Conservation through Research, Awareness and Education

UK Registered Charity Number: 1145387

World Class Diving and a Unique Partnership

Michele_male (c) Marteyne van Well copy

Michele – M2551 © Marteyne van Well

Six Senses LaamuManta Sponsorship Program— By Beth Taylor, Project Manager – Laamu Atoll

Over the past years, the unusually consistent annual sightings of manta rays in Laamu Atoll have been intriguing The Manta Trust Team.  Laamu is one of only 2 year round manta research bases in the Maldives that is part of the Manta Trust’s hugely successful flagship project – The Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP). But what makes manta aggregation sites in Laamu and more specifically the nearby resort of Six Senses so special?

We certainly wanted to find out so we set up a research base on the stunning private island of Olhuveli to find out…! 

Now in our third year, it’s safe to say we have not been disappointed!

Upon arrival in the Republic of the Maldives, after those long tiring plane rides from all corners of the globe, most people make their final journeys to the resorts which sit relatively close to the capital of Male. What do these resorts all have in common? The ease of access, the shortened travel time, the convenience of it all – this is what draws thousands of tourists to take the comparatively ‘easy’ option when visiting the Maldives.

Six Senses Laamu (c) Six Senses copy

Aerial view of Six Senses Laamu private island © Six Senses

But for those of you willing to venture just that little bit further, Laamu Atoll will reward you with crystal clear waters, near pristine coral reefs – and the ultimate in 5* luxury – COMPLETE PRIVACY.

Made up of 26 atolls forming a double chain of coral islands, the Maldives stretches over 800km across the Indian Ocean with many atolls hosting multiple resorts. However, Six Senses is the only resort in the whole of Laamu. Something very hard to find in this tourism focused tropical paradise.

Falafal_male (c) Marteyne van Well copy

Falafel M2862 – cruising above us at Hithadhoo Corner cleaning station © Marteyne van Well

Having been fortunate enough to dive in a number of different tropical locations around the world, Laamu seems to completely ‘out-do’ its other Indian Ocean counterparts. Regardless of the huge number of tourists visiting this country and indeed this Atoll every year, nowhere seems to be as unspoilt as Laamu.

Assisting with the first ever Laamu sea turtle festival, organised by Six Senses Laamu. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Gilmour.

Assisting with the first ever Laamu sea turtle festival, organised by Six Senses Laamu.
Photo courtesy of Caitlin Gilmour.

The partnership between The Manta Trust and this unique resort is not new, beginning in earnest in July 2014. Since then, the project has gone from strength to strength, and in 2016 we celebrated securing a year round contract! This continued support from Six Senses and its PADI 5* dive centre – Ocean Dimensions – will allow the Manta Trust to amass years of data which will directly contribute to the protection of the main manta dive site in Laamu, Hithadhoo Corner.

The resort has championed marine conservation and local outreach since day 1 – something I am incredibly proud to be a part of. In April alone, they recycled over 100KG of plastic and are now in the final stages of making plastic shredder and injection machines which will allow any used plastic to be recycled onsite into a useful resort item!

Scenes from the festival © Adam Thol'hath

Scenes from the festival © Adam Thol’hath

One of their largest events so far was that of Laamus’ first ever sea turtle festival, promoting the safe keeping of the Atoll’s wonderful sea turtle population. The event itself was attended by over 600 people, including representatives from the United Nations!

Formation of the Maldives education session © Megan Latta, Six Senses Laamu

Formation of the Maldives education session © Megan Latta, Six Senses Laamu

Furthermore, in March 2016, we launched the first ever “Laamu Marine Club” in collaboration with the resident Marine Biologists and Sustainability Officer at Six Senses. All sessions so far have been a rich mixture of practical and theoretical learning, covering a wide range of environmental topics. We wanted this education programme to be completely different to any other initiative and resort outreach programme. We decided to design a unique syllabus which teaches kids about all aspects of the marine environment, not just manta rays. We began with the formation of the Maldives and held an incredibly successful interactive volcano building session – complete with erupting red lava and finishing with sea creature craft!

Adam helping on International Surf Day

Adam helping on International Surf Day

On our latest visit, we discussed sustainable fishing and the impacts of things such as ‘fisheries induced evolution’ – the process whereby fish are having to mature earlier and therefore smaller than ever before due to fishing pressure, leading to much smaller fish sizes in general and the inherent decrease in reproductive success. The kids were fascinated by this and many wanted to learn more about what they can do to help.

The kids from both partner schools – Hithadhoo and Maamendhoo – are incredibly enthusiastic and this is totally infectious; not just during presentations but during fun activities too like group surf sessions!

We are fully aware of how ambitious this marine education programme is in terms of scope and duration, but we are so proud of the kids and everything they have achieved so far; so much so, that we are hoping to extend it to all of the other schools within the Atoll, allowing everyone to be a part of the ‘Laamu Marine Club’!

2016 itself marked some seriously exciting manta milestones, including the sighting of a brand new manta, Jeannie, by resident marine biologist Caitlin Gilmour which actually tipped the total Maldivian manta population OVER 4000!

Jeannie - The Laamu manta recorded by Caitlin Gilmour

Jeannie – The Laamu manta recorded by Caitlin Gilmour

This year we have also witnessed our sightings data fly over the 1000 mark in addition to encountering multiple elusive Oceanic manta rays – so of course we decided to celebrate in style with a huge manta themed cocktail beach party attended by nearly 200 lovely Six Senses guests.

Manta Party (c) Adam Tholhath and Megan Latta

Photos courtesy of Megan Latta, Six Senses Laamu and Adam Tholhath, The Manta Trust

We treated guests to the first ever screening of a Laamu manta ray film that we made exclusively for the resort; in addition to inviting people to put their favourite names into a hat. We selected two names at random – Sir Mantalot and Diddy Dots – and presented guests with cake and certificates! We had numerous other activities, such as ‘pin the tail on the manta’, a manta ray selfie area, manta henna tattoos and even ‘mant-ini’ cocktails! It is events such as this that allow us to reach so many more people than we might otherwise if we were not based at such a dynamic resort.

Over the past 3 years we have seen incredible displays of courtship, begun to recognise individual manta rays by their behaviour alone, welcomed the youngest Laamu manta ray ever – Baby Maya – and watched more than 1000 guests enjoy our complimentary “Researcher for the Day” activity!

The incredibly high re-sighting rate of manta rays in Laamu – 92% – implies that we have now encountered most of the ‘resident’ individuals; however, moving forward we are extremely excited to continue our unique partnership with Six Senses Laamu and discover even more about this unusual manta ray population. Over the coming months we aim to gain a better understanding of their social behaviour, manta genetics, demographics in general and in turn secure protection for these wonderfully charismatic gentle giants.

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