Today, Laamu Atoll has been designated as one of the planet’s Hope Spots by the international non-profit organization, Mission Blue.The Hope Spot designation highlights Laamu’s unique marine ecosystems and benefits they provide, along with the conservation work done by Six Senses Laamu and its partners within the Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI) to protect them.
Hope Spots are special places identified by Mission Blue’s scientific council as being critical to the health of the ocean. These areas are proven to hold significant ecological, economic and cultural importance, and so hold the potential to reverse damage from negative human impacts. From its rich reefs, vast seagrass meadows and culturally significant mangroves, Laamu Atoll ticked all the boxes for Mission Blue as an area worthy of the highest protection.
“Looking from 2011, when Six Senses Laamu began collecting information, to now as we’re celebrating the designation of the atoll as a Hope Spot – it’s truly a reason for hope,” says Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue. “It’s so important that we protect the ecosystems there, especially the seagrass meadows that we now understand are vital for generating oxygen, capturing carbon and providing a home and security for so many creatures not only within the atoll but throughout the depths beyond.”
Laamu’s mangroves act in a similar way to the seagrass meadows by storing carbon. They are also fundamental to local traditions such as making coir rope out of coconut husks. This craft, which has been passed down amongst Maldivian women for generations, relies on healthy mangrove systems as areas where the husks can be soaked. “This Hope Spot provides us with hope that Laamu’s marine ecosystems and the livelihoods and traditions relying on them will be safeguarded for generations to come,” explains Ismail Ali, Atoll Council President of Laamu Atoll.
Alongside the seagrass meadows and mangroves, Laamu’s coral reefs also provide key ecosystem benefits. “Unlike other atolls in the Maldives, Laamu has very few reef passes, leading from the outside to the inside of the atoll,” says Philippa Roe, MUI’s Head Marine Biologist. “These areas are home to healthy populations of critically endangered and endangered species such as napoleon wrasse, grey reef sharks, mantas and green and hawksbill turtles just to name a few.”
In 2013, Mission Blue declared the entire Maldives Archipelago as a Hope Spot to highlight the nation’s rich marine biodiversity and its fragility in the face of the climate crisis. “By declaring Laamu Atoll as its own, smaller Hope Spot within the Maldives, we have the opportunity to lead and inspire the nation in the realms of local marine protection,” explains Adam Tholhat, Sustainability and Community Outreach Manager at Six Senses Laamu.
The Maldivian government has pledged to protect at least one reef, one mangrove and one uninhabited island from each atoll by 2022. In 2018, Laamu Atoll council pledged to protect five ecologically significant areas in the atoll. Recently, significant progress has been made on these goals and the designation of nationally protected areas within the Hope Spot is expected in the coming months.
“Our mission has always been to leave a legacy in the Maldives, to leave this beautiful and unique part of the country better than how we found it,” says Marteyne van Well, the resort’s General Manager. “Today we make a significant step towards achieving this goal.”
“At Six Senses, sustainability is not about sacrifice, rather it is a celebration of abundance. It ensures that future generations can enjoy this unique ecosystem with Six Senses for years to come and the Laamu Atoll Hope Spot is a realization of this vision,” adds Neil Jacobs, Chief Executive Officer of Six Senses.
This Hope Spot declaration results from an application by MUI, an initiative created by Six Senses Laamu in partnership with three NGOs: the Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation and the Olive Ridley Project. MUI’s mission is to lead the tourism industry in the Maldives by undertaking meaningful marine conservation focused around the three pillars of research, education, and community. Thanks to its extensive research projects over the last few years, MUI provided crucial evidence to Mission Blue on the ecological importance of Laamu in this application.
The designation of Laamu Atoll’s Hope Spot comes as a result of the evidence provided from years of research conducted by the Maldives Underwater Initiative and its associated NGOs – the Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation and the Olive Ridley Project.
Photo by Alex Mustard