Six Senses Laamu Puts Community at the Heart of Conservation in The Maldives
The Long Run talks to Megan O’Beirne, Sustainability Manager at Six Senses Laamu, about exposing local school kids to an underwater world they’ve never had the chance to experience and why community is a vital part of creating a Marine Protected Area in the Maldives.
People don’t often associate community engagement with conservation in the Maldives, but can you tell us a little bit about why it’s so important?
We want to help create a locally-managed marine protected area in Laamu Atoll and to do that we need to build a strong relationship with the local community. We are the only resort in the atoll, but there are 13,000 residents across 11 islands that are part of various local governments and organisations; it’s vital that their voices are heard on how the area should be managed.
We hope to help communities strengthen their love for the marine environment so that they will have both the understanding and the desire to want to conserve it. It takes a lot of time, education, outreach programs, and trust-building, but it’s crucial to achieve a mutually-beneficial result for the place and its people.
Fellow Long Run member, Misool, has a fantastic model in Indonesia that we are looking to replicate in the form of establishing an NGO to carry out the resort’s conservation work, like how they established the Misool Foundation. Misool’s co-owner, Andrew Miners, gave excellent advice that it’s never too early to engage with the community. Being consistent with your message and who is delivering it illustrates respect and shows that you have as much skin in the game as they do.
Our conservation work falls under the Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI) and is one of the largest marine biology teams in the Maldives. In-house Six Senses staff work alongside researchers from three international NGOs: The Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation, and Olive Ridley Project. Six Senses Laamu also employs a Sustainability Manager, an Education & Community Outreach Manager, and a Permaculturalist.
How have you been ramping up community engagement?
We work with local island councils, community groups, and schools to raise awareness about topics from marine conservation to water sanitation to waste management. To build strong relationships with the 11 local islands and to ensure an open dialogue, we invite representatives from the councils, schools, and local police department to the resort quarterly to discuss sustainable development.
We call these sessions Eku-Eky meetings, which means “together” in the local language of Dhivehi. On the back of this program, we have visited every island each year to conduct education programs, we organise an annual sea turtle conservation festival with the Laamu Atoll Police Department, and we support community development projects with our Sustainability Fund.
Individuals, organisations, or councils can apply for funding with the justification that the impacts are sustainable and benefit the environment or community. In collaboration with the Laamu Atoll Council and in line with one of our key awareness campaigns — Laamu Atoll Plastic-Free – we have just donated water filters to all 25 schools and preschools in the atoll. These provide clean, reliable drinking water to 3,724 students and prevents them from bringing 1,360,000 single-use plastic water bottles to school every year. At our Turtle Festival this year, all participants received a reusable water bottle as well, and the next phase of the water project will be to provide a reusable bottle to every student in Laamu.
Our plans to build on this awareness around single-use plastic are big: Six Senses as a global company has pledged to be single-use plastic free by 2022, so it makes sense to work with the communities in Laamu to try and achieve the same.
You’ve also been busy teaching school kids to snorkel. Can you explain a little bit about why this is important and how you go about it?
The Maldives Ministry of Education has an initiative called Farukoe, which aims to get every student to explore their reef by snorkeling and make every school plastic-free by the end of 2018. This aligns with the work we are doing at Six Senses Laamu because to have community buy-in for a marine protected area, the local community must be inspired by the underwater world and empowered to protect it themselves. This year, our partner NGO, Blue Marine Foundation, donated marine ID books to each school and the MUI team joined them to take 380 kids snorkeling, many for the very first time.
Previous year’s lessons involved presentations, videos, and games about Laamu’s marine life, and this year was focused on practical experience and getting them in the water. We take them out with life jackets in small groups and often they are so much better at it than they think they will be. The impact is overwhelming. Kids come back so enthusiastic about the ocean and motivated to learn to swim. In 2019, we are working to bring snorkeling equipment to all of the schools, in order to ensure that they can keep exploring their backyard coral reefs. It is our hope that these kids will be the next generation of environmental stewards and be the voice of conservation for Laamu now and into the future.
Here is a video talking to some of the kids about their experience:
More information: https://www.thelongrun.org/six-senses-laamu/