Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve – Maldives

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
Ecological Sciences for Sustainable Development –
Man and Biosphere Program

The Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve is located in the central western part of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. The atoll is situated just north of the Kashidhoo Kandhoo channel, which geographically divides the northern chain of atolls. It supports one of the largest groups of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean, and acts as a stepping stone for the transport of planktonic larvae of reef organisms from the western and eastern Indian Ocean. The reserve is home to a globally significant biodiversity among its numerous reefs and demonstrates a long history of human interaction with the environment.

The main habitat types found in the reserve are coral reefs, islands, sea grass beds and mangroves. Coral reefs are the most important habitat type in terms of area as well as biodiversity. Maldivian coral reefs are home to the richest diversity in the region and are the seventh largest in the world, accounting for 5% of the world’s reef area.

The coral reefs support a high diversity of reef animals, including approximately 250 species of corals (stony and soft corals) and 1,200 reef and reef-associated fish species, a population of marine turtles, manta rays (Manta birostris), whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) and seabirds. These also include threatened and endangered species such as the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Napoleon wrasses (Cheilinus undulatus), and tawny nurse shark (Nebrius ferrugineus). (UNESCO)

Biosphere Reserve Office

Work on declaring Baa Atoll as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve started in early 2009, a series of workshops and meetings were held right across the atoll which involved the participation of all relevant stakeholders.

Discussions were also held at national level as well, which included the environment, tourism and the fisheries ministers meeting to discuss the issue of declaring Baa Atoll as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. With the workshops and meetings completed and the conclusions of these pointing towards Baa Atoll to be declared as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve one final round of community consultation was undertaken in the same year. The outcome of the community consultations indicated that over 95% of the Baa Atoll community was in favour of declaring Baa Atollas a Unesco Biosphere Reserve.

Hence Baa Atoll was nominated by the Government of Maldives to be declared as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve on 28 September 2010 and UNESCO’s declaration of Baa Atoll as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve came on 28 June 2011. The Government of Maldives on 13 June 2012 established and opened the Baa Atoll Unesco Biosphere Reserve Office under the Ministry of Environment and Energy in the capital of Baa Atoll, Eydhafushi. The Biosphere Reserve Office will be responsible for leading and coordinating implementation of the Biosphere Reserve Strategy which comprises three programmes: Conservation Programme, Learning and Research Programme; Livelihoods and Sustainable Development Programme.  Learn More

Baa Atoll lies to the northwest of Male’, and has a total area of approximately 1,200 km2. The atoll is comprised of seventy-five islands; thirteen of these are inhabited with a combined population of approximately 11,000 people. Six islands have been developed as resorts; the remaining 57 islands are uninhabited. Whilst resorts have become the main economic driver, tuna and reef fishing remains an important activity. Production of handicrafts and other materials for the tourist industry is also significant.