The Maldives, a ring of islands in the Indian Ocean, frequently top two lists: most beautiful places in the world, and most endangered places in the world. It is thought that if global warming and climate change continue on their trajectory, the low-lying Maldives will be underwater by the year 2100. Consequently, there is a fervent effort by the Maldives’ government, its people, and the tourism industry to help protect and prevent this paradise from slipping away.
The Maldives is a place where nearly every photograph taken could be a postcard. It’s always ready, and constantly presenting its guests with scenes of dramatic serenity, which is why the group of islands has become so popular in the last few decades. The impact of tourism has certainly not helped the Maldives’ sustainability, however the future is considerably brighter due to the emergence of a few ecotourism initiatives.
Government Strength and Dedication
As the largest industry in the Maldives, tourism is of incredible importance to the island nation, thus the government is very involved in the development of the industry. Each tourist resort, contained within a single island, is autonomous, generating its own power and water, and typically implements a kind of recycled energy program. There are also protected marine and land zones where development is restricted and, in some cases, forbidden, thus curbing an expansive and overwhelming surge of tourism development.
Over a decade ago, the government established a new marker for ecotourism in the Maldives: the President of Maldives Green Resort Award, which is designed to recognise the importance of environmental protection to ensure the sustainability of the Maldives. The award was developed to encourage local resorts to adopt green and sustainable policies in their operations and development, and is a distinct motivational measure to continue to challenge tourist entities to be responsible and engage in ecotourism.
Recent winners of the President of Maldives Green Resort Award include: Soneva Fushi (2000, 2005, 2007) and Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru (2006).
Tread Water With Care
With its turquoise, aquarium-like waters, abundant with reefs and sea life, the Maldives is one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world. There are over 3000 coral reefs sprinkled throughout the Maldives, and they are becoming increasingly fragile through their exposure to tourism.
Most of the resorts have strict regulations when it comes to scuba diving, including a restriction on touching or handling coral, even dead coral. Banyan Tree’s scuba diving courses are structured around a core theme of environmental and ecological awareness, ensuring divers understand how they are participating in marine life, and what appropriate behaviour should look like.
The Four Seasons Kuda Huraa and Landaa Giravaaru have dedicated marine conservation programs between the two resorts. Spearheaded by a local conservancy consulting group, these two resorts are currently home to a coral propagation project that is one of the most successful in the world. Guests are able to participate in a number of ways, including being guided through the marine ecosystems by a team of marine biologist guides, or joining coral reef researchers on a build-a-reef coral transplant session.
Ecotourism in Maldives – The Future is Uncertain
While the efforts towards sustainability and ecotourism in the Maldives are dedicated and thorough, the future remains uncertain for this bit of paradise. Before tourism development began in any form of sincerity, the ability for the Maldives to truly sustain a tourism industry were heavily questioned by a number of evaluation teams and consultants. Many did not recommend the Maldives try to support a tourism industry due to its challenging infrastructure and fragile ecosystem.
Now, a few decades later, the Maldives welcomes around 650,000 visitors each year to its white coral beaches and sublimely decadent resorts. This is a significant intake for a set of islands once considered ill-suited for a sustainable tourism industry. Of course, the Maldives will always be able to sustain a demand for opulent holidays; rather, it’s simply a matter of whether the islands can sustain that demand. For now, it’s the government’s responsibility to continue to successfully propel ecotourism and sustainable tourism development in the Maldives, as they have been for many years. Protecting paradise; that’s what it’s all about.
Photo Credit: Main Image: Sarah_Ackerman; Coral Image: Raymond; Scuba Image: whl.travel