(CNN) – As the world’s lowest-lying nation — much of it just a few feet above sea level — the nearly 1,200 Indian Ocean islands scattered across the Maldives’ sun-soaked atolls are famous for more than just magazine covers. ready beaches and bungalows, but because they are increasingly vulnerable to sea level rise.
“A big draw for tourism is the healthy ocean environment that visitors come to see. It’s clear that this type of environment needs to be preserved to continue to attract high-spending tourism,” says James Ellsmoor, CEO of Island Innovation, a stakeholder advocacy agency. achieving sustainable development goals in small island destinations — including the Maldives.
In fact, this nature-based tourism is a paradox here. Although it relies on income related to many of the nation’s 540,000 citizens, the tourism industry is often blamed for exacerbating the environmental crisis. Resorts in the Maldives are energy and resource intensive, produce excessive waste, and perhaps most critically, depend on high-emission, long-haul flights to bring in tourists.
As a result, many of the country’s 150-plus luxury resorts don’t just go “green” for good PR optics — experts say that in the Maldives, operating as sustainably as possible is essential for a business. long term survival.
Also, some resort initiatives, like those in favor of clean energy infrastructure, are also good for their own ends.
“The high cost of importing fuel to power noisy and polluting generators 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 way in innovative sustainability actions that help minimize impact while proving that luxury and sustainability can go hand in hand.
Recycling facilities on site
Historically, much of the nation’s waste has been mismanaged, dumped into open incinerators or dumped into the sea, creating air pollution, damaging the marine ecosystem and/or returning to land in the process. Fortunately, the government has taken steps to solve these problems.
Everyone is involved in recycling at Soneva.
The company also launched the Makers’ Place concept at Soneva Fushi last year, where makers and artists channel “waste” into salable arts and crafts, like wall tiles and glassware.
The facility is intended to be a regional recycling center for the surrounding community, with a mission to educate local school children in recycling and conservation.
Sam Dixon, Fairmont Maldives’ sustainability manager and resident marine biologist, says the schools’ partnerships are important because they are “inspiring the next generation to care passionately about protecting the ecosystem and marine life they live in.”
Solar energy installations
One resource that the tropical Maldives has in abundance is the sun, and it offers a way to generate renewable solar energy that more resorts are looking to tap into.
And it’s not just the resorts that are transitioning to the sun. Earlier this year, Gan International Airport was also announced to be the first fully solar powered airport in the Maldives.
With limited agricultural infrastructure, most of the food served in the Maldives must be flown in. To help offset some of that carbon footprint, reduce associated packaging waste and save costs at the same time, several stations (in the kitchen) have stepped up to the plate. to develop domestic “zero-food-mile” solutions.
Patina Maldives: delicious and green.
Patina Maldives, Fari Islands
Guest conservation programs
Zoona Naseem is the second certified director of PADI courses in the Maldives. But instead of working with tourists, he opened a diving center for local women and children.
With the Maldives facing serious environmental hazards, many travelers feel compelled to help.
“Travelers are looking for more local experiences because they want to feel like they’re contributing to local communities,” he says, noting that sustainability initiatives at resorts like these are “necessary” to start attracting a potential guest. ”
Visitors to Six Senses Laamu can interact with the country’s largest team of marine scientists, part of the resort-led Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI), a team that has successfully protected hundreds of turtles and manta rays and more than 1 million square feet. sea grass
Resort guests can sign up for a variety of activities focused on marine conservation, including regular reef cleanups, weekly conservation lectures, snorkeling trips led by marine biologists, and a marine biology program for kids.
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 that they can take home on how to lead a more sustainable life.” This takeaway is highly valued and appreciated by our guests.”