In October, the 2023 Ocean Leaders gathered from around the world for the annual Edinburgh Ocean Leaders Field Mission. The field mission serves as a pivotal component of the year-long Edinburgh Ocean Leaders executive leadership program, designed to be an immersive, ocean-centred week of team building and learning.
This years’ field mission took place in the Maldives – an island nation made up of over 99% ocean and renowned for it’s remarkable marine life.
However, the Maldives has become emblematic of the threats of climate change. The low-lying islands are at risk due to rising sea levels and the increased frequency of extreme weather events. Meanwhile, the coral reefs that line the atolls are under threatened by coral bleaching caused by warming oceans, endangering not only the corals themselves but also diverse marine life that rely on these reefs as their vital habitats.
In a nation where food security and culture are intricately interwoven with the ocean, and where a substantial 80% of the economy thrives on ocean-centric tourism, the Maldives faces an urgent need to implement sustainable ocean management practices.
The 2023 Ocean Leaders were accompanied by the EOL team, which included EOL co-founders and directors Meriwether Wilson and Sandy Tudhope, as well as the EOL leadership coach Sandra Morson. Throughout the week, Sandy, Meriwether and Sandra held leadership sessions in conjunction with the daily activities. Tommy Melo, a 2021 Ocean Leader, joined the group following his role as the host for the field mission in Cape Verde the previous year.
The week kicked off with two days spent in Male Atoll, where the Ocean Leaders made their way to the capital, Male. During these initial days, the Ocean Leaders engaged with various ministries and government agencies of the Maldives. These engagements encompassed topics such as tourism, fisheries, environment, environmental protection, development, Marine Protected Areas, efficient waste management, coastal erosion, and the ever-present challenge of climate change.
While in Male Atoll, the group also visited the local island of Hurraa. There, they learned about the work of local environmental organizations Water Solutions and the Small Island Geographic Society and visited the Four Seasons resort. At the Four Seasons, they were introduced to the coral restoration, turtle rehabilitation, and other marine research, led by marine organisation Reefscapers.
The second half of the week took the group to Gan in Laamu Atoll, where they were introduced to the work of their local hosts Maldives Resilient Reefs (MRR), a Maldivian non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to the restoration of coral reefs in the Maldives. Sha Hashim, the founder of MRR, provided insights into the grassroots initiatives that MRR is actively coordinating encompassing research, education, and partnerships. Given that several of the Ocean Leaders have significant experience in leading local marine organizations, this session fostered a fruitful exchange of ideas and experiences.
The following day, the Ocean Leaders visited Hithadhoo Island, where the local island council is planning to launch a community-led marine management project – first of its kind in the Maldives. This was an inspiring encounter, meeting local leaders driving positive change for the ocean. Knowledge and ideas were exchanged during a beachfront meeting organized by the council, leveraging the experience of several Ocean Leaders in managing locally governed marine areas.h
The group also enjoyed the opportunity to paddle through the mangroves in kayaks, exploring the areas soon to be managed under the locally-conservation area on Hithadhoo island. The excursion was followed by a delightful picnic, featuring traditional Maldivian dishes and a curry traditional to Hithadhoo.
During their time in Laamu Atoll, the Ocean Leaders also spent an afternoon at the Six Senses resort in their newly opened SHELL building, a hub for ocean education and research. Here, the group delved into the marine research carried out by the Maldives Underwater Initiative, a collaborative effort between Six Senses, the Olive Ridley Project, The Manta Trust and Blue Marine Foundation. Conversations revolved around the intricacies of tourism’s role in driving positive change for the ocean, exploring both challenges and opportunities.