While 2020 has been a challenging year for most people, it’s provided some welcome relief for the world's oceans. For months, incredible stories have been pouring in from around the globe, with marine wildlife bouncing back at a surprising rate - free from human disturbances and interaction. And now, there's even more good news!

Just this week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially named the Maldives' Addu Atoll and Fuvahmulah in their list of protected biosphere nature reserves. Until now, Baa Atoll had been the only UNESCO biosphere reserve in the region - famous for its biodiversity and stunning aggregations of manta rays in and around legendary Hanifaru Bay.

UNESCO biosphere reserve

So what is a biosphere reserve, anyway? UNESCO describes these protected natural areas as "learning areas for sustainable development under diverse ecological, social and economic contexts". There are currently 714 biosphere reserves in 129 countries, including 21 transboundary sites, belonging to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

The president of the Maldives, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, nominated Addu and Fuvahmulah as UNESCO biosphere reserves in September 2019, as part of a plan to ensure environmental protection throughout the region. This includes the preservation of natural marine life, as well as guaranteeing that the protected areas are developed sustainably.

Addu and Fuvahmulah declared UNESCO biosphere reserves -  Addu Atoll
Addu and Fuvahmulah declared UNESCO biosphere reserves - Addu Atoll

In order to designate both atolls as biosphere reserves, the Maldivian government first granted protected status to four incredibly biodiverse areas in Addu. These include Kudakandu in Addu's lagoon, Maakilhi and Fehele Kilhi in Hithadhoo, Maafishi Kilhi in Hulhudhoo, and Mathi Kilhi - found where Hulhudhoo and Meedhoo meet.

This fantastic news for the Maldives continues a trend of conservation, with president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih having already declared 11 new protected areas in the region. His administration has pledged to designate one island, one coral reef, and one mangrove forest from each atoll as a protected area by the end of his term.