Marine Savers at Four Seasons Resorts Maldives: Beyond plastic
At Four Seasons Resorts Maldives, marine conservation and plastic reduction has been a serious topic for nearly 20 years.
All Four Seasons resorts in Maldives — Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa and Four Seasons Private Island Maldives at Voavah — have used reusable terracotta toiletry bottles since 1998; paper straws since 2010; reusable glass water bottles since 2012; and have been collaborating with Parley since 2016 to recycle any leftover plastic into sportswear.
But the battle against plastics is just the tip of the resorts’ on-site conservation efforts.
With more than 99 per cent of the Maldives comprising water (and some 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris polluting the world’s oceans) the team sees the effects of human negligence more than most, from heart-breaking, all-too-common scenes of marine life trapped in ghost nets or dying from ingesting plastic debris, to the devastating effects of rising sea temperatures on corals, which protect the islands from erosion.
Enter Marine Savers. Four Seasons’ team of 10 full-time marine biologists – ably assisted by interns and apprentice in conjunction with local environmental agency, Reefscapers (formerly Seamarc), the Maldivian Ministries of Environment and Energy, Fisheries and Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency – have been running some of the Indian Ocean’s most pioneering conservation projects since 2010 from two Four Seasons-based Marine Discovery Centres.
It’s hands-on collaboration at its life-changing best. Each project has an interactive element to inspire guests and locals (through community outreach programmes) to participate in their future and legacy: from days spent as a manta ray researcher to coral frame planting, Junior Marine Savers experiences and wildlife monitoring dives.
To date, the centres have: rehabilitated and returned 155 sea turtles back to the wild; transplanted more than 7,000 coral frames to boost ailing reefs; identified more than 1,500 turtles and more than 350 cetaceans; created 40 fish tanks, eight larvae tanks and two plankton reactors to help replenish ocean life; hosted hundreds of local school children on awareness days; rehomed six non-releasable Olive Ridley turtles (dubbed “The Flying Turtles”) into overseas oceanariums as ambassadors for the plight of their species (with one since returned and released back to the wild); and undertaken two decades of research and conservation in the areas of fish breeding, coral transplantation, satellite tracking, nest protection, manta ray protection and more.
Here is an overview of the key projects undertaken by Marine Savers.
The Maldivian Sea Turtle Conservation Programme
This government-endorsed initiative first sees Marine Savers working with local islanders to encourage turtle nest protection.
The majority are released straight away with any weak or deformed hatchlings taken back to Kuda Huraa’s Hatchling Rehabilitation Centre to improve their chance of survival in the wild. Some are released with GPS tags to assist with migration and population research.
In addition, the launch of the Sea Turtle Morpho Evolution Project at Kuda Huraa in 2017 uses facial recognition software to chart a turtle’s evolution via its unique facial scales and scutes.
Turtle Rehabilitation Centre
Marine Savers take in injured turtles from all over the Maldives for rehabilitation. Some have been hit by boat propellers; many have buoyancy issues or have ingested plastic; most have been entangled in discarded “ghost” fishing nets.
Thanks to generous donations from guests, the Rehab Centre has successfully rehabilitated and released 155 sea turtles back to the wild.
Highlights of a decade of work include the creation of two sea-based pools to provide a larger space for turtle rehab; the fitting of the Maldives’ first prosthetic turtle flippers; the discovery of “Indra,” a very rare turtle – thought to be a green-hawksbill hybrid – displaying green turtle head features and a hawksbill turtle’s scale shape and serrated carapace; and the historic “Flying Turtles” initiative (permanent overseas rehoming for turtles unable be released into the wild).
Reefscapers and Coral Propagation
In early 2000, in the wake of the 1997-1998 El Nino bleaching event, Thomas Le Berre, founder of Reefscapers, began challenging marine conservationists’ dismissal of coral propagating and artificial reefs, and approached Four Seasons Kuda Huraa about coral protection. The resort was already experimenting with reef balls, and a pioneering partnership was born.
Four Seasons Reefscapers project is now one of the most successful of its kind in the world, featuring the Indian Ocean’s largest mass of artificial reefs: more than 500,000 pieces of 40 species of coral transplanted onto 7,000 coral frames in the waters around Landaa Giraavaru and Kuda Huraa.
The project is propelling further research into the strengthening of artificial reefs to withstand future bleaching events, and is developing a pioneering AI Catamaran, using robotics and artificial intelligence to improve monitoring efforts.
Four Seasons guests can transplant their own reef and watch it grow via photo updates on the Marine Savers website.
The Fish Lab and Anemone Mapping
One of the Fish Lab’s main priorities is to teach aquaculture to local Maldivians with a view to supporting eco-label aquarium trade (adhering to strict sustainability standards as opposed to the irresponsible removal of fish from the ocean).
This is particularly important in the case of Maldivian clownfish – unique to the Maldives and therefore more vulnerable to extinction. To help preserve these Nemo-like fish, the team also map and monitor the Baa Atoll anemone population, and have released more anemones populated with Maldivian clownfish from the Fish Lab to increase the wild stocks.
The Fish Lab also has breeding programmes for Clark’s anemonefish and seahorses.
Dolphin ID Project
Marine Savers dolphin biologists go out with guests at least four times a week and take pictures of dolphins to first assess population sizes in North Male Atoll (Kuda Huraa) and Baa Atoll (Landaa Giraaavru), and second to help estimate the local abundance and variety of marine mammals, including spinner and bottlenose dolphins, short fin whales and false killer whales.
The aim is to use the information to start building a mammal population map and expand the knowledge of local mega fauna beyond these two atolls through an extended network of Maldives-based marine biologists.
The Manta Trust
Since 2005, Landaa Giraavaru has been home to the Maldivian Manta Ray Project – the founding project of The Manta Trust.
Representatives from the world’s leading manta ray charity can be found at both Landaa Giraavaru and Kuda Huraa studying these graceful oceanic ballerinas.
Their research has helped to identify the population of Maldivian reef manta rays as the largest in the world (some 5-6,000 individuals) as well as unravelling many mysteries surrounding migratory routes and life history strategies; the discovery of a previously unknown oceanic manta population in the south of the country; and the contribution to landmark protective legislation for mantas and their direct relatives not only in the Maldives but globally.
Beyond plastic prevention and marine conservation, Four Seasons Resorts Maldives also bottle their own water, use eco-friendly laundry and cleaning products, and have ecologically sound sewage treatment plants, water restrictors and energy saving technology among other initiatives.
Combining innovation, wellness and conservation, Four Seasons Resort Maldives Landaa Giraavaru is a 44-acre, 103-villa wonderland in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve — a 30-minute seaplane flight from the main Velana International Airport.
Its sister property, Four Seasons Resort Maldives Kuda Huraa lies to the south: an enchanting garden island complete with Island Spa sea sanctuary and Tropicsurf coaches and guides. It features 96 thatched beach and water accommodations constructed by local craftsmen using indigenous materials and techniques to reflect a true sense of the Maldives.
The luxury catamaran Four Seasons Explorer connects the two properties via three, four and seven-night cruises, plus private leisure, surf and manta ray charters.
The latest addition to the Maldives collection, Four Seasons Private Island Maldives at Voavah, Baa Atoll opened in 2016 as the group’s first exclusive-use private island: off limits to everyone else, limitless to the guests.
To discover more about marine conservation, plan a getaway with Four Seasons by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Central Reservations department of Four Seasons Resorts Maldives at tel: (960) 66 00 888.