Maldives is not short on luxury, but it’s almost never at the expense of the environment.
When it comes to protecting the environment, the low-lying islands of the Maldives have more reason than most to take global warming and environmental damage seriously.
Even a small rise in sea levels could see this tropical island state disappear under the waves. Therefore, it is no surprise to see the resorts and the government taking green issues seriously. They want to ensure that this jewel of the Indian Ocean survives for future generations.
The first port of call for anyone entering the Maldives is the capital city of Male, or at least the airport based on a small adjacent island. An unusual feature of the place is that unlike other cities, it has no room to expand since it occupies the entire island which is only 2km sq in area. Also, unlike the more famous resorts, there are no beaches in Male, instead the whole island is surrounded by a sea wall.
Despite the lack of a beach, visitors will find a compact lively city which has enough to keep you interested before leaving for the more picturesque islands. The main things to see in Male are the 17th century Huskuru mosque, the Mulee-Aage Sultan’s Palace and the national museum, which has artifacts dating back to the 11th century.
Being by far the largest population centre in the Maldives, Male also has good shopping opportunities, although you ought to know that many of the things advertised as authentic Maldivian are, in fact, from Singapore or India.
What to do
Besides lounging about on the beach all day, eating fresh seafood at night and completely forgetting about the outside world, visitors have many activities to keep them entertained. The number one activity is diving and snorkelling.
A nation that consists of tiny islands and thousands of kilometres of ocean, Maldives, not surprisingly, specialises in marine activities. It is one of the best places in the world for diving due to its coral reefs, clear visibility and abundant sea life. The protected lagoons are a good place to view turtles and shellfish, and further out to sea, you can see rays, sharks and dolphins alongside shoals of multi-coloured fish.
The open ocean also gives a unique opportunity to swim with the massive but placid whale sharks. Each island or resort usually has at least one dive centre, and for those opting for a long stay, there are many options for achieving PADI certification.
Deep-sea fishing is also popular, with the emphasis being on responsible and sustainable practices. Game fish to be caught here include the barracuda, trevally and dolphin fish. If you like to eat what you catch, then reef fishing, offered by many of the resorts, is the way to go. This involves using a rod, line and bait, and while your catch won’t match up to that caught in game fishing, you will be allowed to place it on the barbecue afterwards.
The Maldives is not all about diving, relaxing and top-class hotels. There is of course an indigenous population residing away from the resorts. To see how the Maldivian people live, some operators offer trips to inhabited outer islands, where you can observe traditional life that, apart from some modern conveniences, has remained pretty much unchanged for generations.
The men spend most of the day fishing or working in agriculture while the women tend to the home and the children play in front of their houses or on the beach. In the afternoon, the island becomes a hive of activity as people wander from house to house to exchange gossip and give gifts of food to one another or simply head down to the beach.
Where to stay
In keeping with he Maldivian Government’s push to be green or eco-friendly, many resorts are advertising themselves as being sustainable or putting the environment at the top of their agenda.
In a watery kingdom where land is at a premium, there is little room for rubbish dumps, so recycling is important to the country’s future and over-exploitation of the ocean is likewise heavily regulated.
Some resorts have now taken to operating their own desalination plants and recycling facilities. The use of pesticides to keep insects away from the guests is also being phased out. This may have prevented holidaymakers from getting disturbed by beetles or bitten by ants, but it had the knock-on effect of destroying the islands birdlife.
Now, the islands have become living, breathing eco-systems again, rather than sterile plastic resorts.
One of the first and best to embrace luxury and environmental awareness is the Banyan Tree Resort. As well as ensuring that the materials used in constructing the resort would not damage the island, they also host a Marine Lab in their complex which works with both tourists and local communities to raise environmental awareness.
Projects undertaken include cleaning of the coral reefs, protecting and increasing the populations of green turtles, dolphins and black-tipped shark. Guests are also invited to participate in the repairing of small reefs in the lagoon. – By Wayne Johnson
For further information visit www.banyantree.com/en/vabbinfaru/overview/
Malaysia Airlines flies daily (once a day) to Male, the capital.