Mariyam Rifga: Working towards protecting fragile and unique ecosystems in the Maldives
Posted: 14 October 2019
Australia Awards alumna Mariyam Rifga is making a significant contribution towards strengthening Protected Area Management in the Maldives and has been an asset to her organisation in achieving its conservation goals. As an Assistant Director of the Environment Research and Conservation Unit attached to the Environmental Protection Agency in the Maldives, she says her Australia Awards experience significantly improved her capacity to work in the field.
After completing her Bachelor of Environmental Science from the University of Mysore in India, Mariyam began work at the Biodiversity and Conservation Unit of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Maldives. She was part of the team that conducted the groundwork to establish the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and played a vital role in formulating and implementing the first Protected Area Management regime in the country (in the Hanifaru Bay marine protected area in Baa Atoll). The practical experience in this aspect of conservation motivated her to pursue higher studies in Protected Area Management. The Environmental Protection Agency needed specialised personnel in the field to conserve the Maldives’ unique and fragile ecosystem.
When Mariyam applied for an Australia Awards Scholarship in 2016, she was accepted and offered her first study preference: a Master of Science in Protected Area Management at James Cook University. Mariyam believes that her Australia Awards experience opened the doors for her to understand her field better, in addition to giving her improved confidence and connecting her to a network of people in the field. “I am extremely privileged to have had this opportunity to study at a prestigious Australian university,” says Mariyam.
Upon reaching Australia, she recalls that she initially experienced “cultural shock” but was able to adjust to the changes in lifestyle. “I cherished every experience. In particular, I loved the laid-back Australian lifestyle. Getting the opportunity to take my family with me to be a part of this experience was very special to me,” she says.
In her current role at the Environmental Protection Agency, Mariyam’s responsibilities include identifying environmentally significant areas, protecting ecologically significant areas, identifying management regimes, providing technical assistance to Protected Area Management staff, and identifying and managing protected species. Her Australia Awards Development Impact Plan focused on Protected Area Management; Mariyam is glad she is able to work on the tasks she identified in her Development Impact Plan and is conducting her work under Ibrahim Naeem, (Director General) who is also an Australia Awards alumnus.
Her main aim was to strengthen Protected Area Management in the country in line with government policies. Current government policies put a high priority on conservation of the country’s natural resources through providing financial commitments, declaration of new protected areas and development of management regimes for existing protected areas. Currently, Mariyam is working with a team to identify and propose new areas for protection under the presidential pledge to protect “at least one island, one reef and one mangrove in each atoll of the Maldives”. Additionally, she is working on developing a concept to manage the existing protected areas with relevant management regimes through a consultative process. She is also part of the Protected Area Management advisory committee formulated within the Ministry of Environment to streamline work in the Protected Area Management process within the institution.
“I am grateful for the opportunity I got through Australia Awards to improve my knowledge on Protected Area Management, which was an essential requirement to work in the field. More trained staff means more work can be done, and I am proud to be contributing towards this important work in my country,” says Mariyam.
Mariyam says her Australia Awards experience was also instrumental in creating strong linkages. She keeps in touch with contacts she made at her university in Australia, as well as other Australia Awards alumni—especially from countries such as Bangladesh, Kiribati, Tonga, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. She takes pride in being a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society, the world’s largest collegiate honour society. Membership is by invitation only and applies to the top 15% of college and university sophomores, juniors and seniors, as well as top-performing graduate students in all fields of study, based on their academic achievements. Mariyam says that as an alumna of James Cook University, one of the world-class universities in Environment Conservation, she also has an extremely useful networking platform to stay connected to fellow graduates and experts in her field.
With a deep passion for her work, Mariyam wants to see a time when fragile and unique ecosystems in her country—as well as environmentally significant areas and existing protected areas—are conserved and managed sustainably for future generations. She wants to enhance stakeholders and communities’ understanding of the significance of management of these areas and increase their acceptance, contribution, ownership and responsibility to effectively manage the unique and fragile ecosystems in the Maldives.