If you ask anyone what comes to mind when describing the Maldives, most people would probably say its stunning turquoise waters. In addition to drawing a record 1.7 million visitors in 2019, the ocean is central to the livelihood of most Maldivians—their main export is fishing and tourism makes up over a quarter of the country’s annual GDP. However, it’s in danger because of global warming. In addition to the immense beauty of the island nation, sustainability should also be included in any conversation about the Maldives.
Why is sustainability in the Maldives so important?
The ocean may be their greatest asset, but it is also at risk due to climate change. As the world’s lowest-lying country, this island nation is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by global warming. Almost 90% of the country is covered by water and the remaining 10% is made up of 1192 islands in 26 atolls. The majority are less than one meter above sea level. That’s why sustainability in the Maldives is so important.
In order to decrease human impact, many resorts have adopted long-term solutions. From reducing (and eventually eliminating) plastic use, implementing marine conservation programs, to partnering with local communities, sustainability is not just a buzzword in the Maldives, but a necessity.
Here are examples of what three luxury resorts are doing to practice sustainability in the Maldives and how they’re protecting this stunning paradise in the Indian Ocean.
Six Senses Laamu
Barefoot Luxury, Designed with Sustainability in Mind
The Six Senses brand is well known for pioneering sustainability practices all over the world. It’s in the DNA of all their resorts and Six Senses Laamu is no exception. As the only resort in the Laamu Atoll, they feel a certain responsibility to protect the land and marine life while partnering with the local community. Their programs are often used as an example for other resorts to model.
Design and Materials
When you arrive at Six Senses Laamu, you’ll notice all the buildings and environment look very natural. That’s because they are! They use sustainably-sourced materials like teak and bamboo. Additionally, they obtain as much from local islands as possible to cut down on transport emissions.
Heart of House Tour and Earth Lab
A unique aspect of the Six Senses brand is to educate and include guests in their initiatives. During their Heart of House tour led by their sustainability manager, you can learn about their water desalination plant, visit their on-site tailor and tour the organic garden where they grow their own greens. You can also visit the Earth Lab, where they come up with innovate ways to recycle, like turning unusable towels into flower pots and crushing old glass into cement products.
Reduce Waste and Eliminate Plastic
Six Senses’ company-wide goal is to be plastic-free by 2022. They strive to be as self sufficient as possible to reduce waste. Additionally, whenever possible, they make their own products in house. For example, they make their own ice cream and offer it complimentary in their ice cream parlor. Similarly, they are only one of three hotels in the world that make their own small batch, artisanal chocolate. They also only have glass bottles throughout the resort and don’t use plastic bags or straws.
Maldives Underwater Initiative
The Maldives Underwater Initiative is Six Senses Laamu’s marine conservation effort made up of marine biologists and 3 partner NGOs: The Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation and The Olive Ridley Project. Their initiatives are based on research, education and community outreach. Guests are invited to participate through marine biologist-hosted dolphin cruises, guided snorkel trips and daily conservation talks.
Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru and Private Island at Voavah
Luxurious hideaway & natural beauty in a Biosphere Reserve
Four Seasons Landaa Giraaavru and Private Island at Voavah are both located in the Baa Atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This atoll northwest of Malé is known for its white sand beaches and exceptional marine life with frequent whale shark and manta ray sightings.
Four Seasons Maldives has a partnership with EarthCheck, the world’s leading scientific benchmarking, certification and advisory group for sustainable travel and tourism. Their ongoing program addresses all aspects of environmental, social and cultural sustainability.
They have one of the largest resort-based solar installations in the Maldives spanning more than 58,000 square feet. The solar panels help power various parts of the hotel including guest rooms and electric golf carts.
The Four Seasons Marine Discovery Centres are leaders in conservation and research in the Maldives. Additionally, Marine Savers, their marine conservation team, work on projects ranging from coral propagation, turtle rehabilitation to manta ray research with the Manta Trust. The Baa Atoll is home to the largest manta ray aggregation in the world.
Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru
Laid-back, rustic chic island retreat
Situated on the North Malé Atoll, Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru is a quick 20-minute speedboat ride from the Velanaa International Airport. It takes about 20-minutes to circle the island on foot and has an all-around cozy vibe. All 48 thatched roof villas have their own pool, jacuzzi and tropical garden.
A large part of sustainability is ensuring local cultures stay intact, even with outside influences. Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru share various aspects of traditional Maldivian culture with guests through Maldivian dishes in their restaurants, traditional artwork in their villas, Maldivian Culture Talks and local Bodu Beru (“Big Drum”) music performances.
The resort’s marine biologists educate and inform through complimentary marine biology classes, stingray awareness talks and guided snorkeling. In addition, their lab does research and conservation work.
Supporting Local Communities
Banyan Tree supports and engages with the local community through job creation, education and assisting artisanal cooperatives. For example, they host 4 community cleanups every year to educate schools and local councils about effective waste management and marine conservation.
Climate Change Awareness
The resort raises awareness about climate change through tree-planting events and providing communities with coconut and mango trees. Their goal is to plant 2,000 new trees each year. In addition, they teach local communities about seagrass and mangrove restoration, two other important ecosystems in the Maldives.
Supporting Sustainability in the Maldives
As travelers, we can lessen our impact and make responsible choices that will have a positive effect on the local communities and environments we visit. It’s important to remember we have the power to influence where companies allocate their budgets based on our buying preferences and values.
Here is a quick checklist of things to consider when booking your next trip to support sustainability in the Maldives. Most resorts have a sustainability section on their website where you can read more about their initiatives.
Marine Conservation: Do they have an on-site marine center or marine biologists on staff? Do they partner with any reputable marine-focused organizations like the Olive Ridley Project or Manta Trust? What are they doing for coral propagation?
Local Community Initiatives: How do they work with and give back to local islands? Are they doing community cleanups, outreach programs, raising funds or working with local councils?
Reduce waste + plastic: Do they mention being plastic free or attempting to be? Most resorts have banned paper straws, plastic bottled water and plastic bags in the Maldives. Whenever I stay somewhere that uses plastic, I often let the staff know I prefer not to be served with plastic straws or bottled water.
Recycling Facility: It’s not always obvious how resorts handle recycling, but if it’s important, they’ll often show it on their website. For example, Six Senses’ EarthLab or partnerships with Parley for the Oceans, who take plastic and make clothing from it.
Energy Consumption: Do they have solar panels installed, rainwater harvesting plants or other ways to reduce energy consumption?
Water Treatment Plants: Is there an on-site desalination facility or glass bottling plant for water?
It is our collective responsibility to take mindful care of our planet. We can each do our part to alleviate further damage by making responsible choices, whether that’s while traveling or at home.
If we, as guests, care about sustainability, so will the travel and hospitality companies where we choose to spend our money. The more we support eco-friendly companies and keep them accountable, the more we can protect the places we visit.