If you ask anyone what comes to mind when describing the Maldives, most people would probably say its stunning turquoise waters. Besides being a draw for the 1.7 million visitors they had 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, 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. The remaining 10% is made up of 1192 islands in 26 atolls; the majority are less than one meter above sea level! In order to protect their greatest asset, the Maldivian government and many island resorts have implemented long-term sustainable solutions.
Last year, I spent a month learning firsthand how resorts are reducing their negative impact on the environment. 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. The experience reminded me that 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. At the end of this article, I’ve outlined responsible steps you can take when choosing where to stay in the Maldives.
Below 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 the company 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 General Manager, Marteyne van Well, lives and breathes this ethos: “My wish is that … more people will realize the importance of conservation, sustainability, and wellness; more people will choose to travel to places which leave them in awe and full of gratitude for nature’s beauty; and more people will work with companies and organizations that inspire them to take action in their personal lives to make the world a better place.”
Design and Materials
When you arrive at Six Senses Laamu, you’ll notice all the buildings and environment have a very natural look and feel. They mainly use sustainably-sourced materials like teak and bamboo in all the furnishings and buildings. Additionally, they obtain as much material 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 sustainability 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 EarthLab, where they implement innovate ways to recycle. Projects include turning unusable towels into flower pots and crushing old glass into cement products.
Maldives Underwater Initiative
The Maldives Underwater Initiative is Six Senses Laamu’s marine conservation effort. It is 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 can participate through marine biologist-hosted dolphin cruises, guided snorkel trips and daily conservation talks.
300 resident sea turtles and 131 resident manta rays identified and protected by the Six Senses Laamu marine teamSix Senses Laamu
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.
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 and has been the site for many ground-breaking ocean initiatives led by Four Seasons.
On Earth Day 2020, Four Seasons Maldives forged partnerships with EarthCheck and the NOW Force for Good Alliance to further their environmental, social and cultural sustainability efforts. EarthCheck is the world’s leading scientific benchmarking, certification and advisory group for sustainable travel and tourism.
“The world has pressed pause and together we are on the cusp of an unprecedented moment of clarity, if we choose to frame it that way,” said Regional Vice President and General Manager Armando Kraenzlin. “With space to reflect suddenly forced upon us, the time is now to choose a different kind of future. Through collaborations like these, there’s a chance for the travel industry to establish a new way of being where sustainability actions are the norm, not simply the ideal.”
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 15-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. Additionally, they have a three pillar approach to sustainability: operational efficiency, protecting biodiversity, and developing local capacity. Many of their conservation and operational efforts are unseen by guests but similar to Four Seasons, are certified by EarthCheck.
A large part of sustainability is ensuring local cultures stay intact and sharing customs with visitors. Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru present 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 guests through complimentary marine biology classes, stingray awareness talks and guided snorkeling trips. In addition, their lab provides research and conservation work for the atoll and surrounding marine ecosystem.
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. Furthermore, 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 are 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’ highlights their EarthLab and partnership with Parley for the Oceans, an organization that makes clothing from recycled plastic.
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?
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.