Our research trip to the stunning Maldives Islands is now complete, with success by all members of the expedition. We covered about 350 nautical miles, visiting some 35 reef locations. Nearly all of this transiting has been in daylight due to the complications of navigation at night through the coral-studded atolls of this archipelago. Indeed, the remarkable and complex coral development of this place is one of the central impressions left with me after our three weeks of cruising. I remember never-ending palettes of color on the horizon, with shades of blue water and streaks of white sand blending into changing sunsets, and flashes of color from clouds of trigger fish under the keel as we passed through seemingly too-shallow crystal waters into yet another atoll.
However, the complexity and interest of working in this country has come not only from the natural world, but also from the social realm. One of the greatest things about field research is the ability to spend real time not just immersed in nature, but also in discussion with colleagues, far from the call of the phone or the chirp on an incoming text message. We had enough time in the evenings for relaxed, in-depth discussions on what we had seen underwater that day, how humans are affecting the reefs, and indeed the very future of the ocean. This trip was particularly interesting for this, as we had a number of members of our partner organizations with us on the research vessel. Both management staff and junior local members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature joined us for most of the voyage, adding invaluable local information. We also had two members of the Maldivian Marine Research Center on board. These two young men will likely be helping to set the tone of this group for years to come, directing how the government perceives and preserves their remarkable marine resources. We also hosted and met folks from the diving and resort community. These guides are able to direct the experiences of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come here annually, largely for exposure to the ocean. I value the inputs and contributions of all of these folks to our research trip, and to our experience of the remarkable Maldives.
In the end, effective ocean conservation can only result from the cooperative action of all of us who care and live upon the ocean. We may all hail from different countries, incomes, religions, and backgrounds, but for the large issues now facing the world environmental community, we must come together as a global population. It may be just a microcosm, but on board our little vessel the feel of a commonality of purpose - to explore, document, and most of all protect the wonders of the underwater world – made me feel closer to making this global goal a reality. Thanks to everyone for joining us, and I hope that our collaborations will continue.