The word sustainability has become synonymous with everything from environmental conservation to sound business models as of late, and the idea of a clear understanding of the word has become clouded. Sustainable development, the long term effects of which are desirable to any community or entity, is divided into three main measurable dimensions. We in the Maldives are continuously exploring the ideas encompassing those three dimensions; the environment, society, and the economy; and what we are doing to play our part in the Maldives.
Environment + Economy = Society
The three dimensions of sustainability, while separate, are also interconnected at a level where they cannot be untangled. The most important dimension for any country would be societal sustainability and preservation of the natural resources for progeny, posterity, and the benefit of our future generations. Societal sustainability is connected with the long-term benefits to a society or community through embracing sustainable development. Livelihoods, employment, food and water security, all of these fall under the societal dimensions of sustainable development, fully encompassed by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s pledge of Dignified Living for all Maldivians. With tourism as the main contributor to the National GDP, however, our most imperative natural resource is the beauty of our archipelago. The economic and environmental dimensions are thus inextricably interwoven into the subsistence of our society.
While tourism may be the major trade of our nation, the Maldives’ lifeline is still defined as fishing. Fishing in the Maldives had always been, and remains, a major source of income for many residents of various island communities. The Maldives is a world leader in pole-and-line tuna fishing; the act of fishing in the Maldives is strictly restricted to one-by-one fishing as the most sustainable and environmentally sound method. Fisherfolk in the Maldives often work as families, with designated members at home to clean, smoke, and cook the catch in preparation for sale or consumption. Organic, fresh, and clearly ethically-sourced, Maldivian tuna and tuna products are famous world over for the best reasons.
Similarly, the tourism sector of the Maldives has fully embraced sustainability. As per the UNWTO, sustainable tourism is empowering local communities to generate an income through tourism that lets them preserve their way of life, allowing communities to sustainably manage their natural resources. In the Maldives, luxury one-island-one-resorts, boutique hotels, chic island guesthouses, and even liveaboards have all taken up the mantle to embrace sustainable tourism. Be it through coral conservation programmes, erosion prevention, or simply raising awareness among visitors, we are proud that all our tourist facilities and institutions have joined together and answered the call with a resounding YES - yes, we care about our environment, our nation, and our residents’ livelihoods, and we will do everything we can to safeguard it for the future generations.
Action to conserve our environment
A global leader in advocating against the adverse effects of the climate crisis, the Maldives has been vocal in climate crisis activism in the international arena. The Maldivian government has pledged to protect at least one reef, one mangrove and one uninhabited island from each atoll. Taking steps to spearhead action for the safety of SIDS and other vulnerable groups, the Maldives tourism sector is playing its part too, to conserve the environment and the Maldivian way of life.
Six Senses Laamu
Home to the Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI), one of the largest resort-based marine biology teams in the nation. The MUI team consists of Six Senses Laamu marine biologists as well as three partner NGOs- the Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation and the Olive Ridley Project, all of whom work together to protect Laamu’s marine environments.
In 2021, research that the MUI had spent years gathering was presented as evidence for the need for marine protection in Laamu. In October 2021, Mission Blue reviewed the data and declared Laamu Atoll as a Hope Spot in recognition of the importance of its marine ecosystems. Two months later, in December 2021, the President announced that six Marine Protected Areas had been designated in Laamu Atoll- a milestone the MUI team have been working towards for years. Mission Blue defines Hope Spots, such as Laamu Atoll, as exceptional locations that are scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean.
The MUI team offers a range of activities visitors can join. These include nightly presentations on different marine conservation-related topics, a weekly reef clean, guided snorkels on the house reef, seagrass meadows and reefs across the atoll, dolphin cruises, kids club activities and scuba diving with a marine biologist.
Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu
This property constructed an in-house glass water bottling plant in 1998 when the resort first opened, to avoid the use of single-use plastic water bottles. They employ practices such as recycling aluminium, glass crushing. and an organic waste enzyme composter. They also have a Chef Garden where organic herbs, bananas and vegetables are cultivated for consumption. The resort is most famous, however, as the home of the first Marine Turtle Rescue Centre by the Olive Ridley Project. Their mission is to remove discarded fishing nets- known as ghost nets- from the ocean; rescue and rehabilitate sea turtles injured by these nets; reuse and reduce marine debris; and educate the world about the dangers of ghost nets and the perilous situation of sea turtles.
The Marine Turtle Rescue Centre at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu is the first and only veterinarian-led turtle rescue centre in the Maldives. Fully equipped with laboratory and surgical facilities, the centre has 7 tanks which can accommodate up to 8 turtle patients at a time.
At Joali Being, in addition to several key waste management and sustainability practices such as a monthly plastic-free training session by the in-house Sustainability Manager, the resort also has some thoughtful community-based programmes for the benefit of Raa Atoll where the property is located. Their outreach programmes are aimed at uniting in the fight against climate change, overfishing, and unsustainable development through education, engagement, and donation programmes. Community meetings are held three times a year, bringing together representatives from the Raa Atoll Council, island councils, women’s development committees, schools, police stations, and active local NGOs, who together represent the voices of Raa Atoll’s residents.
Some of their programmes have included aid with access to improved medical care, community access to clean drinking water and sanitation, including the donation of water filters to each school and goals to tackle water crisis in households, and awareness programmes and education about sustainable tourism.
The Marine Discovery Centre at Crossroads Maldives is led by a team of expert marine biologists, allowing visitors to live and learn about the ocean environment through a diverse range of educational activities. The Maldives Discovery Centre is a unique cultural attraction with stunning designs that showcase the charms of local arts and crafts and empower local artists, coupled with an immersive marine conservation experience and coral reef walk-through. It features a marine biology laboratory, coral propagation, a clownfish release programme, and interactive activities such as tuna-discovery scuba diving, snorkelling, coral nursery exploration, and marine conservation courses such as the Junior Marine Curator and Reef Guardian Maldives.
There is an on-site education centre to engage children in topics surrounding sustainability and conservation awareness and integrate play and stories into the learning experience to help foster a respect for the environment. Children are encouraged to be creative, and immerse themselves into the local culture and wildlife as much as possible, through activities such as craft classes that use only recycled materials, tours of the Maldives Discovery Centre and Marine Discovery Centre, visits to local islands, and lessons on coral conservation and propagation.
Coral Propagation Programmes
Diamond Resorts partnered with the Bicocca University of Milan to conserve and protect the marine life around the resort. Their Coral Conservation Project allows visitors to interact with Marine Biologists and help to conserve the corals by adopting a frame to actively participate in the conservation project. It contributes to the aim to preserve the coral reefs and encourage responsible tourism.
Several other resorts, such as Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort and Spa, have coral propagation programmes where visitors may adopt a frame and watch their corals take shape over months. The frames are designed and created on a nearby local island, Baa Fulidhoo, providing employment and skills development to the local populace and further improving the sustainable nature of the eco-conservation project.