South Asia is packed full of spectacular tourist destinations, but few offer such ample opportunity for oceanside bliss as the Maldives. Comprised of 26 low-lying atolls scattered across the Indian Ocean, this sprawling archipelago has earned worldwide acclaim for its abundant natural beauty and world-class accommodations—and while the waters surrounding each Maldivian atoll are teeming with life, the nation is certainly home to its fair share of environmental issues.
Rising sea levels are a pressing issue for the Maldives, but fortunately, resorts across the archipelago are aiming to combat this phenomenon. Just north of the capital city of Malé, Gili Lankanfushi is one of several properties that’s entered the ring. In addition to opulent lagoon-adjacent villas and three on-property restaurants, this grandiose resort is equipped with its own marine biology department dedicated to research and guest education—and for staff, climate change-driven coral bleaching is a major concern.
“Related to the El Niño climatic phenomenon, the sea water temperature can increase to levels that have killed the corals,” says Eline Postma, Assistant Marine Biologist at Gili Lankanfushi. “The most severe one was in 1998, an event that killed more than 90% of the corals in the Maldives. Another severe one occurred in 2016 and killed 72% of our shallow water coral. Without a healthy reef, we see an increase in beach erosion. Given the fact that the Maldives have less than 1% land mass, most of which is no more than one meter above sea level, this is quite problematic, especially with a growing population.”
While Postma notes that coral populations have been recovering steadily in recent years, the Maldives can’t get by without a little help from its friends—and fortunately, Gili Lankanfushi has orchestrated the perfect program for bolstering local coral numbers. Launched in 2014, the Coral Lines Project starts off with tiny shards of coral which are then attached to strands of rope at the resort’s own coral nursery. Over time, these shards develop into adults, after which they’re moved to a natural reef to live out their lives in the wild. This program has seen major success over the years, and for any marine biology aficionados staying at the resort, there’s ample opportunity to join in on the fun.
“Before the activity begins, the marine biologist will have selected a coral colony from our nursery to work with,” says Postma. “Guests start off by learning the basics of coral biology, the effect of climate change on our reefs and how the Coral Lines Project works. The process of creating the line is much like grafting a plant. Branches of around 4 cm are taken from the ‘mother colony’ and secured to the line in 15 cm increments. This gives the coral enough room to grow. Once we have a full line, the fragments are measured so that we can track their growth overtime. Guests can then join the marine biologist to our easily accessible nursery and watch while the line is tied onto the frames in the nursery.”
After a successful voyage out to the nursery, guests are then provided with an online link that’s updated every three months, allowing them to receive an update on the growth of their coral—and while the Coral Lines Project is a great way to get up-close-and-personal with nature, it’s not the only expedition that Gili Lankanfushi has to offer. Snorkeling and diving are both available for guests, providing ample opportunity to spot some of the region’s most iconic native aquatic species.
“We see green turtles almost every time we go out to the house reef,” says Postma. “That is incredible considering they are an endangered species. In addition, we tend to see black tip reef sharks just as often, which is a marker of a balanced ecosystem. During the southwestern monsoon (that runs from May to October) the manta rays return to our side of the atoll. They are most frequently sighted while diving, but we have occasionally seen these gentle giants feeding along our house reef as well.”