Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Technology has designated Nelivaru and Huraafaru lagoons in Baa Atoll, as protected areas, aiming to safeguard the local manta ray population. The decision was made under the Environmental Protection and Conservation Act and has been published in the Government Gazette.
The environment ministry has implemented specific regulations in the protected areas, including the prevention of removal of eggs from living organisms, mistreatment of fauna, land and lagoon reclamation, mineral exploration, structural development, and co-aquaculture or mariculture activities. However, there are provisions for controlled public access and eco-friendly tourism activities during designated times. Research and rehabilitation initiatives will also be conducted in accordance with established regulations.
Nelivaru lagoon, situated northeast of Kunfunadhoo in Baa Atoll, has been identified as a crucial location for the foraging and breeding of manta rays. Notably, it features a unique manta ray cleaning station and spans an area of 665 hectares, characterised by plankton accumulation. A total of 105 distinct manta ray species have been sighted in the region as of 2020.
Additionally, Huraafaru, located north of the protected Hanifaru area, is renowned for its manta ray population, serving as a significant food source and recognised as a vital site for manta ray reproduction. It covers an area of 639 hectares and boasts an even higher record of manta ray sightings, with a total of 436 manta rays identified as of 2020.