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close this bookWorkshop on Integrated Reef Resources Management in the Maldives - Bay of Bengal Programme (1997)
close this folderTechnical Papers
View the documentPaper 1: The Maldivian Tuna Livebait Fishery - Status and Trends - By R. Charles Anderson, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 2: The Aquarium Fishery of the Maldives - By M. Shiham Adam, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 3: Exploitation of Reef Resources: Grouper and other Food Fishes - By Hassan Shakeel and Hudha Ahmed, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 4: Exploitation of Reef Resources - Beche-de-Mer, Reef Sharks, Giant Clams, Lobsters and others - By Hudha Ahmed, Sana Mohamed and Mariyam R. Saleem, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 5: Status of Coral Mining in the Maldives: Impacts and Management Options - By Abdulla Naseer, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 6: Tourism and the Environment: Current Issues for Management - By Ismail Firaag, Ministry of Tourism Boduthakurufaanu Magu Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 7: Status of the communities in the four atolls: Their perceptions, problems, and options for participation - By Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, Ministry of Atolls Administration Boduthakurufaanu Magu Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 8: Environmental Changes in the Maldives: Current Issues for Management - By Mohamed Khaleel and Simad Saeed, Ministry of Planning Human Resources and Environment, Ghazee Building Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 9: Existing Legal Systems and Institutional Structures in the Maldives: Opportunities and Challenges for IRRM Coordination - By Maizan Hassan Maniku, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 10: Our Performance Indicators for Integrated Reef Resources Management - By Terry Done, Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS) PMB 3, Townsville, Queensland 4810 Australia
View the documentPaper 11: Collaborative and Community-based Management of Coral Reef Resources: Lessons from the Sri Lanka and The Phillipines - By Allan T. White, Coastal Resources Management Project No.1, Gower Street, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka
View the documentPaper 12: Traditional Management Options and Approaches for Reef Systems in Small Island Nations - By Robert E. Johannes, R.E. Johannes Pty. Ltd. 8 Tyndall Court Bonnet Hill, Tasmania 7053 Australia
View the documentPaper 13: Traditional Marine Resources Management Systems in the Asia-Pacific Region: Design Principles and Policy Options - By Kenneth Ruddle, Matsugaoka-cho 11-20, Nishinomiya-shi, Hoyogo-ken 662, Japan

Paper 7: Status of the communities in the four atolls: Their perceptions, problems, and options for participation - By Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, Ministry of Atolls Administration Boduthakurufaanu Magu Malé, Republic of Maldives


This paper finds that communities in Vaavu, Meemu, Faafu, and Dhaalu atolls are generally well-aware of major issues on reef resources and are concerned with the depletion of some of these resources.

This paper also recognises that there are major implications in sharing resources and potential conflicts between the grouper fishery and the baitfishery. The sharing of resources is creating social problems and conflicts.

Communities believe that coral mining destroys reef resources and island environments. Some solutions to this issue include appropriate regulations, coral culture, availability of improved quality and increased use of bricks for construction purposes.

Extension of tourism activities into new areas must consider ways of sharing reef resources with fishing communities.

Issues concerning over-exploitation of reef resources are related to rapid growth of population and lack of sustainable development. As such, control of such factors including the even distribution of population is also necessary to avoid pressure on reef resources in one single area.

Atoll and island administrations require additional personnel and facilities to play an effective role in monitoring and management of reef resources.


Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of this paper is to contribute necessary information in order to achieve the workshop objectives of developing approaches for implementing the Integrated Reef Resource Management (IRRM) programme and sharing relevant information.

The following are objectives outlined for the purpose of this paper.

1. Present the status of the communities in the four atolls (Vaavu, Meemu, Faafu and Dhaalu), in relation to the reef fish fishery, bait fish fishery, coral mining, and tourism/fishery interactions - four major issues associated with the integrated management of reef resources.

2. Identify the communities’ perceptions and problems associated with those major issues.

3. In light of the status, perceptions, and problems of the communities and also in view of experience related to development programmes, provide options for community participation in the management of reef resources.


We obtained information on island communities through local administrations. This was done for a number of reasons. First, it is the administrators and community leaders in those institutions who would eventually play a major role in managing the resource. Secondly, in contrast to the individual person such institutions are in a position to grasp the overall picture in relation to those issues.

The scope of the paper is also restrained as a result of the limited time available to undertake an in-depth study. In the discussions on the status of the communities we have limited ourselves to a broad based discussion of those major issues identified above. It is assumed that the relevant sectoral agencies directly responsible for each issue would be addressing these issues through more in-depth studies.


A basic interviewing methodology using structured telephone interviews and face-to-face interviews was adopted to study these issues. In addition, we used some secondary sources of data in writing this paper. This includes literature on fisheries and tourism and reports and appraisals concerning implementation of community-based management programmes.


This paper will firstly describe the characteristics of the issues of the reef fish fishery, bait fishery, coral mining, fishery and tourism interactions, and management of these issues. Next, it presents the status of the communities and their perceptions and problems in relation to these issues. As part of these discussions, the paper will identify some implications for each of the major four issues. This will be followed by a conclusion and recommendations on approaches to address the issues.


The issues such as coral mining, reef fish fishery, baitfishery, and fishery and tourism interactions vary in the degree of importance in the four respective atolls. These are activities related to the livelihood of island communities.

Fishing is a major occupation and its products are the main sources of protein. Communities are attracted towards some types of reef fish fishery partly because it fetches high profits. Tourism is also a major economic activity which directly and indirectly affects these communities.

One important characteristic of these issues is that they are interrelated. Coral mining and certain types of reef fish fisheries are believed to have an adverse effect on baitfishery and tourism activities. This gives rise to conflict of interests within fisheries and between fisheries and tourism. However, fisheries can also complement tourism.

The use of reef resources is often not effectively controlled and therefore, tend to be over-exploited. This has serious implications to the existence of delicate reefs and their environments. Impacts of coral mining in the past are now visible from the erosion of the islands and depletion of marine resources.


This paper describes the perceptions of the communities in the eyes of the atoll and island administrators. The study is not based on statistical analysis, but on the perceptions of the communities with regard to these issues and as such what the community perceives (as related by interviewees) may or may not conform with the facts. If any such difference is identified, this implies the need to carry out information campaigns. They can serve as valuable feedback that can be used in devising programmes and methods for their implementation.

This is one of our expectations from the workshop, that is to find how much community perceptions vary from facts that would hopefully be provided by other workshop participants directly involved in Fishery and Tourism.

Although the atolls are widely classified as having a certain major occupation, this is not likely to be true for individual islands.

The following illustrates the perceptions and problems of communities in relation to baitfishery, reef fish fishery, coral mining, and tourism and fishery interactions. The suggestions mentioned on the management of reef resources is included as well.

Baitfishery for Tuna Pole and Line Fishery

The main occupation in Meemu Atoll has historically been tuna fishery and still remains so today. Some fishing communities in Meemu Atoll are concerned over the scarcity of baitfish. They attribute this to over-exploitation of other reef resources such as groupers and coral mining. This is an indication of potential conflict of interests among different types of fishery. The main baitfishery locations used by fishing groups from the atoll are also used by those from Thaa Atoll.

In Dhaalu Atoll too, tuna fishery is the main occupation. There are over 150 major locations used for baitfishery which are also used by people from Thaa Atoll. Here too, some island communities have noted scarcity of baitfish which they also attribute to grouper fishery as is the case in Meemu Atoll. In addition, some have noted that schools of baitfish are becoming more and more unstable and “wilder” as a result of changes in the method of catching them. That is, fisherfolk now dive with nets to catch baitfish.

In Faafu Atoll tuna fishery is the second major occupation. Here, in the atoll there are 10-15 major baitfishery locations which are also shared with fishing groups from Dhaalu Atoll. Some communities believe that schools of baitfish are moving into deeper locations as a result of the grouper fishery.

In Vaavu Atoll tuna fishery is limited and is affected by tourism activities. The 12 registered fishing vessels are mainly used for reef fish fishery. Fishing groups from elsewhere come here for the baitfishery. Fishing communities from three of the five inhabited islands believe that the baitfishery resource is being depleted.

Implications and Sub-issues

From the above illustration of status of communities and their perceptions and problems in relation to baitfishery the following implications are identifiable.

1. Sharing of resources

In a situation where communities have identified scarcity of a resource, the sharing of it with fishing groups from elsewhere may become a major issue in the future. The existing social customs and regulations in most of the atolls do not limit access to the fishery. Atoll residents are not restricted to fishing within their atoll. The question therefore remains, is there a need to impose such limitations now? It is time to think about this and avoid future conflicts. Similar problems in relation to reef fish fishery have been experienced in Vaavu Atoll. These will be explained later.

2. Potential conflicts among different types of fishery

Since grouper fishery are believed to affect baitfishery there seems to be conflict of interests between these two types of fishery. However, the situation is not so bad as it may appear to be as fisherfolk engaged in both types of fishery can be the same. For example, in Meemu Atoll the same fishing groups from Maduvvari and Dhiggaru engage in both reef fish fishery and tuna fishery. When tuna fishery is low fisherfolk shift to reef fish fishery. As such, the reef fish fishery is often a seasonal activity.

3. Effects of changes in the methods of fishery

Diving with nets to catch baitfish is more frequently done now, and this is believed to frighten schools of such fish. This may be because it is the natural instinct of small baitfish to flee from large creatures including humans. With the increased presence of people, schools of baitfish may frequently be on the move rather than being stationary. Perhaps this is why it is difficult to catch baitfish, as stated by one interviewee.

Reef Fish Fishery

This fishery is considered as the second major occupation in Vaavu Atoll, and provides employment for some 250 people. It is an important source of income and therefore, the number of undertakings for this activity have been increasing. Reef resources of the atoll are also being used by people from elsewhere, which is a serious issue. Communities believe that the stocks of reef fish, and especially groupers, are decreasing. Compared to those in the other three atolls, communities here are more concerned over these issues.

The reef fish fishery in Meemu atoll is substantially undertaken by fishing groups of three island communities - Dhiggaru, Maduvvari and Mulaku. It is difficult to say that reef fish fishery is an important occupation - except in these three islands. This is because some communities in Meemu are said to believe that reef fishery does not have as much potential as tuna fishery. They do not engage in this as a full-time activity. Even in Dhiggaru and Maduvvari fisherfolk go for reef fish fishery when tuna fishery is seasonally low. Although not a full-time activity, reef fish fishery is an important source of income. This is because some types of reef fish can fetch higher prices. Fishing groups from Faafu and Dhaalu sometimes fish in Meemu Atoll.

Communities in Meemu Atoll believe that the reef fish fishery damages the reefs and their environment and that it reduces the baitfishery.

This is the major occupation in Faafu atoll with a fishing fleet of 40-50 vessels, each having 5-7 crews. The number of undertakings for this activity have increased lately. Fishing groups from Meemu, Faafu, Vaavu, Thaa, and Malé Atoll are known to fish from here. Communities in Faafu Atoll are well aware of a decline in certain types of reef resources, particularly groupers.

In Dhaalu Atoll, the reef fish fishery is generally considered as the second major occupation and as such it is an important source of income. In fact, it is the main occupation in some of the islands. Few vessels from Meemu and Faafu occasionally come here for fishing. Although the fishing community here is well aware of the depletion of the resource, people are still attracted towards its potential high profits.

Implications and Sub-issues

The implications of the reef fish fishery are similar to those identified for the baitfishery. This includes sharing of reef resources and potential conflicts among different types of fishery. Sharing of reef resources is a major issue in Vaavu Atoll where conflicts arise not only within the fishery, but between fisheries, coral mining and tourism.

Further explanations of these sub-issues are as follows:

1. Sharing of resources.

Although the atoll communities have no problems in sharing tuna fishery, the same may not be true for the reef fish fishery. Communities in one atoll do not voice reservations about others fishing in their atolls.. This is not true for Vaavu. The issue is complicated in this atoll as fishing groups from other atolls not only over-exploit reef resources, but are also reported to vandalise other resources of the atoll. There are also reported cases of confrontation between fishing groups from different atolls.

2. Potential conflicts.

As noted earlier, the over-exploitation of groupers is believed to affect baitfishery. This also creates social problems among fishing groups from different atolls.

Coral Mining

Similar to the other three atolls, the communities in Faafu mine coral for personal use. They are aware that coral mining damages reefs and their environment and affects the baitfishery. Coral mining is decreasing with the introduction of bricks and cement as alternative building materials.

In Dhaalu it is the same story. Communities are aware that coral mining causes island erosion and creates problems for the baitfishery. In addition, they also believe it is a laborious activity. However, communities still mine it as they believe coral is the cheapest building material for which most people have easy access. One of the causes of the problem is the demand for infrastructure development. According to one respondent from the atoll office the extent of coral mining in the atoll is not as extensive as it was a few years ago. However, one island administrator believes that the extent of coral mining is higher in the island as there is increased demand for housing.

It is difficult to say whether the extent of coral mining in Meemu has changed lately. With the introduction of cement and bricks as alternative building materials the use of coral would have been reduced. This is because people now use cement as a building material instead of lime. On the other hand, people believe that the available bricks are of poor quality and as such they prefer coral. In addition, some infrastructure such as “breakwaters” require coral for their construction as there is no other suitable material. For these reasons the extent of coral mining would have increased in the case of some island communities.

The communities are well-aware of the negative effects of coral mining on the environment. Many of them are also known to be aware that it creates problems for reef fish fishery and baitfishery.

In Vaavu Atoll the extent of coral mining has decreased lately; this may be due to the use of bricks for construction.

Sub-issues and Implications

1. Factors contributing to the issue: Population growth as a factor is more obvious in the case of coral mining. As implied in the above description there is increasing need for infrastructure that can be attributed to population growth and development. Although home-reefs are protected by present regulations, mining still damages distant reefs. This means that a comprehensive management programme for the reef resource should consider the factors of population growth and sustainable development.

2. Finding suitable alternatives. Another observation on coral mining is about community beliefs on the suitability of bricks as an appropriate alternative to corals. Although bricks and cement are being used for building purposes, the extent and popularity of bricks are not as high as one would like it to be. There are reasons for this. Firstly, many communities believe that the available bricks are of low quality. Secondly, some communities have voiced concern over the difficulty of transporting construction materials from Malé. Transportation is one of the major factors hindering development activities in the country.

However, it is still possible to address the problem by producing better quality bricks.

Tourism and Fishery Interactions

Since Faafu, Dhaalu and Meemu do not have tourist resorts, issues on the interactions between tourism and fishery are not visible in these atolls. However, this is not so in Vaavu where there are two resort islands. For this reason the discussions on fishery and tourism interactions are confined to Vaavu.

Many of the reefs in Vaavu are used for both fishing and diving - giving rise to conflicts. Tourists dive to see reef fish and other resources of the reef. However, fishing may deprive the reefs of such varieties. Sometimes fishing results in making good diving spots obsolete. For example, shark observation is a major attraction for the tourists, and the shark fishery has severely reduced the shark population in the reefs.

The situation is further complicated as the reef fish fishery in Vaavu involves fishing groups from outside the atoll. As explained earlier, this is a major issue in this atoll. It was reported that fishing groups from elsewhere have been engaging in the shark fishery in areas close to resorts. Tourists have also complained about this.

However, the reef fish fishery can be complementary to tourism. Some communities in Vaavu engage in reef fish fishery to cater to the tourist industry. Night-fishing is also a major activity enjoyed by tourists. This indicates that it is the over-exploitation of certain types of resources in areas used for diving, that often give rise to conflicts.

Conflicts between fisheries and tourism are difficult issues to solve as reef resources are important for both fishery and tourism - two major economic activities of the country. Reef fish fishery is the second major occupation of communities in Vaavu Atoll. The communities think that diving and fishery locations should be identified and both types of activities should be confined to those allocated areas.

Management of Reef Resources

The existing situation as described by those interviewed is that there is no comprehensive programme for the management of reef resources. Communities as well as their administrators are said to have concerns over the depletion of certain reef species. They are also aware of and are concerned with the effects of coral mining.

Regulations on the use of reef resources are difficult to enforce as a result of lack of personnel and facilities.

In view of the existing situation, atoll and island administrations propose the following measures as part of management of reef resources. This includes suggestions to control over- exploitation of those resources, defining roles for all parties who are involved with reef resources, and improving the capacity of institutions in the atolls.

1. Control Over-exploitation of Reef Resources

The following are suggestions to control over-exploitation of reef resources.

A. Allocate certain locations for the fisheries within the atolls. In addition, some of the islands and atolls recommend to specify a number of areas and allow the fishery in each area only in different seasons.

B. Define sizes offish that can be harvested considering the type of species that are being over-exploited.

C. Limit export quotas.

D. Define the quantity of catch and or resource per person or party. The Atolls Development Advisory Board is in the process of formulating appropriate regulations on the use of coral in the construction of boundary walls. There is a range of suggestions for the purpose.

E. Temporary ban on certain types of fishery and or resource exploitation to revive the resources.

F. Confine the use of reef resources within an atoll only to its resident communities which is suggested by Vaavu Atoll.

G. Explore alternatives including mariculture and fish farming.

2. Specify Roles

The government departments in Malé should plan and formulate a management programme and appropriate regulations, with the cooperation and consultation of the atoll and island institutions. In the same manner, these authorities should also define roles for atoll and island institutions. Once such roles are formulated atoll offices should play a central role to ensure that the responsible parties effectively perform their roles and activities. Such a monitoring role by atoll offices is appropriate in view of their position in the existing administrative structure of the atolls.

3. Improving the capacity of local institutions.

One of the problems identified with enforcing regulations on the use of reef resources is the lack of capacity in atoll and island offices. A number of administrations in the atolls have raised concern over the lack of adequate and trained personnel as well as necessary facilities that are required to effectively monitor the resources.


The following recommendations are made from the limited research done on the major issues:

1. Directly involve local institutions in the management of reef resources.

2. Improve efforts to control population growth and population concentration in one location, in order to find appropriate solutions to these issues. An increase in the population or rapid development puts more pressure on the reef resources.

3. Improve the capacity and capability of island and atoll administrations.

4. Strengthen the legal and regulatory framework to limit over-exploitation of resources and to avoid future conflicts as experienced in Vaavu.

5. Take steps to initiate and or accelerate fanning of reef species.

6. Enable access to more quality bricks and promote them as appropriate alternative building material.


Island communities are aware of the depletion of reef resources and see the need to sustain them. There are no suitable alternatives for coral as a building material. Over-exploitation of reef fish fishery resources must be controlled by means of stringent regulations. Period ban should be imposed on over-exploited species such as groupers and sea-cucumber for their revival. More reefs need to be established as marine reserves, for the purpose of regeneration of corals and baitfish.

This can be complemented with coral culture. Regeneration can be applied to home reefs as well.

Future extension of tourism into other atolls should consider interactions with fishery and settle any likely conflicts in sharing the reef resources. Population pressure should be distributed equally, to avoid over-dependence on a reef resource in one area.


Hameed A., Whiltlock R.E., Nott, A. G, (1985) End of Project Evaluation Report: Raa Atoll Integrated Development Project, Malé: IHAP

International Labour Organisation (1995) Mid-Term In-depth Evaluation: Nilandhe Integrated Atoll Development Project, New Delhi: ILO

Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture (1991) Status and Needs of Fisher folk: Vaavu, Meemu & Faafu Atolls, Maldives, Madras: BOBP Programme

Ministry of Planning Human Resources and Environment (1993) National Development Plan 1993- 1996, Malé: MPHRE

Sekaran, U. (1992) Research Methods for Business, A Skill building Approach, second edition, Brisbane: John Wiley & Sons Inc.