While Covid-19 is not a climate change-induced pandemic, it surely is a promo of our future climate-crisis. Climate change is often described as a threat multiplier, something that aggravates current problems and creates new ones. Therefore, it is the right time to think about how we can live sustainably post Covid-19.
When this multifaceted crisis is behind us, we will travel again but it will not be the same. Guests will prefer contactless destinations where social distancing is possible. In such a scenario, Maldives will have an advantage over others because of its ‘one resort one island’ approach, which allows seclusion, exclusivity, control, and better management of guests.
But this positive outlook shouldn’t make us forget the climate crisis Maldives is facing. Comprised of 1,192 islands and 22 atolls, most pancake flat, the highest point is no more than one metre above sea level, making the Maldives the lowest country on Earth. With 99 per cent water and 1 per cent land, the archipelago is highly vulnerable to storm surges, sea swells and severe weather. In the last two decades, Maldives has lost over 20 islands with more than 100 islands reporting erosion. Disappearing into the rising sea, Maldives will be the first country to relocate its entire population as refugees due to climate change.
This grim reality compelled MAIL TODAY to dig deeper and visit villages, diving sites, and resorts in the Maldives. A 45-minute seaplane ride from Male to Adaaran Select Meedhupparu followed by a 20-minute boat ride brought this writer to Meedhoo Island for a taste of the local Maldivian life. Axxam Rafeeu, a 21-year-old technician, working at the local power plant, narrates the current state, “Although climate change is not starkly visible here, the subtle hints are everywhere. When I was a kid, weather was predictable it would rain in June-July, and rest of the time it would be sunny, but that’s not the case anymore. Flooding happens too often, destroying infrastructure and contaminating the island’s freshwater sources.
One of the reasons why flooding has become so rampant in the Maldives is because, with the rising sea temperatures, corals are either getting bleached or dying completely. Andres Mehner, an expert in Shark Ecology and the Speciality Dive Instructor at Divepoint, Hudhuranfushi says, “The Maldives is amongst the two best diving sites in the world. However, the rich coral reef suffered a loss of around 60 to 70 per cent since 2014 due to rising sea temperatures. Scientists warn if adequate steps are not taken, Maldives might not have any coral reefs by 2045. Coral reefs protection is critical for the protection of the islands as they not only provide shelter and food for the local fish population but are also the first line of defence when sea storms hit.”
So, what is the Maldives doing to fight climate change?
CLEAN AND GREEN ENERGY
The Maldives has the distinction of being the first country in South Asia to achieve 100 per cent access to electricity. But this comes from a diesel-powered grid system, which is expensive and releases one of the highest carbon emissions in the region. To reduce reliance on diesel, the Asian Development Bank and the Environment Ministry of the Maldives have initiated a project of installing a solar battery diesel hybrid system in 48 islands.
Also, the resorts have started investing in renewable energy. Some resorts like Kudadoo Maldives Private Resort are powered entirely by solar panels while Adaaran Resorts has installed solar panels to heat their bathroom water and uses energy-efficient lighting and appliances.
REDUCE, REUSE AND RECYCLE
3 Rs is a mantra used by locals as well as businesses to optimise the use of natural resources. Vivek Tiwari, who works at Adaaran Hudhuranfushi Resort, says, “We have a zero-waste policy on the island. Even the discarded wood and metal are reused for island beautification and other uses. Wastewater is recycled for using in toilets and watering the kitchen garden, where we grow our vegetables and fruits. Efforts are being made to make the island plastic-free, and we are in the process of setting up our own water purification plant. Despite being a luxury resort, we don’t provide individual transfers to the guests as it increases carbon emissions. We bring them together at set timetables, and use electric cars for in-land transfers.”
The Maldives is trying to prevent marine pollution, reef damage, and biodiversity loss with the aid of the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Development Plan. The effort is already showing results with coral cover increasing by 20 per cent.
Substantiating the Government efforts, private resorts, marine biologists, NGOs, tour operators, and local communities are chipping in too. Ruth Franklin, the Co-founder of Secret Paradise, says, “Sustainability has always been an integral part of our philosophy. Not only do we employ local guides, but let our guests get actively involved in conservation programmes.”
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