Sustainable tourism - A matter of life and death to the Maldives

September 17, 2012

With its serene sun kissed beaches, crystal clear lagoons, multi-coloured corals and exotic marine life, Maldives is rated as one of the premier tourist destinations in the world. Tourism plays an important role in earning foreign exchange revenue and is the largest economic industry of the nation. More than half a million people visit the Maldives every year and the annual income from tourism is around $325 million.

From 1970 onwards, Maldives has implemented a quality tourism strategy. This effort has been lauded internationally and the World Tourism Organization has called it an excellent example of sustainable tourism.

Nevertheless, not all is well on the paradise islands.

 

Recent newspaper articles highlighted the plight of Thilafushi, the so called 'rubbish island'. The island was the government’s answer to the relentless pile of garbage left by tourists and until recently 330 tons of waste were dumped on it every day.

 

 

 

While lying by the pool and basking the Sun, tourists are unlikely to be racked with guilt over their carbon footprint.  Tourists enjoy the long stretches of sandy beach, unaware that plants have been removed from these areas in order to make the beaches appear more ‘pristine’.

 

They may also be oblivious to the fact that much of the sand has been brought in from another island because reef blasting, to make channels for boats, changed the currents and led to erosion of some beach areas.

They may also not know about the negative impact of driving poles into the coral on the marine environment; nor think that the natural environment of the island has been ‘beautified’ at the expense of local ecosystems.

The Maldivian islands have always grappled with the issue of finding fresh water. Several islands use rainwater for drinking and groundwater for other domestic needs. However, fresh water sources are scarce and the only other alternative is desalination.

 

The salt water purification process is done by large, greenhouse gas emitting, desalination plants. The plants contribute directly to the increase of global warming, which is ironic as the Maldives, where most of the islands are no more than 1 metre above sea level, is one of the countries most at risk of sea-level rise because of climate change.

 

 

 

In theory all tourist resorts have been asked by the government to prepare an environmental impact assessment, treat their own waste and provide their own fresh water. But in practice, most do not compost organic waste or ask guests to minimize water use. And many resorts do not have sewage treatment facilities.

The Carbon Consulting Company Maldives offers an array of services to enable tourist resorts mitigate their negative environmental impact.

 

Our Water Footprint service helps resorts to face the challenge of fresh water scarcity by offering strategic solutions to manage water consumption. Our Organizational Carbon Footprint programme calculates the carbon footprint and later offers advice to make resorts CarbonNeutral®. And our Resource Efficient Cleaner Production assessment provides a systematic and planned procedure for identifying, quantifying and finding options to minimize waste.

 

CCC Maldives also conducts detailed energy audits that allows resorts and businesses to see where and how energy is used in their operations. The audit is designed so that companies can identify wastage and minimize it. For a detailed description of our services, please visit http://cccmaldives.com/?page_id=26.

 

The Maldivian travel industry is at a pivotal point. Tourist resorts produce on average 2.5 kg of waste per person per day. Many resorts have chosen profit and convenience over sustainability.  Resort owners are driving nails into their own coffins by not taking care of their environment.

 

Every plant that is uprooted, every coral that is destroyed is a death knell to the Maldives. Some analysts forecast that the Maldives will submerge within 100 years. Global warming might be a headache for the rest of the world but for the Maldives it is a matter of life and death.

 

The former President of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed was outspoken at international forums on climate change. He held an underwater cabinet meeting to expose the threat of rising sea levels to low lying countries. His government also set the country a target of being carbon neutral by 2020.

 

The tourism industry must follow his example.

 

For years, the natural beauty of the ‘scattered pearls’ has sustained tourism and brought wealth to the nation. Now is the time to give back to the environment. Sustainable measures should be implemented in regard to waste disposal, water usage, energy production and beautification.

 

Otherwise, this tropical paradise will soon become a distant memory.

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