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July 2011

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1.1 Baa Atoll 3
1.2 Baa Atoll Conservation Programme (BACP) 5
1.3 Baa Atoll Zonation System 5


2.1 Mega Fauna 6
2.2 Hanifaru 7


3.1 Hanifaru Bay 10
3.2 Vessel Movements and Locations Associated with the Hanifaru Bay. 12
3.2.1 Specific vessel regulated activities within Hanifaru Bay 13
3.2.2 Specific vessel regulated activities outside Hanifaru Bay & within the Core Area 14
3.3 Visitor Activities within Hanifaru Bay 14
3.4 Tour Guides 15
3.5 Hanifaru Access Permits/Charges and Visitor Centre 15
3.6 Hanifaru Bay Rangers 16
3.7 Mega Fauna encounter outside of Hanifaru Bay. 16
3.8 Penalties 16


Appendix 1. Table of activities prohibited and allowed within Hanifaru Core and Buffer
Area as detailed in the BACP. 17
Appendix 2: Schedule for Hanifaru Visiting for year 2011 19
Appendix 3: The National Maldivian Whale Shark Tourism Guidelines 20

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AEC Atoll Ecosystem Conservation

AWRB Atoll Wide Resource (Use) Bans

BACP Baa Atoll Conservation Programme

CBD Convention on Biological Diversity

EPA Environmental Protection Agency

GEF Global Environment Facility

GoM Government of Maldives

GPS Global Positioning System

IUCN International Union for Conservation of Nature

MHE Ministry of Housing and Environment

MPA Marine Protected Area

UNDP United Nations Development Programme

UNESCO United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation

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In the Maldives, social and economic change is altering consumptive behaviour and livelihood
strategies, outpacing institutional capacity and sectoral programs to adequately manage it.
The natural endowment that is essential to maintaining the structure and function of atoll
ecosystems, the viability of globally significant biological diversity, and the livelihoods and
environmental security of the people is threatened by the overall economic development.
Recognizing the importance of its natural resources the Government of Maldives through its
Ministry of Housing and Environment (MHE) is undertaking the Atoll Ecosystem
Conservation (AEC) Project, which is co-financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF)
and implemented through United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Maldives. This
project is focused on Baa Atoll, with the purpose of designing and demonstrating an effective
management system and plan for atoll ecosystem conservation and sustainable development,
which could then be replicated throughout the Maldives.

1.1 Baa Atoll

Baa Atoll, also known as South Maalhosmadulu Atoll is located in the west of the central part
of the Maldives. The atoll is approximately 1,200 km2 in area and is approximately 63 km long
(448N to 522N) and 38 km at its widest point (7248E to 7311E). The atoll including
Goidhoo atoll, which lies 12 km south of the main island group, is comprised of seventy five
islands covering a total land area of 5.5 km2 of which thirteen are inhabited with a combined
population of approximately 11,000 people (Figure 1). Seven islands have been developed as
resorts whilst three more are planned or under construction with the remaining 53 islands
uninhabited. Eydhafushi is the administrative centre and capital island, and its neighbouring
atolls include Raa to the north, Lhaviyani to the east and North Male in the south-east. Baa
Atoll is approximately 100 kilometres to the north-west of Male, the capital of the nation.

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Figure 1: Baa Atoll.

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1.2 Baa Atoll Conservation Programme (BACP)

On 28 June 2011 whole of Baa Atoll have been declared as a World Biosphere Reserve by
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). The designation
will signal the world class nature of the area and the commitment of local people to manage it
sustainably for the future. Biosphere Reserves have three functions: conservation,
sustainable development and learning. They are vehicles for knowledge-sharing, research
and monitoring, education and training, and participatory decision-making.

The Baa Atoll Conservation Programme (BACP) is the biodiversity conservation programme
for the Biosphere Reserve. It encompasses all the islands, waters and resources (biological
and non-biological) of Baa Atoll with an outer perimeter that extends 1 nautical mile from the
outer reef zone of the atoll. The BACP has been developed through a comprehensive
stakeholder consultative process and is being implemented in line with the Ecosystem
Approach of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). This is A strategy for the
integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and
sustainable use in an equitable way. The long term goal of the BACP is to ensure the
ecosystem and all resources of Baa Atoll remain healthy, productive and resilient into the

Through an intensive stakeholder consultative process it was agreed to adopt and utilize the
(UNESCO) protocols for a World Biosphere Reserve to develop the zonation strategy for the

1.3 Baa Atoll Zonation System

The BACP is a multiple use marine and terrestrial area that provides for a wide range of
anthropogenic uses (e.g. commercial, artisanal, subsistence, recreational and tourism) and is
based on an overriding conservation objective to ensure long term ecological sustainability.
Therefore the atoll and its biological and non-biological resources are protected and managed
through a zonation system that provides for different uses and activities to be undertaken in
the different zones whilst minimizing detrimental threats and user conflicts. The BACP also
provides mechanisms that actively support the development of sustainable livelihoods.

The development of the Baa atoll zonation system included a combination of biological
knowledge (scientific and anecdotal) and stakeholder (community, government and private
sector) involvement. The zonation system like the BACP is a living system and requires
regular evaluations and modifications to ensure the long term objectives are met.

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Spatial zoning is an important and required tool for managing human activities across whole
ecosystems. In a large and complex ecosystem like Baa Atoll, human activities need to be
carefully managed to ensure that use of resources is sustainable, that sensitive biological and
non-biological features are protected (e.g. Mega fauna feeding aggregation site at Hanifaru
bay) and that degraded habitats and resources are restored.

The zonation system developed for Baa atoll has adopted the UNESCO World Biosphere
Reserve zonation criteria and protocols. This includes a three tiered zonation approach which

Core Areas (highly protected and managed areas where only non-damaging, non-
extractive use is allowed, i.e. Look, See, Dont touch),
Buffer Zones (managed areas where some types of activities are allowed), and
Transitional Areas (multiple use areas where sustainable activities are allowed)

In addition, a number of specific Atoll Wide Resource Bans (AWRB) has been incorporated
into the BACP to prohibit unsustainable resource (biological and non-biological) extraction
activities. These bans have been adopted to ensure all non-biological and biological
resources of Baa atoll are sustainably managed.

Ten (10) Core Areas and associated Buffer Zones (Figure 1) have been designated for Baa
atoll. Due to the importance of these sites they require specific management plans to be
developed to ensure their long term sustainable protection and management. One of these
sites is Hanifaru reef which has been protected because it is a unique seasonal feeding
aggregation site for manta rays and whale sharks.


2.1 Mega Fauna

Maldives and Baa Atoll have globally significant stocks of whale sharks and manta rays.
According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List Threatened
Species assessments, Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are Vulnerable, and Manta rays
(Manta birostris) are Near Threatened.

There are now two described species of manta rays globally; Reef Resident Manta Rays
(Manta alfredi) and Giant Oceanic Manta Rays (Manta birostris). By far the vast majority of
manta rays observed in the Maldives are specimens of the resident population of 5-6,000 reef
manta rays. However, giant oceanic mantas can be seen at specific locations and each year

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several of these giants are recorded feeding amongst the reef mantas inside Hanifaru. Nine
other species of rays have been recorded inside the MPA of Hanifaru, including three Mobula
ray species.

Whale sharks and Manta Rays have been traditionally harvested in the past for their oil and
fins and it is reported that all fishing of these species has ceased in Baa Atoll. However
anecdotal information, mainly from outside the Maldives, indicates that individuals of both
animals are killed accidentally from boat traffic and fishing nets.

Both manta rays and whale sharks visit Baa atoll periodically throughout the year, but during
the south west monsoon they aggregate in high numbers in Hanifaru bay to feed on high
concentrations of zooplankton (e.g. copepods). This feeding aggregation is an annual event
with an average duration of 5-7 months (May-November) with many individual manta rays and
whale sharks returning each year. Hanifaru bay is one of the only places on earth where
manta rays and whale sharks aggregate in such high numbers to feed.

2.2 Hanifaru

Hanifaru reef and its resources were designated as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 2009
and is a Core Area of the Biosphere Reserve (Figure 2). Therefore this reef and its living and
non-living resources are allocated the highest level of protection within the nation. The site is
a Look, See, Dont touch zone. The designation was specifically made to ensure the
protection of the bay, its resources and the mega fauna that visit the site.

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Figure 2: Hanifaru designated MPA with GPS points and coordinated for the Core Area and
the 200m wide Buffer Area.

Hanifaru reef is located on the eastern side of Baa Atoll approximately half way along the
atoll. The reef is semi oval in shape and is directly exposed to the ocean on the eastern side
whilst the rest of the reef is surrounded by deep water channels. A small vegetated sand cay
is located on the western corner of the reef and the lagoon is relatively shallow, dominated by
sand and has no direct channels to the ocean (Figure 2). Hard coral cover and benthic
biodiversity is low when compared to adjacent reef systems within Baa atoll especially within
the lagoon, however turtles and seabirds utilize the island for nesting purposes. The south-
eastern side of the reef includes a distinctive small bay (approximately 80 - 200m wide and
700m long) that is directly connected to the main reef in the east by a and with a distinctive
channel to the west. This channel opens directly into the ocean and is used by the mega
fauna to enter the bay, although during periods of high water animals will cross the reef
directly to enter the bay. The southern section of this bay directly adjacent to the Hanifaru
huraa sand bank during the south west monsoon is the location that zooplanktons are trapped
(very high population densities) and the mega fauna aggregate to feed. Peak counts of over
250 individual manta rays and 6 whale sharks have been recorded actively feeding in this
area at any one time, but such numbers are exceptional.

This site therefore is truly biologically unique and has become one of the worlds best known
and must see tourist destinations for these mega fauna. This site is the focus of intense
tourism activities during the aggregations of these animals with the expectation that tourism
pressure will increase considerably over the coming years. Hanifaru is of huge economic
value and potential for the tourism industry within Baa atoll and the nation. However, the
intensity and continuing growth of tourist activities itself threatens the sustainability of this

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unique site. Very careful management of the tourist sector activities is therefore required to
ensure the mega fauna and bay are protected for the future. The management of the tourist
activities associated with the bay requires a site specific management plan that incorporates a
number of clear and concise dos and don'ts, codes of practice supported by regulations,
enforcement and strict conformity by all users. A precautionary approach using common
sense with respect to the animals, the bay and between all tourist operators and clients is
required to ensure the long term sustainability of this remarkable tourist attraction.


The Goal of this Management Plan is

To ensure the long term sustainable management and protection of Hanifaru reef,

its resources and biodiversity.

More specifically, the management plan has the following objectives:

i. To protect the globally significant feeding aggregation of manta rays and whale sharks
ii. To provide a sustainable, high quality experience for visitors that does not threaten the
iii. To support sustainable livelihoods development of local communities

This management plan has therefore been developed incorporating a series of specific
actions for implementation, fully supported by the Environmental Protection and Preservation
Act (Law number 4/93), permitting and entrance fees, and requiring strict adherence by all

The management plan must be adaptive and user-friendly in its design and will require
periodic review and modification to attain its long term objectives. It aims to provide a legal
mechanism that is fully supported by all users to ensure this unique site is fully protected for
the long term whilst providing services to maximize visitor enjoyment and economic
opportunities to the nation.

All designated Core and Buffer Areas within Baa Atoll have a number of activities that are
allowed and those that are prohibited. Hanifaru is a Core Area surrounded by a buffer zone
and therefore these designated activities need to be adopted by all users. In summary, all
extractive activities are prohibited, whilst activities that include Look, See, Dont touch
marine and terrestrial tourism and community recreational activities (e.g. snorkeling, sight-
seeing, picnics) are allowed. Appendix 1 provides the full list of activities that are prohibited
and allowed to be undertaken within the Hanifaru Core and Buffer Areas.

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Due to the unique nature and localized pressure of the tourist activities associated with the
mega fauna feeding aggregations within Hanifaru bay and its expected increase in tourist
visitations, site specific management actions and codes of practice have been developed to
ensure the sustainable management of the natural resources and tourist activities. These
management actions have been developed through an extensive consultative process with all
stakeholders. Full awareness and conformity to all management actions is required to ensure
that the successful long-term management of the ecosystem, the mega fauna and tourists is

The legal responsibility for the Hanifaru Management Plan rests with the national government,
specifically EPA. EPA have the right to appoint parties to manage the Hanifaru MPA.
Following extensive stakeholder discussions EPA has mandated the Baa Atoll Council to
manage the Hanifaru MPA through use of on the ground rangers.

Any party who breaches the Hanifaru Management Plan shall be subjected to penalties as
defined in Environmental Liability Regulation (regulation number R-9 /2011).

3.1 Hanifaru Bay

The Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates of the perimeters of Hanifaru Reef are
marked on Figure 3. The GPS points will be marked with permanent visible markers (e.g.
colored poles/buoys).

Hanifaru Bay is located in the south region of Hanifaru reef and for the purpose of this
management plan includes all the water and reef areas that enclose the bay (Figure 3).

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Figure 3: Map showing fixed GPS points and coordinates of the MPA (core area), and the
200m buffer zone.

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3.2 Vessel Movements and Locations Associated with the Hanifaru Bay.

The numbers and movements of all vessels within Hanifaru core area must be managed to
ensure safe access to the site for all visitors that minimises disturbance to the mega fauna.
Due diligence and common sense will ensure these activities are delivered in a professional

All vessels entering and leaving the Hanifaru core area should adhere to the following
procedure, as displayed in Figure 4:

Implementation of Hanifaru management plan is in 2 phases

Phase 1: This is a transition phase (for the season of 2011 July to December)

Phase 2: implementation of management plan (from January 2012)

Guild lines for Phase 1

1. The schedule for the users will accommodate safari vessels and resorts to use
Hanifaru area in an orderly manner. Hence the each safari vessels as well as resort
and local vessels (not carrying international tourists) will only be allowed access on
every other day. EPA will issue the schedule.
2. Only five vessels (excluding rangers) are allowed to enter Hanifaru at a given time.
3. The resorts and the liveaboards/safari boats will themselves organize a booking
system or other arrangements to determine how they will operate within the 5 slots
that are available at any one time.
4. All vessels should enter/exit Hanifaru from the Northern Entrance Only (which is
5. Proceed to the drop area on the northern side of the bay (a jetty will be available from
6. Visitors should enter Hanifaru Bay by swimming. Each group of visitors are allowed to
stay in water for a maximum of 45 minutes.
7. After dropping visitors, vessels should proceed to the mooring buoys established in
the lagoon.
8. Once observation is completed, visitors must return to the drop off area.
9. Vessels should move to the drop off area (or to the jetty) to pick up their visitors.
10. All vessels should leave Hanifaru from the northern Entrance only.

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Figure 4: Diagrammatic representation of the vessel path required to transport clients to and
from Hanifaru bay.

Phase 2

From 01 May 2012 onwards, the drop-off zone and jetty near Hanifaru Bay may only
be used by EPA certified rangers and their vessels, official Hanifaru taxi, EPA
approved researchers, certified in-water tour guides and visitors that are in possession
of the official Hanifaru Token (see section 3.6). No other vessels or persons will be
allowed to use the drop off zone and jetty.

3.2.1 Specific vessel regulated activities within Hanifaru Bay

No water craft (surface or underwater) of any description is allowed to enter the bay.
Ranger vessels can enter the bay during policing and/or emergency situations.
Extreme care must be exercised.
No anchoring of any boats within Hanifaru Bay is allowed.

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3.2.2 Specific vessel regulated activities outside Hanifaru Bay & within the Core Area

No anchoring of any vessel on or in Hanifaru MPA (Core Area); mooring buoys will be
provided in the holding area within the lagoon for vessels waiting to collect clients
(starting May 2012 onwards, no vessel will be allowed within the lagoon, except for
official taxi vessels and rangers).
All vessels shall follow the drop off and pickup procedures. No vessel should allow
clients to enter the water for any reason (e.g. mega fauna) in the areas of Hanifaru
other than the area allocated for visitor drop off.
Vessels within 200 meters of the Hanifaru MPA should not exceed 5 knots (9 km/h).
Vessels within the Hanifaru lagoon (vilu) and in transit to and from the arrival and exit
zone shall not exceed 2 knots (3.6 km/h).
Only one vessel at any one time can be positioned next to the drop off/collect zone.
All vessels that encounter mega fauna within Hanifaru reef during transit operations
must ensure a minimum distance of 50 meters is maintained. Due diligence and
respect for the animals must be exercised at all times.
No vessel is allowed to enter or operate in Hanifaru Protected Area from 6:00 pm to
6:00 am (local time) for any purpose.
The mooring buoys must not be occupied or used for any other purpose than that
described in this plan.

3.3 Visitor Activities within Hanifaru Bay

All tours operators and tour guides must have an official permit to enter Hanifaru bay.
All tour groups (visitors) must be accompanied by an official certified tour guide with a
maximum of 10 clients per guide.
The number of persons in the water of the Bay at any one time shall not exceed 80.
Tour operators are legally responsible for their clients behaviour and actions.
All tour operators need to ensure all clients entering Hanifaru Bay are fully aware and
abide by the specific requirements of their permit and the Hanifaru Management Plan.
Only free diving (snorkeling) is permitted from January 2012.
SCUBA diving is prohibited from January 2012.
Use of any motorized diving equipment (e.g. underwater scooter) is prohibited.
Use of flash photography/videography is prohibited without a special permit from EPA.
All physical contact (e.g. touching, ride on) with the mega fauna is prohibited.
All visitors and guides are to maintain a minimum distance of three (3) meters from all
mega fauna and every effort must be taken not to actively swim directly in front of any
animal. In the case that an animal swims directly at a tourist the individual needs to
remain motionless (e.g. floating) at the surface until the animal moves away.
All research activities require a written permit from EPA; this permit must be produced
upon request.
Commercial videography / photography require special written permission from EPA.
Hanifaru Management Authority reserves the right to charge for any commercial
videography / photography.

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3.4 Tour Guides

From January 2012 all in-water tour guides MUST have an official government
certification by EPA to undertake guiding activities within Hanifaru bay.
All guides must have a permit to enter Hanifaru bay.
All tour operators will be responsible for their guides to obtain and maintain their
The certification must be made available to all tour operators and individuals. A fee of
500 rufiyaa will be charged for each certificate.
This Certification will be regulated by EPA.
Tour guide certification must include at minimum information pertaining to the
Biosphere Reserve, Baa Atoll Conservation Programme and its UNESCO zonation
system, Hanifaru Management Plan including Hanifaru bay and mega fauna codes of
Cancellation of certification due to breaches must be an integral component of the
Certified guides would be responsible for the education of all clients associated with
Hanifaru bay and the mega fauna.
All tour operators and tour guides must pay the annual Baa Atoll Biodiversity Reserve
management and promotion fee in order to receive and maintain official permits to
enter Hanifaru bay (see section 3.5).

3.5 Hanifaru Access Permits/Charges and Visitor Centre

In order to be allowed to free-dive (snorkel) for max. 45 minutes in the Hanifaru Bay,
each client (visitor) will have to purchase a Hanifaru Token starting 01 May 2012
The Hanifaru Tokens will be issued and sold by the Baa Atoll Conservation Fund
(BACF). Tour operators, resorts, dive centers, liveaboards etc., can sell Hanifaru
Tokens ordered from BACF on to visitors, provided that they sell the tokens for the
official price announced by the BACF.
Clients without Hanifaru Tokens will not be allowed access to Hanifaru Bay and
official taxi vessels. Officially certified in-water tour guides accompanying clients to
Hanifaru Bay will be allowed access to Hanifaru Bay without Hanifaru Tokens,
provided that they can identify themselves with a valid certification.
One Hanifaru Token provides for the right of one client to access Hanifaru Bay once.
Tokens will be validated when a client enters the taxi vessel. Clients will be able to
keep the (validated) Token as a souvenir.
In order to minimize waiting times, it will be possible and recommended to reserve
seats on taxi vessels ahead of a trip. Such reservations will be made possible through
an online form to be provided on the website of the Hanifaru Visitor Centre.
Each visitor to Hanifaru Bay will receive ahead or during the taxi boat ride a laminated
map of Hanifaru reef with Hanifaru Bay and key location sites. On the back of this
document, the list of allowed and prohibited activities will be included. During the taxi
boat ride, tour guides will be required to introduce (or repeat) to clients the allowed
and prohibited activities in Hanifaru Bay.
All tour operators and tour guides must regularly pay to the BACF the Baa Atoll
Biodiversity Reserve management and promotion fee in order to receive and maintain
official permits to enter Hanifaru bay.

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Starting May 2012, access to Hanifaru Bay will be possible by official taxi vessels only.
Taxi vessels will leave once per hour from the Hanifaru Visitor Center
The Hanifaru Visitor Centre will be constructed on Dharavandhoo Island. The Visitor
Centre will provide for, among others, a taxi waiting area, toilets, restaurants, souvenir
shops, meeting rooms, as well as multimedia rooms featuring information on
Hanifaru/Baa and its fauna and flora.

3.6 Hanifaru Bay Rangers

Rangers will be responsible for:

o monitoring the implementation of measures defined in this management plan;

o recording use of Hanifaru by vessels and visitors;
o providing emergency support to incidents in Hanifaru Bay;
o recording and reporting breaches of any measures to relevant authorities

All rangers must be trained and skilled to undertake general policing, educational and
emergency roles associated with all users of Hanifaru Bay.
All rangers MUST have an official government (EPA) certification to undertake these
activities within Hanifaru Bay.
All rangers as part of the training programme for their certification must have a full
understanding of all information pertaining to Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve, BACP and
its UNESCO zonation system, Hanifaru Management Plan including Hanifaru bay and
mega fauna codes of practice.
Cancellation of certification due to breaches must be an integral component of the
Rangers would require vessel driving skills, first aid and communication skills
(preferably in several languages).

3.7 Mega Fauna encounter outside of Hanifaru Bay.

The national Maldivian Whale Shark Tourism Guidelines should be fully adopted for all
encounters associated with mega fauna (Appendix 3).

3.8 Penalties
Any party who breaches the Hanifaru Management Plan shall be subjected to
penalties as defined in Environmental Liability Regulation (regulation number R-9

Hanifaru Management Authority reserves the right to withdraw/suspend,

permits/licenses for those who breach the Management Plan.

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4.0 Monitoring, Evaluation and Review

The effectiveness of this Management Plan will be regularly reviewed during the 2011 season
and at the end of each year. EPA reserves the right to introduce measures, including closures
of access or the establishment of No entry zones within Hanifaru Bay, if necessary. A full
evaluation of the management of Hanifaru MPA will be undertaken every 5 years.

Rangers, marine biologists, tour guides and the Visitor Centre will work together to provide
effective monitoring of the use of the area by mega fauna, vessels and visitors. An annual
report on the management will be submitted each year by the Atoll Council to the EPA.


Appendix 1. Table of activities prohibited and allowed within Hanifaru Core

and Buffer Area as detailed in the BACP.

Activity Buffer Zone Core Area

Tourism/Recreational Use: Snorkeling.

Tourism/Recreational Use: SCUBA diving (2012 onwards) X

Tourism/Recreational Use Terrestrial: picnic, Sightseeing.

Fishing - trolling pelagic X

Fishing tourism - trolling pelagic X X

Fishing Bottom Line (reef fish) X X

Fishing - tourism bottom line (reef fish) X X

Traditional Bait fish collection- Pole and Line (*Baa atoll * X

boats only)

Fishing gill nets X X

Fishing finfish breeding aggregation sites X X

Spear/ Gun fishing, X X

Destructive fishing (dynamite, chlorine, cyanide) X X

Anchoring (all boats) X

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Shell collection commercial/artisanal X X

Shell collection subsistence X X

Sea cucumber fishery X X

Shark fishery X X

Live fish collection commercial X X

Aquarium trade (vertebrate and invertebrate) commercial X X

Lobster fishery commercial/artisanal/subsistence X X

Turtle egg/adult harvest - Commercial X X

Turtle egg/adult harvest - Subsistence X X

Sea birds & egg harvesting X X

Sand Extraction Commercial X X

Sand Extraction Subsistence X X

Coral Extraction Commercial X X

Coral Extraction Subsistence X X

Waste Disposal at sea (boat or shore) X X

Palm frond Collection X


Coconut Collection X


Agriculture X X

Aquaculture X X

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Appendix 2: Schedule for Hanifaru Visiting for year 2011

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Appendix 3: the national Maldivian Whale Shark Tourism Guidelines

1. Restriction on vessels in or near contact zone:

a. An exclusive contact zone of a 250 meters (820.2 feet) radius applies around any whale
b. A vessel establishing a contact zone should identify itself by raising the designated flag.
c. Any other vessel engaging in whale shark related activities must not enter a contact zone to
observe a whale shark.
d. The operator of a vessel establishing a contact zone shall record the details of the contact
on the form provided and return this to the appropriate authority within the time specified.

2. Restrictions on period in contact zone:

a. A contact vessel must not remain in the same contact zone for longer than 40 minutes if
there are other vessels queuing to view the shark.
b. Not with standing clause 2 (1) above, the contact period is deemed as having ended once
the contact vessel has lost contact with the shark and should lower the contact flag
indicating that the contact zone and contact period have lapsed.

3. Restrictions on vessel speed in contact zone:

a. Subject to clause (2 & 3) below, a contact vessel must not exceed 5 knots (9.3km/hr) in a
contact zone.
b. A contact vessel must not exceed 2 knots (3.7 km/hr) within 50 meters (164 feet) of the contact
whale shark.
c. If, for reasons of safety, a contact vessel must exceed 5 knots (9.3km/hr) in a contact zone, that
vessel must leave the contact zone as soon as is practicable.

4. Proximity of contact vessel to the whale shark:

a. A contact vessel must maintain a distance of at least 10 m (32.8feet) from the nearest whale
b. Should a whale shark swim towards the vessel to within 10 m (32.8 feet), all engines should be
in neutral or switched off until the shark has moved more than 10 m away from it.

5. Direction of approach:
a. Subject to clause 3 (1 & 2) if swimmers or divers are to enter the sea from a contact vessel to
view a whale shark, the contact vessel should wherever possible approach a whale shark from
in-front or from the side without the vessel forcing the shark to change direction.

6. Number of swimmers or divers:

a. The number of swimmers or divers entering the sea from a contact vessel to view a shark is
limited to a maximum of 12 persons in total.

7. Physical contact with whale shark prohibited:

a. A person must not touch or ride on, or attempt to touch or ride on, a whale shark under any

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8. Proximity of swimmers or divers to the whale shark:

a. A person in the sea must

i. at all times maintain a distance of at least:
ii. 3 meters (9.84 feet) from the head or body of the whale shark, when approaching a whale
shark from any direction; and
iii. 4 meters (13.1 feet) from the tail of the whale shark, when approaching the tail from any
iv. Must not deliberately cross in front of the whale sharks direction of travel or impede its

9. Motorized swimming and other activities prohibited:

a. A person in the sea must not:
i. use a motorized or otherwise powered swimming or diving aid in a contact zone.
ii. use any device capable of towing or carrying a person, that is towed behind a vessel, in a
contact zone.
iii. use flash photography

10. Exceptions when authorized by the authorized Government Agencies:

a. Clauses 5, 7, 8 and 9 do not apply to a person who is undertaking authorized scientific
research. Authorized scientific teams should also adhere to their allocated timings provided in
the permits and should collect their deployed equipments prior to leaving the MPA.

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Graphical Summary of Maldivian Whale Shark Encounter Policy

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