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Fathimath Nistharan: Contributing to marine environment protection in the Maldives

Posted: 3 June 2021

Maldives, Alumni, Environment, Experience, Impact,

To mark World Environment Day, we are acknowledging the efforts of Australia Awards alumna Fathimath Nistharan (Nisthu) from the Maldives. Nisthu has been passionate about the marine environment from a young age, and has developed a keen interest in protected area management and marine spatial planning. Throughout her career, she has led and implemented countless initiatives that link higher education and environmental management and protection.

Even after Nisthu completed an undergraduate degree in computing software engineering and information technology, she was drawn to work in the environmental sector. She searched for higher education opportunities in the field of environmental management but discovered that these were limited in the Maldives. At this juncture, she discovered Australia Awards and received a Scholarship in 2012 to pursue a Master of Sustainable Development at Bond University in Queensland, Australia.

Travelling to Australia, Nisthu was startled by the cleanness of the air. As she settled into her studies, she was glad to be a part of the university and its beautiful campus. “The learning opportunity has been certainly unique and rewarding,” she says.

“I have studied in countries other than the Maldives previously, but Australia has been the best experience of my life that I will always treasure.”

Speaking of her Australia Awards experience, Nisthu says it completely changed her. The guidance and warmth of her professors and peers helped her to grow both as a professional and as a person. At first, Nisthu was intimidated by undertaking research work. However, the passion her professors had for their research ignited that same spark in her.

Nisthu recalls one of the highlights of her studies. “It was my dream to see the Great Barrier Reef, and as part of my coursework, my professor arranged a special field trip in Cairns to learn about ecotourism—including a visit to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority headquarters,” she says.

Nisthu (third from left) during her graduation at Bond University in 2013

Since returning to the Maldives in 2014, Nisthu has been working as an environmental professional and a lecturer, and implementing multiple projects designed to support and protect the marine environment. Through a role with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, she worked closely with the Ministry of Environment and Maldives Marine Research Institute, directly contributing to the establishment of Alifu Rasdhoo Madivaru as a marine protected area in 2018. She has also taught bachelor’s degree courses in environmental management, science and marine science, teaching the latter at the Maldives National University in 2019.

While at the Maldives National University, Nisthu co-developed and led the SWITCH-Asia project Prevention of Marine Litter in the Lakshadweep Sea (PROMISE). This European Union-funded project seeks to promote source-to-sea solutions to reduce marine littering in tourism clusters along the Lakshadweep shorelines of the Maldives, Sri Lanka and India.

Nisthu also developed the idea and co-developed the concept note for a disaster risk reduction education project titled University Network for Disaster Risk Reduction in Indian Ocean Rim (UN4DRR). This European Union-funded project aims to modernise the courses related to disaster risk reduction and to educate future experts on the prevention and management of natural and human-induced disasters in the Indian Ocean Rim. She has also been involved in developing a course on hazard early warning systems and regional disaster preparedness for higher education through a project called Capacity Building in Asia for Resilience Education (CABARET).

At present, Nisthu is the Site Manager for the Noo Raajje (‘Blue Maldives’) program, a five-year partnership between the Government of the Maldives and the Blue Prosperity Coalition. The program will develop and implement solutions for long-term sustainable ocean management and resource utilisation, form the necessary regulatory framework to support sustainable management, and create a blue economy strategy.

In addition, Nisthu is the co-founder of Koveli, a non-government organisation themed around environment and sustainability, including disaster management. She has also served as an exchange lecturer at the University of Milano Bicocca in Italy, where she taught master’s degree level courses in fisheries management.

Nisthu is an active member of the Australia Awards alumni network in the Maldives. She participated in Australia Awards – South Asia’s Regional Alumni Workshops in 2017 and 2018, and has received alumni grants to help her champion environmental management and also disability inclusion in disaster preparedness.

At the 2017 Regional Alumni Workshop, Nisthu—together with her husband and Australia Awards alumnus Hussain Nashid—received an Alumni Innovation Challenge grant for their community development project. The grant enabled them to develop a management plan for the island of Huraa in the Maldives to support the local community to adopt and manage the island as a locally marine managed area. Their project also complemented and added value to the Government of Maldives’ National Biosphere Nomination Plan.

Nishtu at the Regional Alumni Workshop in 2018

In 2018, Nisthu and Nashid—along with alumnae Fathimath Shihany Habeeb and Fathimath Sauna—received a separate grant for a disability-inclusive disaster risk management and planning project to create a Geographical Information System (GIS) registry of people with disability and people who require assistance of a caregiver so that relevant stakeholders can identify locations that may need attention or special consideration during a disaster. The project also proposed the development of a pre-disaster communication guide, which aimed to improve communication with people with disability during a crisis. The group subsequently gave a presentation about their project at the 9th International Conference on Building Resilience, which was held in Bali, Indonesia, in January 2020.

Nisthu says that her Australia Awards experience has enhanced her achievements. “Everything I have learnt at university from my professors has been extremely useful and applicable,” she says. “Without the experience and exposure that I received from Australia Awards, I never would have achieved the successes in my career thus far.”

Image on top: Nisthu (second from left) along with alumni Fathimath Sauna, Fathimath Shihany Habeeb and Hussain Nashid, presenting their project during the Regional Alumni Workshop in Bhutan in 2018