Stepping up its support of the Maldives’ largest Marine Protected Area, pioneering luxury resort Diva has opened a dedicated Marine Biology Centre, providing an unprecedented boost to research on the unique year-round presence of whale sharks in South Ari Atoll. Home to a rich ecosystem, the reefs and the marine life of the South Ari Marine Protected Area (SAMPA), will be overseen by newly appointed resident marine biologist, Chiara Fumagalli.
Located at the heart of the island, Diva’s Marine Biology Centre offers an interactive learning experience, where guests can enjoy direct involvement in ongoing research. Amongst the various activities for guests of all ages, the Centre provides a unique opportunity to use “I3S”, a special piece of software originally developed by NASA to observe changing patterns of stars, and now adapted to map and measure whale sharks’ spotted skin pattern – their equivalent of a fingerprint. This software allows guests of the resort to find out whether whale sharks they see have been seen before, or are new to researchers.
The latest addition to the list of whale sharks currently being monitored is WS159–Stephanie;, named after the Diva guest who spotted and identified the unknown whale shark using the I3S software. “It was a small animal, only about 3.5 – 4.5 m long. The shark was in very good health, with no signs of injury. The size of the shark shows its young age” confirms Chiara.
The Centre also organizes a weekly Whale Shark Education Day to raise awareness of the local community of whale sharks. The day starts with interactive presentations about whale sharks, sea shells and reef fish, and carries on with a boat trip in the company of the Marine Biologist, focused on reef snorkeling and whale shark spotting. Next is a visit to a nearby island inhabited by its native Maldivian population, where the guests can meet some of the village’s oldest fishermen, who will share with them the whale shark fishing techniques used before the Marine Protected Area was established. The guests will then be treated to a typical Maldivian lunch, before returning to the Centre to identify the whale sharks spotted during the day.