Cover Image
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 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


The Maldives comprises about 1190 low-lying islands of which 200 islands are inhabited. Physically, the country owes its existence to the coral reefs which provide the living base on which these fragile ecosystems are established. In an atoll environment, the ocean resources underpin the traditional lifestyle and the development of the cash economy. The modem economy of these small island communities has to depend heavily on a narrow resource base, dependent on the direct exploitation of the marine resources for its peoples livelihood. Constraints of reef resources development and management in small archepelagic states such as the Maldives differ considerably from those of continental coastal states with large land areas as well as those of high island nations.

The Maldives lie on the crossroads linking the historical trade routes between Southeast Asia/China and the East African Coast line. History (Maniku, 1988; Mills, 1970; Gray, 1882) confirms that Maldives have had a number of differing ethnic contacts with the Indian Ocean rim countries dating as far back as the 5th Century BC. The unique ocean space occupied by the Maldive Archipelago, and the favorable climatic conditions away from the storm belt of the Bay of Bengal, during the south-west monsoon and that of Asia in the north-east monsoon provided favorable conditions for maintaining a regular trade and transport. Thus seafarers, merchants as well as travellers have interacted with the various atolls at various periods. Exchange of goods, ideas and culture have assisted in the development of micro-communities in these small low-lying islands within a larger atoll system. (Maloney, 1980; Bell, 1940)

These contacts influenced greatly those communities that began to emerge with collective ideas - religious and political - as well as art and craft, transforming them to be adaptive to the local environment. Ethnic technologies were developed to cater for the influx of traders. Processing of tuna meat - the well known Maldive-Fish - have been well documented by Chinese travelers during the 12th Century AD (Mills, 1970; Bell, 1940). Tuna resources thus remained a common property of the Atolls, while the reef resources have remained very much part of the island common property.

By the time Maldives embraced Islam, during the mid-twelfth century, it developed a unique form of governance highly adapted to the archepelagic conditions of the country. Each atoll had a highly developed autonomous governance, whereby the resources are shared within the immediate community as well as the state. This structure, locally known as Vaaru, is a form of taxation accrued due to public funds in restoring a collective identity - the Maldives as a Nation. The system of governance is well documented in copper plates during the period of conversion (Anon, 1982; Bell, 1920; Forbes, 1983).

As Islam was a newly emerging religion in the Saudi Arabian peninsula, it had a number of prescriptions laid out to unite Bedouin communities o.f the desert environment. These prescriptions fitted well with the island communities of the Maldive atolls. It was well accommodated by the Sultanate structure that emerged after the Buddhist era. No natural resource within the confines of an island, or atoll or a group of atolls remained unprescribed. Reef resources remained very much within the confines of an autonomous atoll structure. Linkages existed between atolls, between islands; total control of communication centered through the site of the sultanate was loose but effective.

The coming of the Europeans in the 15th century was a significant period for the old countries to become new nations (Bell, 1931). The largely self-sustained and tightly interwoven economic, political and cultural identity began to unravel. Following the process of colonization of the Indian Ocean rim states, the natural resource base of nations had to accommodate the extra demands placed on them by the colonial masters. Cowrie trade, which flourished among the Asians as well as the African coastline countries, was sustained by the strong management structure adapted then (Heimann).

The legacy of the past hints at what might be possible for future development of an Integrated Reef Resources Management (IRRM) structure (Hockly, 1935). There are some new forces now at work, which have opened up a world of far-reaching opportunities.

By the turn of this century, three developments have been significant within the context of an IRRM structure for the Maldives. They are:

1. Loosening of the colonial powers which led to the formation a formal structure among nations; the birth of the United Nations. After the Second World War, nations started to rebuild their national identity; in doing so, most countries institutionalized management and development to the core government machinery.

2. Secondly, the cultural heritage of the Maldives, not only being historic and rich in itself, was a considerable development asset. Maldives has never been an “isolated traditional society facing the modem world,” but rather it has had a successful history of adapting to changing conditions while upholding the integrity of the nation against external influences. The shift of fishery markets away from the neighboring Sri Lanka in the ‘70s towards Japan and Western European Nations, and the development of a highly successful large scale tourist sector, all points to this flexibility (Fitzgerald, 1984).

3. The new concept of fisheries in the Maldives, introduced with the newly established fishery legislation (Law No. 5/87); Fisheries is defined as any extractive activity that is targeted at the living marine resources of the country.

With the strengthening of international organizations, community development and management of natural resources that have existed at the national level have been globalised (Agenda 21; SIDS Conference, 1994). Prescriptions for efficient management of the resources have been developed without proper review of the traditional systems that have evolved in various communities; thus promoting the concept of uneven development. Uneven development is rooted in the central processes of capitalist development. It does incorporate, but goes far beyond the problems of depletion to include the valuation and devaluation of resource-based production complexes resulting from technological and social changes. The problems of uneven development exist alongside, and frequently overshadow, the tragedy of the commons (Roberts and Emel, 1992).

Due to globalization of resource management strategies, small island communities have undergone significant socio-economic and cultural changes. The main reason being the result of institutionalizing into larger national and international ecological and economic processes (Pomeroy, 1994). Modem communities are being structured; by global conventions thus significantly altering the relationships both within communities and among nations. This has become the mainstream of the dynamic transition.

This paper will not try to detail the legal system nor the structure. However, it will try to provide an overview of the responsible bodies, national policies and problems in i the structure, and identify the challenges and opportunities for development of an integrated reef resources management strategy.


In identifying the responsible bodies for the development and management of an Integrated Reef Resources Management Program, it may be useful to identify some of the multiple uses that the reefs are subjected to. The multiple uses of this zone definitely create overlap which result in a wide array of problems for resource users, managers and decision makers; this state of affairs can be better understood by identifying some of the broad uses as given below:

Terrestrial developments: Due to the size of the islands, and the dynamic nature of the coastal processes acting on the shore-line, urban settlements, industrial developments, waste disposal as well as shore protection works have a direct impact on the surrounding reef systems.

Harbor development: Due to the rapid development and the changes in the usage of sea-going craft, deepening of the boat harbors is an essential part of the island economy.

Reef Fish Fishery: Utilization of reef fishery resources has direct implications.

Coral and Sand Mining: An activity that is becoming an increasingly significant activity affecting the reef system.

Recreation and Tourism: Tourism in the Maldives is a marine based activity, relying heavily on maintaining a healthy reef system.

Thus the key institutions involved in the development and management of the above activities can be grouped into four government departments, namely:

1. Ministry of Planning, Human Resources and Environment
2. Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture
3. Ministry of Tourism
4. Ministry of Construction and Public Works, and
5. Ministry of Atolls Administration.

Environmental issues that reflect a joint responsibility are sometimes discussed at the National Commission for the Protection of the Environment.


The laws relating to the reef resources can be stratified into three broad categories:

Customary Laws

A number of traditional management systems are still practised in the outer atolls where the reef systems have had some economic activity, such as collection of cowrie shells, fishing off scads or horse mackerel schools in the inner lagoon of inhabited islands, collection of bait fish, etc. Some of these practices have been incorporated as rules in accordance with an article in the fishery law.

Constitutional and legal instrument

Legislative power is vested in the Parliament or the Citizens Majlis. A Bill passed by the parliament becomes a law on the signature of the President. A Bill may be vetoed by the President or referred to the parliament with recommendations for amendment.

The two relevant framework laws in the context of IRRM are:

i. The Fisheries Law of the Maldives. Law No. 5/87
ii. Environmental Protection and Preservation Act of Maldives. Law No. 4/93

The framework laws give provision to the concerned Government departments to formulate and administer regulations on matters relating to the relevant laws.

International Environmental Conventions and Treaties

An international convention Maldives is party to is the Convention on Biological Diversity (Rio de Janeiro, 1992). Agenda 21 Chapter 17 provides the framework for establishing the programs.


The National Development Plan of the Maldives provides national policies for various sectors. At the same time each government department has to develop a set of policy guidelines which have to be written down and informed to the public. To identify the relevant policy guidelines for the development of an IRRM Program, the National Development Plan remains the main document that could be referred to.


For the development of an IRRM Program, Maldives needs to review in detail the present legal and institutional structure. This may need to be addressed immediately and would require coordinated efforts between various government departments as well as non-governmental organizations.


Management of Reef Resources in the Maldives is quite complex, mainly due to the dual legal system of ownership which was put in place after the system of government was changed from a sultanate to a Republic in 1968. Prior to this new system of government, the Maldivian system of resource ownership was strongly based on the communal system of Vaaru, whereby each atoll had a major role to play in managing its immediate resource, thus enabling the atoll chief advised by the elders of the community to control the resources as a common property of that atoll. With the change of Government from a Sultanate to a Republic, the total authority the atoll had on the resources was being challenged by modem law. This system is seen as a constraint to development as well as reef resource management.

The present framework laws on Fisheries and the Protection of the Environment, however, offer some opportunities for streamlining and delegating some of the, customary rights which different atolls have been practising. The institutional structure now exists with the atolls administrative structure to provide advice to the concerned government departments responsible for establishing a more comprehensive legal system.


Overlapping of responsibilities between various government departments has some negative impact on the management of the reef resources. To cite an example, mangrove ecosystems are very important breeding grounds, nurseries as well as feeding areas for many of the living reef resources. The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has no control over reclamation; in fact these areas are viewed as a hindrance to the development of the island.


Since reef resources are gaining in economic importance, a number of traditional practices, such as bait fishing and coral mining, have become sensitive issues, causing major conflicts among users.


Non-compliance is induced by factors such as the dual system of resource right ownership, clashes between the traditional law and modern laws, different interpretation of the fisheries law and the environment laws, lack of funds to enforce laws and regulations and most importantly, lack of prior consultation as well as accessibility on the part of the various stakeholders to the ever-increasing rules and regulations developed under the framework laws.


Employment of illegal fishing methods is becoming an increasing problem. This includes the use of destructive gears, SCUBA gears as well as lethal chemicals.


The fisheries sector continues to be confronted by the fishermen and the exporters with regard to implementation of new regulations. There are a number of problems associated with this state of affairs. One important aspect is lack of consultation with the various stakeholders before a regulation is implemented. Another major problem is the lack of a central mechanism or depository where all laws and regulations could be referred to by the users or potential users.


For the fisheries sector, to implement regulations, reliable and convincing data is needed to support its submission. Unfortunately, the mechanism for the collection of such data is lacking in the Atolls, administrative system.


Due to the size of the islands, any human-related activity, such as use of chemicals in agriculture, clearing or vegetation, dredging and reclamation, and waste dumping in urban centers are increasingly becoming a concern. A few cases of algal blooms near areas where recent dredging have taken place have been recorded by the Marine Research Section. Lack of regulations over the control of onshore activities may be viewed as not so serious at this stage but its adverse impact on the reef resources, specially on sedentary animals, cannot be ignored for too long.


An institutional and legal mechanism needed to implement an Integrated Reef Resource Management Program needs to be geared towards co-management between the atoll communities and the various government departments. Consultative processes have to be designed whereby the positive aspects of community-based management could be implemented. These processes need to take into consideration the scientific information provided by the research officers working on various resources.

Finally, it should be understood that IRRM problems and issues cannot be solved by laws alone. Sound policies, administrative decisions and directives, enforcement of the law, participation and community action become just as important.


Anonymous (1982) LOAMAAFAANU: Transliteration, Translation and notes on Paleography Vol. 1 National Centre for Linguistic and Historical Research. Male Republic of Maldives, p1-36.

Bell, H C P (1882) Fish-curing in the Maldives. Indian Antiquary, vol. 11, p. 196-8.

Bell, H C P (1920) The Maldive Islands. Report on A visit to Male, January 20 to February 21, 1920. Colombo: Government Printer, 72p. (Sessional Paper XV, 1921)

Bell, H C P (1931) The Portuguese at the Maldives. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol.32, no.84 p. 76 - 124 (Excerpta Maldiviana, 10)

Bell H C P (1940) The Maldive Islands: Monograph on the History, Archeology and epigraphy. Colombo: Ceylon Government Printing Press. 204p. 5maps. Reprinted, Male, (1985)

BOBP (1991) Status and Needs of Fisherfolk: Vaavu, Meemu and Faafu Atolls, Maldives. A Study Undertaken by Projects and Extension Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, Male, Republic of Maldives. BOBP. Madras, India

Fitzgerald, E V K (1984) Planning for Social Development: Programme of Participation and Cooperation with Member States. Restricted Assignment Report PP/1981 - 1983/3/3.4/03. Unesco, Paris.

Forbes, Andrew D W (1982) A Roman Republican Denarius of c. 90 BC from the Maldive Islands, Indian Ocean. Paper submitted to the Numismatic Chronicle, London,

Forbes, Andrew D W (1983) The Haddumati Dabidu Royal Grant (592 H.,1195 - 96 A.D.) a newly translated source for early Maldivian History. Indian Ocean News Letter Vol. 4 no: 2 p 15-16

Gray, Albert (1882) Ibn Batuta in the Maldives and Ceylon. Translated. Journal of Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, extra no. (1882) p. 1-60

Heelas, A M H (1994) Fisheries Extension Service in the Maldives. BOBP/REP/62. Bay of Bengal Programme, Madras. India, p.1-30.

Hockly, T W (1935) The two thousand isles-a short account of the people, history and customs of the Maldives Archipelago. London: Witherby, 191p.

Heinmann, James (........) Small Changes and Ballast: Cowry Trade and Usuage as an Example of

Indian Economic-History. The Cowrie Trade. SOUTH ASIA. pp.48 - 69.

Maniku, H A (1988) Archaeology in Maldives: Thinking on new lines. National Centre for Linguistic and Historical Research, Male, Republic of Maldives, p. 1-6.

Maloney, C (1980) People of the Maldive Islands. Madras, India: Orient Longman, 425p. map. bibliog.

Mills, J V G (1970) Ma Huan: Ying-yai sheng-lan, “The overall survey of the Ocean’s shores” (1433) translated from Chinese text edited by Feng Ch’eng -Chun, with introduction, notes and appendices. Cambridge, England. Cambridge University Press, for The Hakluyt Society, 1970. 393p. bibliog. series no 142

MPHRE (1994) National Development Plan 1994 - 1996. Republic of Maldives. ISBN 99915-55-14-15.

Pomeroy, R S edit. (1994) Community Management and Common Property of Coastal Fisheries in Asia and the Pacific: Concepts, Methods and Experiences. International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management. Conf. Proc. 45, 189p.

Roberts, R S & Emel, J (1992) Uneven Development and the Tragedy of the Commons: Competing Images for Nature-Society Analysis. In Economic Geography Vol.68. No 3 dark University, Worester, Mass. USA.