Soneva to open Maldives’ first tourist-centric science centre

Soneva recently announced its plans to open a SCIE:NCE Centre in the Maldives.

SCIE:NCE is short for Soneva Centre for Island Ecosystems. The centre will be located onsite at Soneva Fushi, and will be designed in a similar manner to the Soneva Art and Glass Studio.

The objective of the new centre is to create great guest experiences and learning opportunities around the subjects of marine and terrestrial biology and astronomy, as well as Soneva’s conservation efforts.

These topics are usually of great interest to Soneva’s younger guests, and the centre will provide even more opportunities for learning while at Soneva or through an online learning platform.

SCIE:NCE is set to develop and record short educational videos, which will be shared online.

Children and teenagers will also be able to sign up for online courses which will be distributed through existing educational platforms, such as FutureLearn.

Soneva has appointed Dr Bart Knols, who was instrumental in the implementation of Soneva’s sustainable, insecticide-free mosquito management system, to oversee the set up the centre.

The centre will need $250,000 to be built, with funds coming from donations and grants, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021.

SCIE:NCE will include the following facilities:

  • A research laboratory for in-house scientists as well as scholars visiting from around the world.
  • An outdoor semi-field structure for behavioural and ecological studies on mosquitoes.
  • A coral propagation centre, which will have the capacity to produce 50,000 pieces of coral a year, which when planted, will cover at least one hectare. Soneva intends to set up coral propagation centres at both Soneva Jani and Soneva Fushi. These propagation centres will be unique and the largest scale coral propagation in the world. SCIE:NCE is currently in discussion with some of the world’s leading marine biologists and coral experts, to help advise the way forward. In the near future, Soneva will invite these scientists and experts to the Maldives to plan these activities.
  • A meeting/lecture room for seminars, training courses and teaching purposes, augmented with a library and office space.

“Covid-19 has brought into question the value of what we learn at school and traditional methods of learning. The world has been exposed to, and gotten used to, remote learning. We see a lot of interest from children, to either learn remotely or on-site, about astronomy, marine biology and conservation,” Sonu Shivdasani, Soneva’s CEO and Founder, said.

“It is our hope that we will develop week-long classes that children can subscribe to when they are at our resorts, and subscribe to digitally if they are unable to physically visit Soneva. I am sure that as we go on, new ideas will come up, and we will look back in a couple of years’ time at the SCIE:NCE Centre as one of those great initiatives that clearly differentiate Soneva from any other resort.”

SCIE:NCE will be directed by Bart Knols, who is a medical entomologist with a PhD from Wageningen University (Netherlands), where he started as a first-year biology student in 1983.

After attending a lecture on the side effects of aerial spraying insecticides to control tsetse flies in Africa he was hooked. He became interested in insects and the diseases that they transmit to humans and animals, as well as the ongoing search for green alternatives to pest control.

Bart was offered a chance to work in a Maasai community on the Kenya-Tanzania border to develop low-cost, odour-baited traps to control tsetse flies. What followed 11 years of working and living in east and southern Africa was a PhD on the behavioural ecology of African malaria mosquitoes.

He went on to work for the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), in Nairobi to set up its malaria vector programme. Bart then moved to the shores of Lake Victoria, where he headed up the malaria programme and became the manager of ICIPE’s field station.

In 2003, he was offered a research position with the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna and Seibersdorf, to work on the development of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) for malaria mosquitoes. Bart has received many awards for his creative and unconventional lines of research and pioneering of new ideas.

He is a co-laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize (2005) and obtained an Ig Nobel Prize at Harvard University in 2006. He was also awarded the Eijkman medal, the highest award in the field of tropical medicine and international health in the Netherlands, in 2007.

The leading scientific journal Science wrote about Bart in 2016: “In humankind’s war against insect-borne disease, Dutch entomologist Bart Knols is one of the most creative warriors”.

He has published more than 140 scientific articles, 19 book chapters and (co-)edited four books. In recent years, Bart served as principal investigator on a 5.2 million Euro grant from the EU and subsequently as co-Principal Investigator on a $10.2 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In 2019, Soneva partnered with Biogents, a company on the forefront of international mosquito control research, to introduce a sustainable, insecticide-free mosquito management system.

The aim of this partnership is to bring the mosquito population on Soneva Fushi’s island of Kunfunadhoo, down to zero to show the international community that it is possible to use sustainable, insecticide-free alternatives in mosquito control, and to be the first mosquito-free island in the Maldives.

Starting July 2019, a month into the operation, a sharp decline in the number of mosquitoes trapped on the island was observed, and today the mosquito population has been reduced by around 95-98 per cent.

Soneva’s target is to eliminate all mosquitoes on Kunfunadhoo island by the end of 2020.

The halting of chemical fogging has also resulted in the appearance of a greater diversity of flora and fauna on the island. Guests and hosts have noticed a resurgence in species of butterflies, dragon flies, bumble bees, beetles and small insects.

With these natural pollinators now back in abundance, there are more flowers, fruits and Soneva Fushi’s organic gardens are thriving. The increase in fruits and insects means there now are more birds visiting the shores of Kunfunadhoo and fire flies are once again spotted at night.

“I feel privileged and proud to join Soneva and its SCIE:NCE centre to lead its scientific research and conservation efforts,” Dr Knols said.

“Scientific endeavour is most meaningful if it is put to good use in society and addresses key issues reflected in the sustainable development goals. This we hope to accomplish, besides enthusing guests with what we do and developing capacity in the Maldives to address pressing environmental and conservation issues in line with the government’s Strategic Action Plan 2019-2023.”

Soneva is a pioneering family of hospitality properties, offering holistic encounters in luxurious and inspiring environments – from world class resorts to outstanding natural locations.

Soneva Fushi, Soneva Jani and Soneva in Aqua in the Maldives, and Soneva Kiri in Thailand rebuke the traditional concept of luxury and instead promise the luxury of time, purity and solitude. Every day, guests are encouraged to discover sandy feet, inspired minds and full hearts.

Combining luxury with a conscientious approach to sustainability and the environment, and proactively changing the nature of hospitality, it delivers intuitive service and meaningful experiences to the guests.

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