The Maldives: The Last Stand Pt. 1

On November 23, 2014, The Hydrous began an expedition to the Maldives to implement the first real-world application of our 3D coral modeling methodology. Our project's goals are threefold: 1. Conduct a rigorous scientific experiment and gather baseline data of the reefs before the projected El Niño in early 2015. 2. Create beautiful, interactive 3D models of Maldives' coral reefs for education and outreach. 3. Foster collaborations with local resource managers, educators, and visionaries.

Reef at the southernmost point of Lhavyani atoll
Reef at the southernmost point of Lhavyani atoll

The Maldives is an ecological last stand, a window of what may come of other island nations; located only 1.5 meters above sea level, the country is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters and rising sea level. In 2009 the president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed unveiled a plan to make the island nation carbon-neutral by 2020, the first country to make such a promise. He also made great strides at attempting to convince industrialized nations to take charge of the situation, but was not successful. Today, unfortunately, political uncertainty threatens progress in the Maldives as President Nasheed was ousted from office.

Veva reef
Veva reef

The Hydrous aims to provide essential insights and visualizations of coral reefs to local resource managers, and to use visualizations to encourage the government to increase enforcement and protection of their marine protected areas. Coral reefs are an essential buffer against storm damage and weather events, and their protection can help counter the rapid erosion of shorelines. By assisting research and providing visualizations of this ecological last stand we hope to focus the political conversation on curbing global carbon emissions, and the importance of coral reefs in countering its effects.

Of course, getting to this remote island nation is the first challenge. A 35-hour travel day deposited Hydrous founder Sly Lee in Male, the capital of the Maldives. A seaplane from Male to Kuredo, and a speedboat from Kuredo to Vavvaru finally led to the arrival at the Korallian Lab, a new lab dedicated to undertaking and sustaining world-leading marine research. The Hydrous is collaborating with local expert scientist Dr. Michael Sweet of the University of Derby, and will begin investigating coral reef resilience and fish habitat preferences- research which is made more important by the impending El Niño.

2B8A4069-300x200.jpg

Taking a seaplane is only one step in the multi-day travel to the Korallian Lab on Vavvaru Island.

Snorkeling around the island revealed a diverse range of habitats, including shallow forereef, backreef and a dropoff. Initial dives have started on degraded sites, and show both coral degradation and some promising healthy coral. Research will continue over a two-week period to photograph and create 3D models of reefs of inhabited islands and of uninhabited ones.  Surveys will include recording fish species, size and abundance, 25 meter benthic photo surveys and 3D coral models. Utilizing both scientific and photographic surveys will provide valuable insights on fish diversity, coral reef biodiversity and topographic complexity.

The three-week expedition in the Maldives will provide crucial visual and scientific information, and will establish a benchmark view of coral health before the El Niño event, which is anticipated to occur in January 2015. The 1998 El Niño caused up to 90% bleaching and subsequent death of coral reefs around the Maldives. Potential damage to coral reefs during the El Niño could have great impact on the ecology of these marine habitats, the political conversation of climate change, and most importantly, on the lives of people living on this island nation.

2B8A6910-21-682x1024.jpg

A glimpse into the beautiful corals of the Maldives and the people who protect them.