Underwater jungle: how coral reefs in the Maldives are saved from extinction

If there was a forest, the nightingales would come. There are no nightingales on the paradise islands, but there are fish. And it is found in local underwater forests

Coral reefs feed, protect islands from storms, inspire artisans. The Maldivians are trying to save their forests from global warming, just as we do ours from fires. And they plant corals like trees…

Underwater jungle: how the coral reefs in the Maldives are saved from extinction

— Guess where you got it from! — the guide Abdullah demands, pointing to the coral in my hand.< /p>

He and I walk around the islands of Addu Atoll, the southernmost in the archipelago, lying entirely in equatorial waters. The islands flow one into another, and all together they resemble a white dolphin dozing on the surface of the ocean. At the edge of the coast, fragments of coral thrown out by the storm are scattered. Some look like mangrove branches, others look like coconut pulp, and I found it in the form of a gecko.

– Corals are forbidden to be taken out of the Maldives, even dead ones. This is the food of ocean inhabitants, such as parrot fish. At high tide, the wreckage will be brought into the water, and the fish will have food, – explains Abdulla. – If you try to carry your find through customs, it will be taken away and you will be fined.

The fine depends on the size and number of corals found and can reach thousands of dollars. A report from the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture of the Republic of the late 1990s said: “The Maldives is entirely composed of coral reefs, the most diverse of all marine ecosystems … At tourist resorts it is not allowed to collect corals, shells and fish on reefs.” Since December 1996, it has been forbidden to export all types of corals from the country, except for Tubipora musica (organ corals).

“Now only artisans can collect dead corals, and then little by little, for various crafts,” Abdulla clarifies. : how the coral reefs in the Maldives are saved from extinction “Underwater jungle: how coral reefs in the Maldives are saved from extinction” />


Kingdom — animals< br>Type — cnidarians
Class – coral polyps

Polyps from the order of stony corals have a calcareous skeleton. They have a cylindrical body topped with a ring of (1) tentacles. At its center is the (2) oral opening leading to the stomach, or (3) gastrovascular cavity that fills the interior of the body and tentacles. The walls of the body are formed by two layers of epithelium (4) with connective tissue between them – mesoglea (5). The base epidermis exudes aragonite, which forms the (6) calyx skeleton. Radial skeletal septa (7) extend upward from it inside the septa, partitions in the intestinal cavity. The skeleton is gradually growing. Polyps often form colonies. In this case, an organism is formed with a common skeleton and a single cavity. Polyps reproduce by budding and sexual reproduction.

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In one bundle

The shelves of the souvenir shop where Abdullah and I looked in are like a reef: colorful, multi-colored. On white coral “branches” sit yellow-blue shellfish-parrots. Seahorses are assembled from pieces of coral. Hanging clutches and purses embroidered with small shells. And here are the speckled shells, as if battered by tropical rain. These are kauri, also reef inhabitants. Ocean landscapes with dolphins, manta rays, green turtles are written in oil on wooden planks.

— Corals  are our source of inspiration, — says saleswoman Luza, bright as a parrot fish.

Underwater jungle: how to save coral reefs in the Maldives from extinction

Addu coral reefs, wrasses and angelfish are found. They feed on marine worms and mollusks that live among the branches, as well as parasites that stick to the body of manta rays. Therefore, manta rays come to the reefs every day so that the fish can clean them. Sea grass grows near reefs: it needs protection from storms. In return, it purifies the water of harmful substances and saturates it with oxygen. In this grass, red snappers (snappers), groupers, sigans (rabbit fish) nest, which are hunted by tuna and reef sharks. Green turtles eat grass. The reefs form a kind of pool where dolphins rest and swim. All in one bundle. Together with people.

— Until the 1990s, corals inspired the Maldivians not only for crafts. We cut down coral forests. It was our building material, instead of bricks or stones,” says Abdullah, leaving the store. “There are many such houses left in Addu. It's good that the government banned coral mining. Let the reefs form natural structures on the bottom and protect our islands from tsunamis.

We move along coral houses, fences, mosques, getting stuck in thick salty, humid air. It's like we're swimming underwater. The coral walls are white, porous and lifeless, like debris on a beach. And modern concrete buildings, on the contrary, are painted in the colors of living corals: red, yellow, blue, green, pink, orange. Symbolically. Such a rainbow is now difficult to see in the ocean: you need to swim far and deep.

Since the outbreak of global warming in 1998, the Maldives has lost approximately 70% of its coral reefs. In 2016, more than 60% of Maldivian corals became bleached due to another “sunstroke”, when the water in the Indian Ocean warmed up to 32 ° C. The norm for corals is 25–26 ° С. At high temperatures, the symbiotic zooxanthella algae living inside the polyp dies. Thanks to it, photosynthesis occurs, which, in turn, contributes to the production of calcium carbonate and the growth of the coral skeleton. Algae pigment comes in different colors, hence the color of corals. Having lost the zooxanthella, the reef gradually turns pale and dies.

Addu was not affected as badly as the rest of the atolls. Scientists believe that equatorial corals are healthier and stronger than others due to constant exposure to bright sunlight.

– As long as the Addu reefs prosper, our main business will not sink, – Abdullah is sure.

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Fishing is the second largest sector of the Maldivian economy after tourism, its share in the national GDP is 6%. In the Addu region, the fishing industry is on the crest of a wave. Even in high school, the key specialization is “fish science”.

The corals have bluefin and yellowfin tuna, which are exported. Fresh is sent to Japan, dried – to Sri Lanka. Rybakov is hired by the state, a company or an individual. Every Friday, the employer pays a fee for a week's catch. This is an old tradition. The income of a fisherman depends on the quality and quantity of fish caught. But even the most “liquid” catch yields 250 dollars, which corresponds to the average monthly salary of a Maldivian in a “non-fish” job. If a lot of fish, especially expensive ones, come on the hook, about $ 1,500 a week can come out. Good money. It is no coincidence that reef fishermen in Addu are called oligarchs.

Underwater jungle: how the coral reefs in the Maldives are saved from extinction

– The government of the republic takes care of the Addu fishermen, because the profit from them is big, – says Abdulla.  — We recently built a fishing complex: there is a hangar for storing fish, boat repair, and parking. They hired locals. Another new harbor at Hulhumidhu is promised by 2021 (the harbor was opened in March 2022. — Note. Vokrugsveta.ru).

Abdulla nods at the schooners hanging off the coast. Periodically, they dive, and then pop up with their nose up, like green turtles. There is a poster on the concrete fence: “Hope for the Future”.

Restaurants open for fishermen. Few of the locals, except for them, will allow themselves to order a dish for 10-15 dollars. One of Addu 's mainstream establishments is Suvadivein the settlement of Hitadhu. The restaurant is built in the shape of a ship. On its spacious decks, like crabs, peasants fried by the equatorial sun in white shirts, in trousers rolled up to the knees and flip flops on their bare feet, fell apart. They look like port handymen. They don't evoke associations with oligarchs.

– Fishing near reefs – how to swim against the current. Hard work, – says Abdullah.

Vacuum cleaner vs airplane

Employees of the Marine Research Center in the Indian city of Pune found that the lockdown led to a decrease in noise in the Indian Ocean. First of all, due to the reduction in the number of cargo ships. At the beginning of March 2020, the noise level averaged 103 decibels, which is comparable in volume to the sound that an aircraft engine makes when it is 300 meters away from us.

In May, researchers recorded only 73 decibels: the noise of such power is produced by a vacuum cleaner. Marine mammals are very sensitive to noise. “Whales, for example, communicate using low frequency sounds. It is important for them to hear well in order to plan their movements, find individuals of the opposite sex, and escape from their pursuers. Loud noise in the Indian Ocean blocked other sounds,” notes Arnab Das, author of the study. In the new conditions, the animals rested and got stronger, according to experts.

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