Peace Boat participants posed for a group photo with JCI Maldives team members after the morning's activities.

From the Ship

Clean Water for a Bright Future: Peace Boat visits Male, Maldives

Sep 20, 2018

As part of its 99th Global Voyage, Peace Boat dropped anchor off the coast of Male, Maldives, on September 17, 2018. In partnership with Save the Beach Maldives and JCI (Junior Chamber International) the Maldives, Peace Boat participants took part in the third annual joint initiative to help clean local beaches and raise awareness about the effects of waste on the Maldivian marine ecosystem.

Tourism is the Maldives main industry, contributing 28% of its GDP, and its rapid growth depends on the country's second-largest income generator: construction. Hotels and related tourist infrastructure are under constant development, and of the Maldives' 180 inhabited islands, 140 have luxury resorts. Participants learned that waste generated from these projects may be processed at a newly-opened waste treatment centre or used to extend the shorelines of Male (which has a landmass of only 5.8km2) and its surrounding islands. However, a significant amount of this garbage ends up in the sea and, subsequently, its beaches.

Mohammed Hoodh Ibrahim led the beach cleaning program on behalf of JCI Maldives. Before the event began, he explained how the majority of litter is generated not by tourists but locals, behaviour resulting from a combination of inadequate rubbish and recycling bins and a lack of education about the impact of littering. Beach cleanups not only help properly dispose of waste but foster awareness surrounding the devastating effects of garbage on the Maldives' unique marine ecosystem. "When garbage ends up in the ocean," said Ibrahim, "it hurts birds, fish, sea turtles-and even people. Not long ago, a swimmer had to have a piece of a plastic straw surgically removed from their foot."

Peace Boat participants were surprised to learn that coral is not only critical to local marine life but an important part of the Maldives cultural history. Converted to Islam in 1153 by Moroccan Shaikh Abdul Barakat Yusuf, its oldest mosque is made of interlocking pieces of cream-colored coral tiles. In his lecture onboard Peace Boat several days before, 99th Voyage guest educator Maeed Zahir shared that the entire economy of the Maldives depends on its unique land and sea biodiversity. Bringing structured educational programs, like the 169 targets included in the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), can help teach Maldivians about the importance of active citizenship and encourage program development and implementation from its still-nascent local government.

Farik Mohammed, a project coordinator for JCI Maldives, explained that a government entity exists to educate Maldivians but lacks the authority required to create real change. "We want to empower our citizens to create this change for themselves," he said. "Part of my job is advocating on behalf of people to create change with a bottom-up approach." These same voices are what drew many Peace Boat participants to enroll in the day's program. "It's my first time in the Maldives and I wanted to get to know locals by helping them," said Okuno Koki. Fujitsu Rieko saw a connection between the plight of the Maldives and one experienced by her home country of Japan. "Last month, a baby whale washed up on the shores of Kamakura. Babies should only be feeding from their mothers, but its belly was full of garbage. Even though I'm only one person, I want to learn about how I can help to protect marine biodiversity."

Returning to Peace Boat after their day in Male, participants were able to join the end of an onboard film festival hosted by visiting Maldivian Youth. The diverse program included the screenings of several short films centring on the primary life source of the Maldivian economy and people: its waters. Though much work remains to be done, these young voices suggest that public consciousness is on the path to real change.