by Dr.Bill Gould
|President Mohamed Waheed Hassan in Rio June 2012|
In Rio De Janeiro this week,President Washeed announced that the Maldives would become the first country to declare its entire territory as a marine reserve by 2017, replicating the successful experiment in Baa Atoll begun in 2011.
As someone who began SCUBA diving in 1959 and was a dive instructor for over 25 years and also as someone who spent some 4 ½ years living and working throughout the Maldives, this was welcomed news to my eyes and ears! In the interests of fair reportage, I must admit that I love the Maldives and I also love the sea and everything in it. Imagine my double delight when I read this article!
First of all, I must congratulate President Washeed on this bold and decisive move and on making such an amazing announcement. Every bold choice comes with built-in expected and unexpected consequences and challenges. President Washeed has shown he is an iconoclastic thinker and that is something I, often referred to as the Grandfather of Transformational Thinking, admire and respect. Kudos, Mr. President!
This story should have been the lead story throughout the world’s media outlets. Why? It is the first time any nation has done this. Sadly, it wasn’t the lead story. Why? I will address that question a bit later in this article.
After a prolonged absence, I returned to America in 2009. I have spent most of my adult life living and/or working outside the States. That represents a period spanning almost 50 years. I have been a dedicated diver even longer than that. I have dived all over the world, including the Red Sea when I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for eight years. As a writer and a professional underwater photographer, I had countless articles and photographs published in every dive magazine possible during the time I was still engaged in the sport.
|Marine Reserve - Maldives|
To me, the Maldives provides one of the most unique and special undersea environments anywhere in the world. To know it is to be preserved in all its pristine beauty for future generations is both edifying and inspirational to me.
The biggest industries in the Maldives is what I call the Double T, tourism and tuna. This decision will benefit both and, in turn, the Maldivian people, well into the future. That is leadership with vision and that’s another thing I truly respect and admire about President Washeed’s bold decision.
The sun is rising here in South Florida and, in days past, I used to be in the ocean by now. It isn’t worth it any more. Most of the coral reef and other sea life is gone. I find that not only sad, but almost frightening. This has happened in my lifetime. My grandson will never experience the abundant and vibrant sea life I saw when I first dived these waters in 1959. Hopefully, with this decision, the children of the present generation and their children’s children will not be deprived in the same way.
I suspect this is also going to open the paths for more international recognition and support for the Maldives, not to mention increased investment by both established and emerging industries. This can only mean good things ahead for the Maldives.
So why is it not on the front page of every newspaper worldwide?
I have discovered since my return very few people here in America who even know where the island nation of the Maldives is, much less anything about it. The media would rather focus on negative news than positive items. There are certainly more than enough of the former to fill media’s available time, even with a 24-hour news cycle. Traditional media outlets are gasping like beached fish and they probably won’t make it. They are being replaced by more immediate and personal (editorialized?) outlets such as blogs and the like. It has become all about attracting viewers or readers and that means editing according to audience interest, rather than interesting the audience, making them think and draw their own conclusions. So, how can the Maldives best utilize this opportunity despite the unintentional ignorance of the West? The President’s announcement in Rio was a great starting point.
|In harmony with Nature - Maldives|
If I were engaged in any tourist-related business in the Maldives, I would be jumping on this announcement like a hungry lion on a free morsel of food. What a great advertising angle! I suspect I am not the first to come to that conclusion and won’t be the last as others board the train. This is a great opportunity for the Maldives and the Maldivian people.
So, what about the tuna? I did a lot of work with the tuna industry when I was in the Maldives and was astounded by the entire operation. I remember one of the questions I had back then was, “Can this be sustainable?” Very few people throughout the world understand how much tuna comes from the Maldives. Whether one is dining on tuna in Paris or opening a tin (can) of tuna here in America, most have no idea where it came from. Most don’t care. I do. I do not purchase any tuna that didn’t come from the Maldives. Why? Because I know the waters there are pure. With this decision and announcement, that up’s the ante. If I were involved with the tuna industry, I would put that fact on the label.
In conclusion, kudos to President Washeed. I salute you, sir, in behalf of the human species and all others. I applaud your inspired leadership and willingness to think not only outside the box, but under the waves of out Mother Ocean. You have done us all a tremendous service.