In today’s delicate ecosystem where an even more fragile world of corals is systematically being damaged by dredging, bleaching, and other man-made methods, the little, exotic Islands of the Maldives has another story to tell.
One prime reason for this could be that the Maldives tourism product is entirely dependent on marine resources. The Maldives selling point is its excellent diving, shallow lagoons for safe watersports and swimming, and clean white sandy beaches for sunbathing and relaxation. Hence it became all the more important to preserve the aesthetic integrity of these islands and to protect the natural beauty of the reefs. In addition to this, the mere existence of islands which hosts the tourist facilities, is dependent on the reef systems.
Completely nature-based, the Maldives tourism product has a unique concept in its development. Each island hosts a single resort hotel, which is an autonomous unit that generates its own power, water supply, and manages its sewage and solid waste.
In the Maldives there is a clear understanding that the remarkable natural, social, and cultural features require a unique small island tourism policy that will sustain the important economic industry, coral island environments, and preserve the traditional patterns of life in the islands.
The Ministry of Tourism develops tourism policy, plans, and regulations to develop infrastructure and service standards, and issues operation permits for tourist facilities in the Maldives.
Nature-based tourism in the Maldives has several interesting and well-managed features. The government has taken a precautionary approach of developing tourism in only selected zones and on uninhabited islands. While contacts in the resort islands are limited to the staff, day excursions to local islands are encouraged to benefit locals from this economically important industry. Similarly, safari operation on boats are also restricted to certain atolls.
The Ministry of Tourism has also developed mechanisms to encourage and ensure that the resort islands are constructed with a local touch in their designs and architecture, which in turn has helped to successfully rejuvenate local crafts, design, culture and tradition, and to a certain extent, even language.
The major nature-based tourism activities are the development and operation of resorts in uninhabited islands and live-aboard safari vessel operations that cruise the atolls, offering diving, snorkelling, surfing, dolphin and whale watching, or excursions to local islands.
Establishment of marine protected areas in the tourism zone to protect marine biodiversity by supporting in-situ conservation and the aesthetic integrity of marine dive sites is a specific ecotourism project amongst a few which aims to solve problems that arise due to conflict of interests between divers and fishers using the same marine resources. 25 important dive sites have been declared as marine protected areas in the main tourism zone where anchoring and fishing (except bait fishery that sustains the traditional pole and line fishing industry), is strictly prohibited.
There are also minor community based projects such as the establishment of a cultural centre on South Ari atolls’ Dhangethi island to preserve cultural heritage and share important aspects of traditional Maldivian lifestyle with the visitor.
Tourists resorts and NGOs also play a key role in implementing ecotourism and environmental research projects. A reef conservation and growth project by Ihuru tourist resort is a popular site for divers, snorkellers, and marine biologists. This project aims to conserve marine biodiversity and identify artificial structures to protect shorelines of similar small coral islands. The annual Green Resort Award by the President of the Maldives, was launched in 1999 to encourage ecotourism, implementation of environmental technology, and to ensure environment-friendly operations of tourist resorts.
With so much said and done, the harmonized culture, environment, and tourism in the Maldives is reaping in greater benefits, all making this enchanting island-nation a unique premium eco-destination and an example to follow.
Source courtesy: Ministry of Tourism