The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) seeks to address this issue while also promoting the conservation of the overall biodiversity in the archipelago. The MWSRP started out in 2006 as a scientific expedition but has now grown to become a research-based charity dedicated to studying and conserving the whale shark. It also aims to foster community-driven conservation initiatives in the Maldives and the greater Indian Ocean.

The Use Of Research In Conservation

The Whale Shark Research Programme focuses on using scientific research to understand the population dynamics of the whale sharks. This is done through studying their movements, size, breeding, and numerous other aspects. Through understanding more about them, the programme has contributed to the creation of the South Ari Marine Protected Area.

The South Ari is Maldives' largest protected area and was established in 2009 thanks to the data provided by the MWSRP. With the creation of this protected area, visitors can enjoy whale shark sightings and swim with them all year long. In fact, data collected shows that whale sharks repeatedly return to this area over many years making it possible for you to meet the same shark twice even if you return for a Maldives whale shark tour after several years.

However, you rarely see whale sharks in the South Ari Marine Protected Area that are larger than eight metres long (having reached sexual maturity). This information is helpful in understanding the behaviour of juvenile and adult whale sharks, and indicates that this area is vital in the development of young to juvenile sharks.

Community Engagement And The Moodhu Kudhin

The MWSRP has long partnered with the local residents of Maldives in their effort to spread awareness on the local marine ecosystem. In 2017, they started the "Moodhu Kudhin" programme. Meaning "children of the sea" in the local language, this programme is a two day workshop for local students.

The Maldivian school system already has a good curriculum on the marine environment. What Moodhu Kudhin aims to do is provide them with more theoretical and practical knowledge in marine science with an emphasis on field research.
On this programme, the children get out to the sea and are equipped with all the necessary life support equipment. They then explore the underwater coral reefs with supervision from MWSRP staff and volunteers, parents, and teachers. To supplement their practical lessons, they also learn about wildlife, the effects of human actions on the reefs, and other important issues affecting their ecosystem.

Internships For The Local Community

While many locals join the tourism industry by providing Maldives whale shark tours and diving sessions, some are not as fortunate securing jobs. With their internship programme, MWSRP is able to provide career opportunities for Maldivians in the marine science field.

The internship program runs for three months and immerses interns into the life of a marine scientist. Besides learning about general marine and shark biology, interns carry out extensive fieldwork collecting data in the ocean.

The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme is now an essential part of Maldives. It has not only contributed to the conservation of the local whale shark and marine population, but also to the people of Maldives through its various initiatives.