Every day, island communities in the Maldives feel the impact of environmental change caused by humans. Alex Arnall empowered islanders to use photography to document these challenges and bring their concerns to the attention of policymakers.

The Maldives are famous as a holiday paradise, but this archipelagic nation in the Indian Ocean faces enormous environmental challenges. The Government are aware of these threats, but often disconnected from the communities that live on the outlying islands, where the daily impact of environmental change is being felt.

Working in the small islands of the North Malé atoll, Dr Arnall in collaboration with colleagues in the Maldives and at the University of Manchester, involved residents in research to build a picture of their changing environment. This included empowering islanders to capture their everyday lives and challenges on camera.

The research revealed three major daily changes causing great concern among local people;

the erosion of coastline due to natural forces and coastal engineering, the accumulation of rubbish washed-up on the shoreline, and the rapid expansion of the built environment for tourists. These concerns were brought into sharp focus at an exhibition of islanders’ photographs in Malé, attended by the public, local and international policymakers.

One island council reported that the exhibition launch led to approval, the next day, of its application to erect coastal defences. And with new skills and confidence, island communities are now better equipped to articulate their concerns and propose locally-driven solutions.

In partnership with Prof Uma Kothari, University of Manchester, Dr Mizna Mohamed, ENDEVOR Maldives.

Funded by ESRC-DFID Development Frontiers Research Fund

Shortlisted for the University Research Engagement and Impact Awards 2020

First published: June 2020