The Maldives and the Environment
Environmental concerns are hugely important to citizens of the Maldives. The highest point in the entire archipelago is just under eight feet high. The island republic is, in fact, the lowest country in the world, and if sea levels continue to rise as they have been over the last century, there is a distinct possibility that the Maldives will be mostly under water by 2100.
To prevent this possibility from happening, Maldivians are constructing a manmade island called Hulu Male, or New Male, close to the capita city of Male so that if the lowest-lying atolls do sink, their populations will have somewhere to go to and reestablish their lives.
There are other equally compelling reasons why Maldivians are so concerned about their environment. Tourism drives the Maldivian economy. Every year, over 600,000 mostly European tourists visit the Maldives, spending an average of £185 a day. Tourists come for the country's fabulous marine natural resources, showcased in its excellent diving, shallow lagoons, white sand beaches and underwater coral gardens. These natural resources are extremely fragile and susceptible to adverse environmental events.
In 1998, a global El Niño event caused the waters of the Indian Ocean to rise for three months by nine degrees Fahrenheit. The result was the death of the tiny algae, dinoflagellates and other symbionts that are responsible for giving coral reefs their bright pink and orange hues. Nearly 90 percent of the Maldives' coral reefs died in 1998. Only now, 15 years later, are the reefs beginning to recover.
Phenomena like coral bleaching are out of the control of the Maldivian government. Other phenomena that imperil the coral reefs are not. The Maldives government has put into a place a unique tourism policy, designed to stimulate the tourism industry while at the same time sustaining the fragile coral ecosystem Maldivian tourism depends upon.
As a result, eco-tourism is not broken out into a separate category of tourism in the Maldives. Instead, in a very real sense, all Maldivian tourism is eco-tourism.
Maldives Tourism and the Environment
Why are so many of the newer Maldivian resorts each on their own island? In part, this is because of a premeditated Maldivian Ministry of Tourism policy.
Though Maldives resorts are constructed by private companies, the government develops the strategic plans that regulate tourism infrastructure. A resort can't operate without a permit from the Ministry of Tourism, and the Ministry of Tourism limits resort building space to 20 percent of the available land on any particular island.
Furthermore, for every island that's developed into a resort area, one other island must be kept as a preserve. New development is restricted to certain zones and can only take place on uninhabited islands. Resorts are expected to be autonomous units that generate their own supplies of power and water. Resorts are also responsible for managing their own sewage and solid waste. Solid waste management is particularly important because water pollution is also a leading cause of coral reef death.
The Ministry of Tourism offers incentives to resorts that incorporate local architecture and crafts into their infrastructure and interior design motifs. This has spurred a lively interest in Maldivian culture, crafts, traditions and even language on the art of visiting tourists.
Marine Protected Areas in Tourism Zones
The government has declared 30 popular dive spots to be marine protected areas. One of the earliest spots in the Maldives to be declared a marine protected area was a dive spot called Mushi Mas Mingili Thila, nicknamed Fish Head, on the North Ari atoll.
White Tip Reef Sharks congregate in large numbers at Fish Head. These sharks were much sought after by the local fishermen who sold them on the Asian market where shark oil and shark fins are both highly prized. The Maldivian government, however, did a cost benefit analysis and discovered the country made more money from tourists who wanted to watch sharks than from fisherman who wanted to sell them.
When an area has been declared a marine protected area, fishing boats and other types of vessels cannot anchor there. Any type of commercial fishing involving boats is strictly disallowed. Traditional bait fishing with a pole and line is allowed, however.
Other activities that are forbidden in marine protected areas include:
- Coral mining or tampering with the coral reefs in any way
- Sand mining or removing sand either from the beach, lagoons or ocean
- Dumping solid waste or other types of waste into the marine environment
- Removing fish, marine animals or any living creature from the marine area.
Maldives Climate Change Trust Fund
In 2010, the members of the European Union contributed 6.5 million Euros to the Maldives Climate Change Trust Fund, administered by the World Bank. This money is designed to help the Maldives develop a strategic plan for dealing with climate change.
The money is also earmarked to help the Maldives deal with the ongoing problem of solid waste management. Between 2007 and 2012, the amount of solid waste generated in the Maldives rose from 248,000 tons to 324,000 tons, an increase of 30 percent. Approximately 510 tons of that waste is medical waste.
Currently, solid waste is dumped onto uninhabited islands and incinerated. Islands are chosen randomly as incineration sites. To date, specific criteria have not been used to select the sites for waste disposal. The World Bank will help Maldivian engineers develop a more stringent set of guidelines for site selection as well as more efficient disposal techniques
The Most Ecologically Conscious Maldives Resorts
The upscale Indian resort and hotel brand Taj is synonymous in many people's minds with luxury and style. In the Maldives, Taj is also synonymous with "green."
The Taj Exotica Resort and Spa recently installed a more efficient water heating system that's reduced the resort's use of diesel fuel by 110,000 liters every year. The resort has also installed a rainwater catchment system that collects 900,000 liters of rainwater every year. Taj landscapers are now planting exogenous succulent species like Jade Tree and Sea Hibiscus in resort gardens because these plants do not need daily watering.
In 2008, the Taj Exotica Resort and Spa received the Maldives first EarthCheck certification. EarthCheck is an environmental accreditation designed especially for businesses in the travel and tourism industries.
Plastics are banned at the Soneva Fushi resort. The resort produces its own fresh water by desalinating ocean and lagoon waters. Recently the resort installed a solar power generating station that will wean Soneva Fushi from its reliance on diesel fuel. Less diesel fuel use means a smaller carbon footprint.
The resort is also very progressive when it comes to marine preservation initiatives. It is one of the few Maldivian resorts to employ its own resident marine biologist.
The Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru houses a marine conservation lab on premises that was instrumental in tracking coral regrowth after the 1998 El Niño event. The conservation lab has also done a lot of work with endangered green sea turtles. The Banyan Tree 's marine lab raises awareness of Maldivian conservation issues among members of the local Maldivian community as well as among tourists.