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RETURNING TO MAAMUNAGAU: A JOURNEY OF COLLABORATION AND CONSERVATION

Published on: 01 Apr 2024

By Jessica Haines 

PhD Candidate at the University of Exeter 

Research Officer in Manta Nursery Ecology at the Manta Trust

As I stepped foot back onto the exquisite island of Maamunagau, memories of my time as Project Manager for the Manta Trust filled my mind. For three years, I had the privilege of exploring this beautiful marine sanctuary, collecting valuable data on the manta rays that thrive here. These days I am following a new and exciting journey as a PhD researcher at the University of Exeter, working on papers that further our understanding of the Maamunagau Lagoon and its importance as a nursery location for juvenile reef manta rays. My longstanding collaboration with the InterContinental Maldives Resort, Manta Trust, and Maldives Manta Conservation Programme, made my return even more special, as it truly felt like ‘coming home’.
One of the main objectives of my return visit was to co-host an inaugural stakeholder consultation meeting for important Ministry and Council delegates as well as Raa Atoll community members, from local fishermen to other resort operators. With the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we brought together stakeholders to discuss the importance of this nursery area, and to brainstorm strategies for the conservation and sustainable management of this precious marine resource in the future.

The meeting was a fantastic forum of exchange between passionate individuals coming together to share their insights and visions for Maamunagau’s future and an opportunity to strengthen collaborations and network with like-minded parties. These discussions form the start of a promising future for this remarkable ecosystem.
During my remaining time on this beautiful island, I swam amongst my beloved manta rays once again and had the privilege to meet not just one but two new manta pups. Thrilled to be amongst these charismatic animals, we took photographic IDs and wingspan measurements using a method called photogrammetry. The data that is collected by the Manta Trust team working on Maamunagau Island, helps us to form a better understanding of this unique area and its importance to juvenile manta rays.

I also got the chance to reconnect with the staff and guests of InterContinental Maldives, hosting special evening talks and quiz nights, and sharing updates on the research I work on whilst back in England for my PhD.
As I reflect on my return visit to Maamunagau, I am filled with hope for the future. The passion and dedication of the people around me are infectious and I return to my university with a determination to delve deeper into our understanding of nursery habitat use by manta rays. As I look ahead to the future, I am excited to keep up the momentum generated during this visit, and I will continue to encourage the protection of Maamunagau and other important habitats in Raa Atoll.
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