These Maldives resorts lead the charge for sustainability

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(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.

According to NASA reports, 80% of these islands may be uninhabitable by 2050.
And that is not the only serious environmental threat. The island nation’s remote setting and limited waste facilities — along with the large number of tourists (more than 1.7 million annually, pre-pandemic) — have led to improper waste disposal, even encouraging the Maldives’ tourism boards. for visitors to bring their own biodegradable waste.
Even the delicate coral reef ecosystem — a major attraction for divers and snorkelers — has suffered massive damage: a 2016 scientific survey found that coral bleaching caused by climate change had damaged more than 60% of the country’s reefs.

“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.

Meanwhile, studies show that tourists are the biggest generators of garbage in the Maldives, per capita. In response, some of the island’s resorts are using creative waste management solutions.
For example, eco-pioneer Soneva Resorts, which operates two properties in the Maldives, has a robust composting program and also operates an Eco Centro — a waste processing facility that recycles about 90% of resort plastic, aluminum. and glass waste.

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.

Fairmont Maldives, meanwhile, aims to be the country’s “first zero-waste resort”, launching its Sustainability Lab earlier this year, which also focuses on re-imagining plastic, glass and aluminum waste recovered from resorts and oceans. in tourist souvenirs and local products (such as turtle luggage tags and stationery for nearby schools).

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.

In 2018, the private island of Kudadoo Maldives became the first resort in the country to be powered entirely by solar energy, thanks to nearly 1,000 solar panels covering the roof of “The Retreat” (a dining, wellness and retail space).
Other properties that have integrated major solar projects include Dusit Thani Maldives, where solar panels cover the roofs of the resort’s main buildings; Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands, which is primarily solar-powered (guest villas are covered with panels); and LUX* South Ari Atoll, which claims to be the world’s largest floating solar power plant at sea (bonus: eco-friendly solar platforms provide a sort of artificial reef for marine life).

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.

‘Zero-Food-Mile canteen

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.

Amilla, for example, has a number of sustainable dining initiatives beyond the standard vegetable and herb gardens, including a banana plantation, hydroponic garden, mushroom shack, coconut processing facility and pick-your-own-eggs ‘Cluckingham Palace’. hen house
Patina Maldives, Fari Island, bills itself as a “purveyor of conscious cuisine” with a local organic permaculture garden open for guests to dine; zero waste kitchens; Dining menus that promote plant-based diets; and own water bottling facility.
Patina Maldives: delicious and green.

Patina Maldives: delicious and green.

Patina Maldives, Fari Islands

Guests dining at Sun Island Resort & Spa’s Zero Restaurant, on the other hand, are promised an almost zero-mile dining experience, emphasizing produce harvested from the hotel’s garden and fresh seafood from the fishermen, all served on a table. in the tops of the trees.

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.

Marteyne van Well, regional general manager of Six Senses Laamu, says visitors to the Maldives are increasingly looking for sustainable resort brands that offer conservation initiatives and education.

“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.

Other impressive resort conservation programs include the Coco Collection, a veterinarian-led ORP Marine Turtle Rescue Center with two properties in the Maldives, and a team of resident marine biologists dedicated to ocean restoration. Guests can participate in coral tree planting trips, participate in reef cleanups or even help rehabilitate rescued turtles.
Gili Lankanfushi, meanwhile, will launch a new Marine Biology Center later this year, with a research space and an expanded coral regeneration program where guests can participate in hands-on coral reef cleaning 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 that they can take home on how to lead a more sustainable life.” This takeaway is highly valued and appreciated by our guests.”