Ian Lockwood


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From Reef to Rainforest Part 1 (Maldives)

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Fulhadhoo reef restoration site with our team being taught by Sendi to clean “coral plugs.”

In the space of two weeks, I’ve had the good fortune to extend learning opportunities for my students from the turquoise, ethereal water of Fulhadhoo Island in the Maldives to the steamy rainforests and home gardens of north-west Sinharaja here in Sri Lanka. Both learning experiences helped students engage with global issues of resource use, environmental stewardship, reef & rainforest ecology and ecological restoration. 

The Overseas School of Colombo(OSC) has an established and rich history with the Maldives. Maldivian students have been attending OSC for several decades and Maldivian parents have been involved with stewardship during this time (our current board chair is Maldivian). One of our most prominent alumni, Nasheed Mohamed, has been a global leader in climate change negotiations. Last year I had the privilege of taking, what I believe is, the first OSC field study to the Maldives. That was facilitated and made possible by Omar Razzak and Aminath Zahir. Working on the success of last year’s visit and with Omar’s continuing support, I once again led a group of DP1 students for an immersive field study in the Maldives.

Scenes from Fulhadhoo,Innafushi, Malé and the flight approach to Hulhumalé.

Fulhadhadhoo Island was the site of this year’s OSC field study.

This year seven DP1 ES&S students were joined by two DP1 biology students. Their teacher and my colleague Liz Harrison joined us once again. We were based in one place for most of the five-day experience. Fulhadhoo Island is part of the Goidhoo Atoll in the Baa Atoll administrative area and was our home for three nights. Omar had recommended this plan and it was really worthwhile to get to know one area in more depth. Crucial to the success of our learning program was his childhood friend Hussain ‘Sendi’ Rasheed. Sendi was our guide and mentor and acted as a natural bridge to the island, its people and ecology. He made our visit deeply meaningful and rich in experience. We stayed at Palm Retreat-a most delightful Guest House run by Amy, a migrant from Thailand who has married a Fulhadhoo man.

Crucial to the success of our learning program was his childhood friend Hussain ‘Sendi’ Rasheed. Sendi was our guide and mentor and acted as a natural bridge to the island, its people and ecology. He made our visit deeply meaningful and rich in experience. We stayed at Palm Retreat-a most delightful Guest House run by Amy, a migrant from Thailand who has married a Fulhadhoo man.

Sendi speaking with OSC students on our first afternoon at Fulhadhoo Island.

Portraits from the 2023 OSC Field Study in the Maldives. Clockwise from top left: Sendi and his grandson, Lara & Maya at Goishoo mangroves, Akash at Fulhadhoo, Shinara at Fulhadhoo, Chirath at the reef restoration site, Yusoof in UV light, Yaman in Hulhulmale, Maya & Lara at the Coral Masjid, Ethan at Soneva Fushi, Antoine & Isa at Hulhulmale. The author and group at Innafushi- a highlight for all of us.

Coral Ecology & Restoration

The first focus of our learning was on coral reef ecology and restoration. Sendi took us to the north-western edge of Fulhadhoo to snorkel at a ‘house reef.’  The reef is fairly healthy here (we saw larger healthy corals the next afternoon on the inner lagoon of Fulhadoo). 

The efforts to restore reefs using frames and plugs were fascinating to learn about. Last year we were introduced to efforts on Villingilli (near Malé). We learned that almost every resort island in the Maldives and lots of other places are making efforts to restore reefs. Sendi like to call it “revival” rather than restoration. He demonstrated how the coral plugs that the Maldives Coral Institute is experimenting with work. Our students had a chance to clean algae off the bottom of the plugs. We also snorkeled over the frames that have a variety of branch corals. Liz had brought along Coral Watch cards and we did a morning of assessing coral health. On our third night, we came back and snorkeled over the same reef in the night using UV lights. That was an outstanding and unique experience (the shaky GoPro pictures do not do it justice). 

Reef restoration and studies at Fulhadhoo Island. From left to right: frames with plogs that are removable, Lara & Maya collecting Coral Watch data and traditional frames with new coral.

Sustainability Initiatives On An Island Resort

On our 2nd day at Fulhadhoo, we motored north-east across a deep channel to the fabulous Soneva Fushi. It is well known as a high-end island resort with a commitment to sustainability. Thanks to Omar and Sendi’s introduction we were given a chance to take a tour of their facilities with a special emphasis on waste management, recycling efforts, organic gardens and innovative maker spaces for reusing materials. Different members of their teams took us on a tour of the waste management facility, organic garden and maker spaces where key resources are reused. We were also treated to an illustrated lecture on coral ecology and restoration efforts. 

Back at Fulhadhoo the next day our team snorkeled along the edge of the northern dropoff of the Goidhoo Atoll. We did a drift snorkel, flowing with the current while the boat stayed alongside us. Visibility was very clear and we saw a wide variety of larger reef fish, Hawksbill turtles and even a pod of dolphins (most likely Spinners).

Our boats crossed a shallow channel on the way into the inner Goidhoo Lagoon.

In the afternoon we visited the nearby Innafushi Island. We had to wait for high tide and then motored into the lagoon across a shallow channel. Innafushi is only a narrow bank of sand with a slim patch of vegetation and it brings to mind the classic desert island that one might imagine Rubin Cruso being washed up on. In fact, the 16th Century French mariner François Pyrard de Laval was shipwrecked here. He left one of the earliest European accounts of the Maldives after escaping imprisonment. The shallow sand banks, powdery beach and translucent water made this the most scenic place that we visited. The videos and images make it clear why this was a highlight for the whole group.

Urban Maldives Experience

Scenes from Hulhumalé- a new development that has been built to accommodate Male’s growth. We spent our last night here and our brief visit gave us a sense of how rapidly things are changing in the Maldives.

For our last 24 hours, we took a speedboat back to Malé and stayed in the Phase 1 area of Hulhumalé. We had several key people to meet and we also wanted to see this new face of the Maldives. The contrast with the uninhabited island was stark: there was still turquoise water but broad avenues with trees, sidewalks and multi-storied buildings fill the space. Cars, scooters and people buzz around. There is a constant buzz of seaplanes landing and taking off at the seaport next to the main international airport.  The streets are tidy and it feels very modern.

OSC group out for dinner Hulhumalé with Yaman from the OSC Class of 2016.

We met up with Yaman Ibrahim from OSC’s class of 2016. Over dinner, it was great to catch up with him and learn about his very cool work with Water Solutions, a Maldivian surveying company. They use all kinds of sensors, GIS software and gadgets to survey underwater and terrestrial areas. It seems like the perfect job for someone with a Physics background, an interest in marine environments and an aptitude for using 21st-century technology. 

OSC Class of 2024 students meeting with H.E. Mohamed Nasheed, former OSC student, climate change champion, former President of the Maldives and Speaker of Parliament.

On our last morning, Omar arranged for us to speak with former President and Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed. He, of course, has been a global spokesperson for taking action on climate change. There is a special link for us since Nasheed was a student at OSC in the early 1980s. He spoke to us about current issues in the Maldives, coral challenges, new efforts to tax plastic bags, debt swapping and his work supporting Sri Lanka on their own climate change initiatives (he advises them on an official level). Our students had a chance to ask questions and he was encouraging of their generation to make an effort to make a positive change.

Scenes from a sacred space carved from coral blocks and rosewood: the Friday Mosque in Malé.

Before we flew back to Sri Lanka the group had a chance to tour key parts of Malé. Notably, we visited the 17th Century Friday Mosque, built from exquisitely carved coral blocks and rosewood beams. Interestingly, it was built on the foundation of a pre-Islamic Buddhist or Hindu temple. The fish market was equally fascinating. Like the rest of the city, it was compact. At its docks rays came into feed on scraps. We were enthralled as dozens of them, along with an array of reef fish paraded right underneath us on the edge of this packed human habitation. It was a wonderful way to wrap up our five-day visit and we returned to Colombo with a sense of rapture from all that we had observed and learned.

The author and ES&S/Biology group on Innafushi Island. From left: Yusoof, Shinara, Chirath, Isa, Antoine, Ethan, Lara, May, Liz & Akash.

References & Interesting Links

Godfrey, Tim. Atlas of the Maldives:  Reference for Travellers, Divers and Sailors. 6th Edition.” Malé: Atoll, Editions, 2019. Print.

Lockwood, Ian. “ESS Field Study in Male, Maldives.”  Ian Lockwood Blog. May 2022. Web.

MIT Self-Assmbly Lab. “Growing Islands.” ND.  Web

Rasheed, Hussain ‘Sendi.’ “Why Seaweed is not a Weed.” ​TEDxBaaAtoll. 2022. Web.

The Voyage of François Pyrard of Laval to the East Indies, the Maldives, the Moluccas, and Brazil. Google Books. 1887. Web.

Tibbits, Skylar. “A new way to “grow” islands and coastlines.”  TED. 2019. Web

Voiland, Adam. “Preparing for Rising Seas in the Maldives.” NASA Earth Observatory. 9 April 2021. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2023-06-05 at 10:44 pm

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