The Ministry of Environment, in an effort to conserve the local manta-ray population, has designated two bays in Baa Atoll, Nelivaru Finolhu and Huraa Faru, as protected areas. The designations made, under the Environmental Protection and Conservation Act, have been gazetted with immediate effect.

The areas will be managed in accordance with the Protected Areas Regulations, the ministry said.

Nelivaru Finolhu is located northeast of Kunfunadhoo Island, near Maalhos Island. The site where manta-rays congregate has been identified as an important area for foraging and breeding. A feature that is unique to the area is a manta-ray ‘cleaning station.’ Covering an area of 665 hectares, where plankton accumulates, it has been documented as a site with significant sightings of these majestic sea creatures. As of 2020, 105 unique manta-rays have been sighted a total of 119 times.

Huraa Faru, Baa Atoll (Image: Google Earth)

Huraa Faru is located north of the protected Hanifaru Bay, near Kihaadhoo, and is also renowned for its significant manta-ray population. The area serves as an important source of food, and it is recognised as important site for manta-ray reproduction. The 639-hectare area has an even higher record of manta-ray sightings. As of 2020, 436 manta-rays have been sighted 1,239 times.

According to the ministry, it is important to protect the sandbanks in both areas without encroaching on them to maintain the flow of the natural ocean currents.

On 2 November, the ministry added Daravandhoo Shallows and Innafushi Island, both also in Baa Atoll, to the protected list.

Dharavandhoo Shallows, located on the western side of Dharavandhoo Island, is popular among divers for its variety of coral and marine life, and also features a manta-ray cleaning station.

Innafushi Island, located north-east of Fulhadhoo Island with the protected ‘Wreck of Corbin’ on its eastern side while surrounded by sandbanks and the sea, is a protected bird breeding area.