These resorts in the Maldives are leading the charge on sustainability

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(CNN) — As the world’s lowest nation – much of which sits just meters above sea level – the nearly 1,200 Indian Ocean islands scattered across the sun-kissed atolls of the Maldives are not only famous for their magazine covers. ready beaches and bungalows, but for their increasing vulnerability to rising sea levels.

According NASA reportsup to 80% of these islands could be uninhabitable by 2050.
And that’s not the only pressing environmental threat. The island nation’s remoteness and limited waste disposal facilities – combined with a large influx of tourists (numbering more than 1.7 million a year, before the pandemic) – have led to poor waste disposal, the Maldives tourist board going so far as to encourage visitors to make their own non-biodegradable waste.
The delicate ecosystem of coral reefs – a huge lure for divers and snorkelers – has suffered mass damage: A scientific study survey in 2016 found that climate change-induced coral bleaching had damaged more than 60% of the nation’s reefs.

“A big draw for tourism is the healthy ocean environment that visitors come to see. Clearly, this kind of environment needs to be preserved in order to continue to attract high-spending tourism,” says James Ellsmoor, CEO of Island Innovation, an agency that helps stakeholders. in small island destinations – including the Maldives – achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Indeed, this nature tourism here is somewhat paradoxical. While many of the country’s 540,000 citizens depend on related income for their livelihoods, the tourism industry is often blamed for aggravating the environmental crisis. Resorts in the Maldives claim high demands on energy and resources, and produce excessive waste generation – and perhaps most seriously, rely on long-haul, high-emission flights to bring in tourists.

As a result, many of the country’s more than 150 luxury resorts aren’t simply choosing to “go green” for good public relations purposes — experts say in the Maldives, operating as sustainably as possible is essential for a business. long-term survival.

Additionally, some resort initiatives, such as those targeting clean energy infrastructure, are also good for their bottom line.

“The high cost of importing fuel to power noisy, polluting generators just doesn’t make sense compared to the much lower cost of solar, wind and battery storage,” says Ellsmoor.

Today, several Maldivian resorts are leading the pack in innovative sustainability actions that help minimize impact, while proving that luxury and sustainability can go hand in hand.

On-site recycling facilities

Historically, much of the country’s waste has been mismanaged, relegated to open burning pits or dumped at sea, creating air pollution, damaging the marine ecosystem and/or returning to land in the process. . Fortunately, the government has taken steps to address these issues.

Meanwhile, Studies show that tourists are the largest waste generators in the Maldives, per capita. In response, some island resorts are now using creative solutions for waste management.
Eco-pioneer Soneva Resortsfor example, which operates two properties in the Maldives, has a robust composting program and also operates its Eco Centro – an on-site waste treatment facility that recycles approximately 90% of plastic, aluminum and glass waste from complex.

Everyone gets involved in recycling at Soneva.

Soneva

The company also launched its Makers’ Place concept in Soneva Fushi last year, where makers and artists repurpose “waste” into salable arts and crafts, such as wall tiles and glassware.

Fairmont Maldives HotelMeanwhile – which aims to be the country’s “first zero-waste resort” – launched its sustainability lab earlier this year, which also focuses on reinventing plastic, glass and aluminum waste scavenged in resorts and oceans waste tourist souvenirs and local products (like turtle-shaped luggage tags and stationery for area schools).

The facility is intended to become a regional recycling center for surrounding communities, with an additional mission to educate local school children about recycling and conservation.

Sam Dixon, in-house sustainability manager and resident marine biologist at Fairmont Maldives, says school partnerships are important because they “encourage the next generation to care passionately about protecting the ecosystem and the marine life that surrounds them. reside”.

Solar energy installations

One of the resources that the tropical Maldives has in abundance is the sun, providing an avenue for renewable solar power generation that more and more resorts are looking to tap into.

In 2018, Kudadoo Private Island Maldives became the first resort in the country to be entirely solar-powered, thanks to nearly 1,000 solar panels that cover the roof of “The Retreat” (a restaurant, wellness and retail center) .
Other properties that have incorporated significant solar projects include Dusit Thani Maldives, where solar panels cover the roofs of the main buildings of the complex; The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands, which is mostly solar-powered (guest villas are covered with panels); and LUX* South Ari Atollwhich boasts the world’s largest floating solar power plant at sea (bonus: ecological solar platforms offer a kind of artificial reef for marine life).

And it’s not just seaside resorts that are going solar. Earlier this year, Gan International Airport also announced plans to become the Maldives’ first fully solar-powered airport.

‘Zero-Food-Mile Dinner

With limited agricultural infrastructure, most food served in the Maldives must be flown in. To help offset some of this carbon footprint, reduce associated packaging waste and cut costs at the same time, several resorts have gone to the (kitchen) plate to develop local “zero-food-mile” solutions. “.

Amillafor its part, has a host of sustainable restoration initiatives that go beyond the more standardized vegetable and herb gardens to include a banana plantation, a hydroponic garden, a mushroom shack, a processing facility for coconut and a choose-your-own “Cluckingham Palace” chicken. cooperative.
Patina Maldives, Fari Islands, bills itself as “conscious kitchen providers,” with an on-site organic permaculture garden open for guest picking; zero waste kitchens; meal menus that promote plant-based diets; and an in-house water bottling facility.
Patina Maldives: delicious and green.

Patina Maldives: delicious and green.

Patina Maldives, Fari Islands

Customers who dine at the Zero restaurant in Sun Island Resort & Spameanwhile, are promised a near-zero dining experience, with an emphasis on produce picked from the hotel’s garden and fresh seafood from the fishermen – all served at a table nestled in the treetops. .

Guest retention programs

Zoona Naseem is the second PADI Certified Course Director in the Maldives. But rather than work with tourists, she opened a dive center for local women and children.

With the Maldives facing such serious environmental challenges, many travelers feel compelled to help.

Marteyne van Well, Regional General Manager at Laamu of the six sensessays visitors to the Maldives are increasingly looking for sustainable resort brands that offer conservation initiatives and education.

“Travellers are looking for more local experiences because they want to feel they are contributing to local communities,” she says, noting that today such resort sustainability initiatives are simply “a must for even start engaging a potential customer”. ”

Visitors to Six Senses Laamu can mingle with the country’s largest team of marine scientists, part of the resort-led Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI), a group that has successfully protected hundreds of turtles of sea and mantas and over a million square feet of seagrass.

Resort guests can sign up for an array of marine conservation-focused activities, including regular reef cleanups, weekly conservation talks, snorkeling trips guided by marine biologists, and a biology program junior navy for kids.

Other impressive resort conservation programs include those run by the Coco collection, with two Maldivian properties behind the ORP sea turtle rescue center run by a veterinarian and a team of resident marine biologists in charge of ocean restoration. Guests can participate in coral tree planting trips, participate in reef cleanups, or even help rehabilitate rescued turtles.
Gili Lankanfushimeanwhile, will launch a new marine biology center later this year with dedicated research space and an expanded coral regeneration program, where guests can participate in coral reef cleanup and rehabilitation and study conservation alongside resident marine biologists.

Ultimately, says van Well, with the rise of more conscious consumers, the Maldives resort’s job is to provide guests with “tips and some of our little secrets on how to lead a more sustainable life than ‘they can take home – and this takeaway is very popular and appreciated by our customers.”

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