EJN and Bertarelli Foundation Lead a Marine Science Workshop in the Maldives

A group of people standing together
EJN and Bertarelli Foundation Lead a Marine Science Workshop in the Maldives

The ocean is facing mounting pressure from a seemingly endless list of anthropogenic and environmental impacts, including acidification, deep sea mining, over-fishing, and plastic pollution. The Indian Ocean region is no stranger to these threats — in fact, it’s warming faster than any other tropical ocean — with the long-term consequences affecting everything from marine species to tourism to human health. 

As part of EJN’s Ocean Media Initiative, EJN is working to strengthen the capacity of ocean journalists around the world.  

In collaboration with the Bertarelli Foundation Marine Science Programme, we hosted the Indian Ocean Marine Science Workshop in September 2023. The workshop was held in the Maldives at the Four Seasons Landaagiraavaru, in the picturesque setting of the Baa Atoll UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, serving to remind participants of what they were hoping to help protect. 

After being twice-postponed due to Covid-19, the three-day workshop finally took place, with 15 Indian Ocean journalists from 11 countries were selected after a competitive application process to participate. The journalists who participated in the workshop are:  

  • Aditya Wardhana, CNN Indonesia 
  • Aishath Shaany, Raajje TV, Maldives 
  • George Otieno Aoko, Royal Media Services, Kenya 
  • Hassan Ali Osman, Hiiraan Online, Somalia 
  • Jenifer Gilla, Nipashe Daily and The Guardian Daily, Tanzania 
  • Justus Wanzala, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, Kenya 
  • Malaka Rodrigo, Mongabay Sri Lanka, Sunday Times, Vidusara, Sri Lanka. 
  • Manisha Deena, L’express, Radio One, Mauritius 
  • Rishika Pardikar, IndiaSpend, India 
  • Rivonala Razafison, La Verite, Mongabay, SciDev, Madagascar 
  • Ronna Nirmala, Project Multatuli, Indonesia 
  • Sérgio Nhambi, Voice of America (Africa division), Mozambique 
  • Siphamandla Goge, eNews Channel Africa, South Africa 
  • Sophia Kessy, Clouds Media Group, Tanzania 
  • Sweta Daga, The People’s Archive of Rural India, India 

The workshop provided training on some of the broader issue areas facing the Indian Ocean region, including marine protected areas, conservation of reef and open ocean species, ocean governance, climate impacts, and under-reported scientific solutions for ocean conservation, amongst other topics. 

“Media coverage of the state of marine wildlife is very inadequate. All forms of wildlife in our oceans are being impacted by human activities that include climate change, pollution and shipping. This workshop sought to give a fillip to media coverage of wildlife in the Indian Ocean. Reports by participants after the workshop indicate that we have made a start. There is a long way to go,” said Joydeep Gupta, EJN Trainer and South Asia Director of The Third Pole. 

A person presents in front of a screen
Marine Biologist Asha de Vos (Oceanswell, Sri Lanka) speaks to the journalists about her research on blue whales / Credit: Charlie Debenham.

Knowledge sharing

EJN Senior Programme Officer Charlie Debenham and EJN Executive Director James Fahn coordinated the training, with trainers including The Third Pole Director Joydeep Gupta, Professor Heather Koldewey, who leads the Bertarelli Foundation's Marine Science programme at the Zoological Society of London, Joanna Harris, leader of the Manta Trust’s Chagos Manta Ray Project, and Dr Asha de Vos, Founder and Executive Director of Oceanswell, a marine conservation research and education organisation. 

"It was a wonderful experience to share my passion for the ocean with an incredible group of environmental journalists from across the Indian Ocean region. Particular highlights were snorkelling together over coral reefs and with mantas, a new experience for many of the participants. It was rewarding to hear them end the workshop with so many ideas for ocean stories...” said Heather Koldewey, Zoological Society of London. 

The training kicked off with presentations from Heather Koldewey and Asha de Vos, who spoke about their work in marine science and conservation. They shared their views on how journalists should engage with researchers to build better ocean stories. Joanna Harris, a manta ray scientist from the University of Plymouth, led the journalists through some of the science behind manta ray conservation, from data collection to photo tagging and mapping seasonal migration patterns. This demonstrated the range of research and conservation activities required for effective species conservation. All three experts also work for the Bertarelli Foundation's Indian Ocean marine science programme.

Workshop participants had the opportunity to experience snorkeling with one of the Maldives most prolific and charismatic species, the manta ray. This location is a global hotspot for mantas and a protected area. Despite varying in confidence as swimmers, the journalists were eager to take advantage of this unique experience, and the Manta Trust ensured that everyone was safe and enjoyed their time in the water. 

A group of scuba divers and a manta ray
Journalists got to experience snorkelling with a group of gentle manta rays / Credit: Joanna Harris. 

“The unique EJN workshop in the Maldives brought marine science and journalism together in a location that made it possible to experience science in action. It was an honor to be able to work with, teach and learn from the amazing group of Indian Ocean journalists who all enjoyed and embraced the experience. Snorkeling together with the mantas was wonderful and seeing their confidence in the water grow so quickly was fantastic,” said Joanna Harris of the Manta Trust. 

The journalists also had the opportunity to participate in reef restoration activities being carried out by the hotel as part of the as part of their sustainable tourism activities. Participants tried their hand at building a coral frame, which were populated with small coral fragments before being deployed in the ocean. The frames were dedicated to the Bertarelli Foundation and the Earth Journalism Network. This activity provided a valuable opportunity to discuss sustainable tourism and effective approaches to reef restoration.

People building coral reefs
Journalists also participated in a coral frame making workshop / Credit (L-R): Charlie Debenham and Manisha Deena. 

Back in the classroom, EJN's James Fahn and Joydeep Gupta led sessions on ocean journalism, including where to find information, how to work with sources, how to report solutions stories, and more. They encouraged journalists to think about what topics they wanted to report on back home for their local audiences, and helped them refine their ideas and find fresh and interesting angles.  

A man presents in front of a screen
Aditya Heru Wardhana, a journalist reporting for CNN Indonesia, presents his reporting idea / Credit: Charlie Debenham. 

The journalists were also given the opportunity to participate in remote group interviews with some of the scientists in Bertarelli’s expansive network, including Francesco Ferretti of Virginia Tech, USA, whose research spans from macro-ecology to applied management and conservation of the ocean, and Angelique Pouponneau, a lawyer from the Seychelles who specializes in the law of the sea and the conservation of marine natural resources. 

A man watches as people gather around a screen
James Fahn looks on as the journalists participate in a remote group interview / Credit: Asha de Vos

“I consider EJN's "Indian Ocean Marine Science Workshop" as a special career-uplifting workshop as it provided me guidance to report on oceans at a global level and a launching pad to take the next steps in my journalistic career,” said one participant, who preferred to remain anonymous when responding to EJN's feedback survey. 

While the journalists were only together for a brief time, they were eager to network and build connections with their peers from other regions. Many discussed potential cross-border investigations and other opportunities to collaborate in the future, and all left with at least one ocean story pitch that they planned to work on in the coming weeks. Some of these stories have already been published, and can be read below: 

This workshop was co-hosted with and supported by the Bertarelli Foundation; Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru was EJN's accommodation partner. We are grateful to the Manta Trust for their expert guidance in the field trip. Read more about EJN’s Ocean Media Initiative here

Banner image: Fifteen journalists from 11 countries attended EJN’s Indian Ocean Marine Science training workshop in the Maldives / Credit: Charlie Debenham.

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