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May 18, 2024

Maldives luxury resorts focus on eco-tourism

Schenelle Dsouza 
Ask anyone you know, and they’ll tell you – Maldives is the blue diamond of travel destinations. A haven of tranquillity, surrounded by pristine blue waters, pearl-white sands and a whole lot of solitude. It is among the most popular spots for honeymooners, vacationers and pretty much anyone looking for a slice of heaven dripping in luxury. 
Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu
Photo Courtesy: Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu
Today, Maldives is a top-notch holiday destination. However, tourism in the Maldives was relatively non-existent until 1972 which is when the first Maldivian resort –Kurumba Island Resort opened up in North Malé Atoll. Kurumba was what finally put the Maldives on the map.
The Maldives has over 132 different resorts currently, with more than 1.5 million tourists each year. A sky-rocketing rate like that, supported by five decades of tourism, has put a strain on the local ecosystems, one of them being the corals.  
Climate change caused by abundant tourism is one of the biggest stressors for corals in the Maldives. This leads to high sea-surface temperatures which in turn leads to coral bleaching, where corals turn white, wither and die. Apart from this, damage caused by tourists while swimming, diving or snorkelling has also done quite a number on the corals.  
Marine life has suffered along with corals, with several species slowly heading towards extinction. Many resorts in the Maldives have taken a conscious decision to protect and nurture what remains, by undertaking special programs, including coral regrowth and marine wildlife preservation projects among other initiatives.  
LuxeBook spoke to Rosalie Bailie, Marine Educator at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu, Samuel Dixon, Sustainability Manager at Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi, Neeraj Sethi, Cluster Director of Marketing Communication & Public Relations at Kandima Maldives, and Oshin Joanna Christopher, Resident Marine Biologist at Ozen Life Maadhoo to understand the different marine conservation programmes that conscious and sustainability-focused resorts are conducting in order to improve the area’s environment conservation status.  
Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu 
Dhuni Kolhu lies in the stunning southern waters of the Baa Atoll. One of their prominent conservation projects is the Turtle Conservation Project carried out in collaboration with the Olive Ridley Project. 
Founded in 2013 by marine biologist Martin Stelfox, The Olive Ridley Project is a charity that strives to protect sea turtles and their habitats through rescue, rehabilitation and scientific research, as well as education and outreach.   
The Marine Turtle Rescue Centre was opened in 2017, in partnership with Coco Collection at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu. 
Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu
Photo Courtesy: Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu
“The Marine Turtle Rescue Centre is the flagship project of the Olive Ridley Project, which introduced the first veterinarian to the Maldives,” says Resident Marine Biologist Rosalie Bailie. “Injured sea turtles that are found across the country are transported here, where they receive veterinarian attention with the hopes to eventually release the patients back into the wild.”
Marine Turtle Rescue Centre  
The Olive Ridley Project now has a rescue centre at Coco Palm, a rehabilitation centre and a team of sea turtle biologists around the country based at partnered resorts. In addition, the team includes CEO Martin Lount, lead veterinarian Dr Claire Petros and resident turtle veterinarian Dr. Minnie Liddell.  
“Whilst working as a marine biologist in the Maldives, Martin noticed many sea turtles entangled in lost or discarded fishing nets. He began researching into this, with the help of other biologists and citizen scientists and then identified the need for a rescue centre here,” says Bailie. 
Rosalie Bailie Marine Educator at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu
Rosalie Bailie Marine Educator at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu
Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu was the first resort to partner with The Ridley Project to take on the sea turtle conservation project. The rescue centre opened with surgical facilities and has evolved over the years into a fully-equipped medical clinic. 
However, Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu was involved with sea turtle conservation much before The Ridley Project collaboration. According to Bailie, the water surrounding the resort is a nesting site for green sea turtles. And so marine biologists at the resort have monitored and protected sea turtle nests over the years. “The collaboration with the Olive Ridley Project was a natural way forward for us to expand our sea turtle conservation efforts.” 
Although initially the project was founded to help entangled turtles which are primarily the Olive Ridley species, the project now takes a multifaceted and holistic approach to protect all sea turtles. 85% of the patient loads belongs to the Olive Ridley species, but other patients include the hawksbill sea turtles and the green sea turtles. Coco Collection also contributes data to other wildlife conservation projects across the Maldives, including the Manta Trust and Shark Watch.  
Lending a hand  
The Marine Turtle Rescue Centre at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu is open daily for guests to visit. Here they can learn about each patient, discover more about the project, and speak to the resident team, including sea turtle vet Dr. Minnie. There are daily feedings, where guests can watch and observe the turtles in their recovery process. “We receive generous donations from our guests who help fund the rescue centre and support the amazing work,” says Bailie.  
Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu
Photo Courtesy: Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu
The resort also offers a ‘Snorkelling with Turtles’ excursion on a nearby reef, which is a popular feeding site for the hawksbill turtles. According to Bailie, the ticket price for the excursion “includes a $20 donation to the rescue centre, and on these trips, the Marine Educator takes identification pictures of each sighted turtle, adding to the Olive Ridley Project’s sea turtle population database.” 
Promoting eco-tourism  
The Olive Ridley Project has a developed code of conduct for interacting with sea turtles while snorkelling or scuba diving that aim to promote responsible and sustainable wildlife interactions without causing any distress.  
The rescue centre hosts weekly presentations with videos and case studies about memorable rescue patients. The resort also collaborates with local schools to help spread awareness.  
“At the base in Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu, we collaborate with local schools to bring students to visit the centre and learn about the important work done here to better conserve our sea turtle populations. Our joint outreach with the Olive Ridley Project also includes local and community group talks,” says Bailie.  
Other sustainable practices 
Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu has a resident marine educator, who works to provide an educational experience guests visiting our island. This includes a whole variety of topics from marine life to terrestrial life as well as matters of conservation and sustainability
The resort also has a reef restoration project to encourage coral regrowth with the help of artificial reefs and coral gardening. “We aim to help preserve our coral diversity and help the reef in the recovery process, following mass bleaching events, triggered by climate change,” says Bailie.
Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu
Photo Courtesy: Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu
Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu was also one of the first resorts to establish a drinking water plant. “Here we make our own drinking water using seawater and multiple stages of purification and filtration. This allowed us to drastically limit the amount of single-use plastics on our island by removing the need for plastic bottled drinking water. Our drinking water is then stored and served in glass containers.” 
Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi  
Located on the Shaviyani Atoll, Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi has an active Coral Regrowth Program, pioneered by their Coralarium, the world’s first semi-submerged art gallery and the first coral restoration project in the Maldives which is in the form of an art installation.  
Coral Regrowth Program 
“Our Coralarium is the centre of our coral restoration program,” says Samuel Dixon, Sustainability Manager at Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi. 
Sam Dixon Sustainability Manager and Marine Biologist - Fairmont Maldives
Sam Dixon Sustainability Manager and Marine Biologist – Fairmont Maldives
The Coralarium was designed by British sculpturist and conservationist Jason DeCaires Taylor, who created the design to replicate the substrate of a coral reef ecosystem and as such facilitate the natural growth and development of coral by catching vital biomass and coral larvae.
“The marine biology team on-site, led by myself, monitor it and see how we can expand the project. We have recently launched a new coral garden in association with the Coralarium where we take fragmented coral that has broken from the reef and reattach it to frames to be placed in a nursery to grow,” says Dixon. 
Commissioned by SC Capital, the Coralarium was created as an innovative method for coral regeneration and unique centre of conservation and environmental education. The new coral nursery was developed with a mind to expanding Fairmont’s current coral restoration work. 
Lending a hand  
Guests at the resort are welcome to lend a hand with the Coral Regrowth Program. 
Fairmont
Photo Courtesy: Fairmont
“Guests can sign on to a guided coralarium tour with one of the teams on site who will enlighten them with the history of the coralarium, its function as an artificial reef, the techniques of coral regeneration used, as well as the importance of ocean and coral conservation. They can also sponsor and assist our team in the creation of coral frame, and we will send them photo updates on how their frame is doing every 3 months,” says Dixon.  
Promoting eco-tourism  
The coralarium is a centre of preservation, conservation and education. It gives guests the opportunity to learn about growing coral and replicating a natural habitat via the coralarium. Aside from this, they are also exposed to much larger issues with regard to ocean conservation.
Fairmont
Photo Courtesy: Fairmont
The Coralarium is the first and only coral restoration project in the form of an art installation. As a chief symbol of coral conservation, the project is linked to the resort’s other marine initiatives from turtle and manta research as well as ACCOR’s sustainability program Planet 21, which looks at introducing sustainability initiatives across every area of the resort’s operation.  
Other sustainable practices  
Aside from the Coral Regrowth Program, Fairmont also has a Turtle Rangers Program for the preservation of turtles.  
“Our Turtle Rangers Program was designed to get guests involved in turtle conservation using a number of different workshops that help them learn about turtle nests, how to protect them and safely release baby hatchlings to the ocean,” says Dixon.
Fairmont
Photo Courtesy: Fairmont
The Sustainability Lab is a newly added facility at the resort. All the waste collected on the beach or during reef clean-ups including plastic, aluminium or glass is recycled in the Sustainability Lab. Using highly innovative machines, the lab shreds the plastic waste into pellets which can be then transformed into different products. Since its opening in December, the lab has processed over 1,000kg of plastic waste.  
Kandima Maldives  
Located in Dhaalu Atoll, Kandima Maldives’ Coral Adoption Program started in 2017. The resort poses an Aquaholics water sports and dive centre team that focuses on encouraging guests to give back to nature by sponsoring corals. 
Neeraj Sethi Cluster Director of Marketing Communication & Public Relations at Kandima Maldives
Neeraj Sethi Cluster Director of Marketing Communication & Public Relations at Kandima Maldives
Neeraj Sethi adds, “At the Aquaholics centre, we have a collection of eco-conscious clothing made of recycled plastic collected from the oceans on display from OceanR that custom designs such apparel that can be purchased by guests. To do our part in practising sustainability, our entire aquaholics team is dressed in a uniform made from recycled bottles which are collected from the ocean.” 
Coral Adoption Program 
The Coral Adoption Program is spearheaded by The Aquaholics team, supervised by Nikita Azarenko, who also contributes to the overall coral adoption program at Kandima Maldives. 
Adds Sethi, “This is an important initiative for us, as healthy coral reefs help protect the islands in the Maldives and their marine life from wave action and beach line erosion.”
Kandima Maldives
Photo Courtesy: Kandima Maldives
Guests can monitor their adopted coral’s growth, through images shared by the resort team via email. “Normally corals grow slowly but steadily, adding great value to the ocean’s ecosystem,” says Sethi. “Our Coral Adoption Program gives children a chance to role-play a marine biologist and replant corals in the ocean.” 
Coral reefs surrounding the islands near Kandima are home to more than 1,000 species of tropical fish.  
Promoting eco-tourism  
During the post-pandemic period, Maldives witnessed a hike in tourism because of the revenge travel after the lockdown. Within the realm of revenge travel, people started to care about the environment which is how eco-tourism made a name for itself. 
Kandima Maldives
Photo Courtesy: Kandima Maldives
“The millennial segment especially is more driven towards conscious travel and eco-friendly holidays, preferring resorts that provide them with opportunities to give back to the environment,” says Sethi. Coral conservations programs not only help revive mildly damaged corals, but also help create a much safer environment for them to grow in until they’re healthy enough to go back into the water.  
Other sustainable practices  
Aside from the Coral Adoption Program, Kandima Maldives also practices sustainability throughout the resort.  
Speaking about it, Sethi adds, “Doing our bit to protect the ocean and reduce its negative impact, Kandima Maldives regularly conducts ocean cleaning drives for coral reef conservation and to collect debris from the ocean. We also encourage our guests to participate in these programs with us to help drive more awareness.”
Kandima Maldives
Photo Courtesy: Kandima Maldives
Kandima Maldives also has a unique farm-to-table concept. Fresh Lab is an initiative organised for guests to enjoy the freshest and greenest produce at the many restaurants. The produce is locally sourced from farms in the neighbouring islands and within Kandima.  
“With this initiative, we plan to create a bigger ecosystem which will also support local Maldivian communities and the environment,” Sethi concludes.  
Ozen Life Maadhoo 
Ozen Life Maadhoo began 2022 on a sustainable note with the Coral Tree Plantation Programme. The project was inaugurated on January 7 at the Watersports Center Beach as part of the festive celebrations. 
OZEN LIFE MAADHOO
Photo Courtesy: OZEN LIFE MAADHOO
“We were joined by our resort guests who together planted corals of the future in a unique festive event that hopes to regenerate and enrich Maadhoo Island’s ecosystem,” says Oshin Joanna Christopher, Resident Marine Biologist at Ozen Life Maadhoo. “Kids and adults got together to plant baby corals with the hope that they grow into resilient reefs for the future – making for an inspiring start to the year.” 
The ecological activity was headed by Christopher herself, with a vision of regenerating the coral reef by growing ‘corals of the future.’  
Coral Tree Plantation Program 
As part of the Ozen Resort’s many endeavours to positively contribute toward the ecological footprint of the Maldives, the resort inaugurated the conservation project called the ‘corals of opportunity.’
OZEN LIFE MAADHOO
Photo Courtesy: OZEN LIFE MAADHOO
The initiative focused on collecting loose coral fragments turned over by big fish drifting onto the beach or to spots where they cannot grow any longer. These fragments were rescued and used for coral regeneration. The coral fragments typically belong to Acropora, Porites and Pocillopora species – which are resistant to warming ocean temperatures. The baby corals planted by the team at Ozen Life Maadhoo further set the base for resilient reefs in the future. 
The team selected suitable spots in the lagoon where corals can thrive. Christopher said, “Our nurseries have ‘super corals’ and ‘reef-building corals’ that have withstood the bleaching events of 2016 naturally. We are using their resilient genetics to grow more resilient corals. Soon, we will add a concrete block reef near the spa beach to create a refuge for local fish species. Eventually, the fish will accept these blocks to be a part of the reefs.”  
Lending a hand  
Guests at the Ozen Life Maadhoo had a huge part to play in inaugurating the Coral Tree Plantation Program. Since it was Orthodox Christmas Day on January 7, the resort’s festivities included planting corals that would be resilient in the future. 
OZEN LIFE MAADHOO
Photo Courtesy: OZEN LIFE MAADHOO
“Guests attached coral pieces to a metal tree frame built from recycled material. After which, the diving team submerged the tree at the coral nursery behind our underwater restaurant – M6m. In the end, all guest participants also received a special certificate to mark the event,” says Christopher.  
Promoting eco-tourism  
With sustainability at the heart of the Ozen’s operations, the resort is committed to preserving the island and all her resources. Christopher adds, “Majority of the guests come here to see the majestic and unique marine life found in the Maldives.” The guests are informed about the importance of healthy coral reefs for all marine life.
Oshin Joanna Christopher, Resident Marine Biologist, OZEN LIFE MAADHOO (2)
Oshin Joanna Christopher, Resident Marine Biologist, OZEN LIFE MAADHOO (2)
“By having an interactive event where our guests could both see and participate in coral planting, created an awareness of the threats that corals face and encouraged them to participate in conserving the local ecosystem.” 
Other sustainable practices  
The resort has an efficient waste management system built around the ‘Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle’ approach. Energy, water, and waste reduction targets are benchmarked and monitored regularly to minimize environmental impacts.  
Further, the resort also has two green objectives in practice: Floating Solar Platforms where a 523kWp solar energy system works to reduce the diesel consumption on the island, thus reducing environmental impact; and Limit Plastic, a facility introduced to ensure that there is no plastic-bottled water on the island, thereby reducing plastic pollution in the ocean. 
OZEN LIFE MAADHOO
Photo Courtesy: OZEN LIFE MAADHOO
Ozen Life Maadhoo also uses twin-chamber incinerators for effective combustion of waste with minimal environmental impact. With the use of state-of-the-art compactors and bottle crushers, the resort reduces the waste to a bare minimum prior to organised disposal.  
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Schenelle Dsouza

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