12th, 2024. This unique experience offers guests an opportunity to delve into the world of manta rays, their natural habitat, and the conservation efforts led by the Manta Trust.

The Manta Retreat, designed for travelers seeking an extra dimension to their vacations, encourages participants to explore and understand these majestic creatures while contributing to ocean conservation. The retreat will be led by Meral Hafeez, the Manta Trust base leader at InterContinental Maldives, who will guide participants through an immersive experience.

The focus of the third Manta Retreat will be on meeting the manta rays that inhabit the surrounding waters of the island, emphasizing their protection and ocean conservation. Meral Hafeez expressed her enthusiasm for sharing the wonders of Maldivian marine life, stating, “I can’t wait for everyone to experience their first manta ray and the wonders of the deep!”

This year’s retreat coincides with the Maamunagau Manta Season in March, where young manta rays gather in the resort’s lagoon, offering a unique opportunity for up-close encounters. The Maamunagau Lagoon serves as a crucial research ground for the Manta Trust team, allowing guests to actively participate in the identification and naming of manta rays through the Manta ID workshop.

The Manta Retreat package, priced at USD 1490 per guest, includes two manta ray snorkeling trips, a guided house reef snorkeling experience, the chance to name and adopt a manta ray, and various workshops covering manta rays, plankton, and coral restoration.

For certified divers, dedicated dive spots around the resort provide opportunities to observe the natural manta ray ‘spa’ at cleaning stations, showcasing the fascinating symbiosis of marine life in the Maldives.

The purpose of the Manta Retreat goes beyond education and exploration; it also serves as a fundraiser to support the valuable work of the Manta Trust. Guests staying at InterContinental Maldives can enjoy the resort’s luxurious facilities and accommodations while those not participating in the retreat have plenty of entertainment options.

To book the Manta Retreat or for more information, visit InterContinental Maldives Sustainability or contact the reservations team at reservations.icmaldives@ihg.com or on WhatsApp at +960 730 9300.

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Football legend Lukas Podolski lights up Heritance Aarah with friendly match against Maldivian youth

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In a heartwarming display of football’s unifying spirit, German legend Lukas Podolski traded the grand stadiums for the sun-kissed shores of Heritance Aarah, Maldives, to play a friendly match with a team of eager young players from Meedhu Island. The event saw Podolski donning a custom Heritance Aarah jersey and taking to the pitch alongside the spirited Maldivian children.

More than just a friendly kickabout, the match was a platform for learning and inspiration. The young athletes showcased their skills and learned new tricks from the seasoned pro. The air crackled with a distinctive camaraderie as Podolski’s guidance and encouragement blended seamlessly with the children’s infectious joy.

As a memento of this extraordinary encounter, each participant received a personally signed jersey from Podolski, adding a priceless touch to the occasion. The football star’s presence transformed the friendly match into an unforgettable experience, etching itself indelibly into the memories of the young players and their families.

Podolski later took to his Facebook, sharing photos from the event with the caption, “Football is our global game. A pleasure to meet you all thanks @oneluxury.de & @heritanceaarah #LP10 #football #strassenkicker #enjoy #love.” The post resonated with fans worldwide, celebrating the power of sports to connect people across cultures and backgrounds.

Heritance Aarah, a Premium All-Inclusive resort, offers an idyllic setting for the ultimate getaway, presenting a diverse range of experiences. From the culinary delights crafted by award-winning chefs to the exploration of the captivating over and underwater wonders of the Raa Atoll, the resort sets a remarkable tone for luxury and adventure. With five restaurants included in the Premium All-Inclusive package, exclusive bars, and access to Hatha and Baani with supplement charges, Heritance Aarah offers a holistic experience. The spa and wellness facilities, featuring a hot tub and a fitness center, further enhance the overall well-being of guests, who can also enjoy various activities.

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