For life on land, protecting life below water


Shoko Noda, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in the Maldives, takes the plunge for SDG 14 - Life Below Water. UNDP Photo

Squeezed in a subway in Tokyo one morning in 1992, I wondered how many fellow commuters had seen the magnificence of underwater life. The previous day I had my first diving experience. I felt humbled witnessing the magic in the water, and knowing that human beings occupied only 30 percent of the planet. 

For several years, work kept me away from diving, and I was repeatedly assigned by the UNDP to landlocked countries. I had seen snow-covered Mongolian steppes, sky-penetrating Himalayan ranges, and the barren Afghan-Pakistani border, but I started having dreams of blue oceans, white sand beaches, and warm weather. The dreams came true in October 2014, when I was assigned to the Maldives.

The beauty of the Maldives stirred my long-hibernating diving bug. And it wasn’t long before I took the plunge. With my instructor’s thumbs-down sign, I slowly sank into the deep blue water. Tropical fish look like a classic spring scene in Japan: cherry blossoms whirling in the air. Mantas, turtles, sharks, and colorful fish all swam around gracefully, as if divers did not exist. My 40-minute dive took me back to the humbling feeling I had in the subway.

While the underwater life in the Maldives is stunning, I worry about its future. The corals were bleached badly earlier this year, and the sea temperatures have risen because of the El Niño. When I recently returned to my favorite reef, I felt the number of fish had dwindled. Once vibrant underwater life looked rather dull. I hear horror stories about boats that transport waste from resort hotels dumping that waste in the ocean, even before it reaches the collection point. Plastic bags, ropes, and pieces of Styrofoam can be seen everywhere.

The marine ecosystem, critical to everyday island life, is under grave risk. Coral bleaching affects fish habitat that in turn impacts food supply and peoples’ income. Bleached and damaged reefs can also affect tourism, which can threaten the national economy.

We have to act now to reverse this vicious trend; we have to make the protection of marine life central to development plans.

On the positive side, I have met many passionate and committed Maldivians working to protect the environment and marine ecosystem. In March, I joined a Maldivian NGO to conduct a beach waste audit.  We collected every single item of waste in a specific area marked for this purpose, separated and weighed it by category, and recorded the results. Statistics show that the volume of waste has gone down 20% annually for the past few years, due to awareness raising campaigns. At the national level, a more systematic waste management system is being established across the country.

Sustainably managing the marine ecosystem and the environment is essential for Maldivians. This is particularly important to counter-act the adverse effects of climate change – one of the biggest challenges facing the country, and the world.

Diving introduced me to a world I never knew. Having seen this stunning yet fragile ecosystem, I am committed to working alongside Maldivians who are spearheading efforts to protect it.

Blog post Climate change and disaster risk reduction Goal 14 Life below water Sustainable development

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