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Written by DIVE Magazine Tuesday, 26 October 2010 20:08
Hanifaru in Baa Atoll is a feeding site for manta rays and whale sharks. Massive aggregations of more than 250 rays have been seen here, but publicity has seen visitor numbers triple in the last year. Guy Stevens, director of the Maldives Manta Ray Project and marine biologist at Four Seasons Resort in Landaa Giraavaru, says he has seen up to 200 divers and snorkellers in the water at Hanifaru at one time and that this could drive the rays away.
Video Exclusive. Large numbers of visitors to a manta ray aggregation site in the Maldives could drive away the animals, a marine biologist has warned.
The site is a marine protected area – regulations state that no more than 80 people can be in the water at once and no more than five boats can moor there at one time – but these rules are not enforced.
‘Hanifaru is an amazing place, but it’s also a place that, if we’re not careful, will be destroyed,’ said Stevens. ‘No-one will arrive at the site and willingly forgo diving or snorkelling because it is already full. I would like to see enforcement of the regulations - this year it was a mess.’
Stevens has also called for a ban on diving at the site. ‘There’s no need to dive to see the animals,’ he said. ‘When the whole water column is filled, with divers on the bottom, snorkellers on the surface and bubbles in between, there is no refuge for the manta rays.’
He is hopeful that there will be improvements next year and says the government has listened to concerns over the increase in tourism at the site.
‘The government, the Maldivian community – everyone wants to make this work. The numbers of visitors wasn’t an issue before but now there’s been an increase in tourism, enforcing regulation is lagging behind a bit.’