The Maldives, the postcard of paradise on earth “par excellence”. Hotels on stilts, immaculate fine sandy beaches… “There where all is order and beauty. Lush, calm and voluptuous.“
Then came the Fall: plastic and air pollution, dependence on tourism, rising waters, social problems… and the ship drowns.
Should we stop going to this destination? Like Noah, isn’t it still time to save ourselves ? Isn’t sustainable tourism possible in the Maldives ?
To find out, we spoke with Pratap Lall, founder of Le Monde en Un Regard, the travel agency that invites us to see the world differently.
The archipelago with almost 1200 islands lost in the heart of the Indian Ocean is the “lowest” state in the world. As a result, it is particularly vulnerable to climate change. According to various studies,
80% of the archipelago could even become uninhabitable by 2050. According to a study cited in the latest IPCC report (2022), the Maldives is one of the 5 states that are likely to be completely underwater.
Malé, capital of the Maldives ©️Canva
Coral mining and sand dredging also have their share of responsibility in the Maldivian shipwreck. Sand and coral are used for construction, in order to enlarge the islands, or even to build new ones (also victims of the rising waters…).
The overconsumption of sand is also due to a “need” to maintain the image of fine sandy beaches in perfect condition.
Then, it’s the snake that bites its own tail, since coral reef protects the islands from erosion. By destroying the coral reef we become more and more vulnerable to rising waters.
The satellite images below show two atolls, before (2016) and after (2022) their expansion for the construction of resorts. The atolls are becoming Island Resorts. This urbanization and the human presence will then disturb and weaken these areas of biodiversity.
In the images of the Varu Atmosphere Hotel, we notice the appearance of a darker rectangle to the right of the island. This spot leads us to hypothesize that it is the disappearance of sand, dredged for the enlargement of the island and the construction of the hotel.
Jumeirah Hotel, opened in October 2021
Hotel Varu Atmosphere, opened in 2019
Waste management is a major issue for the Maldives and its thousands of islands and atolls lost in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
In Thilafushi, paradise turns into hell
Almost all the waste generated is stored in Garbage Islands like Thilafushi.
Indeed, in the Maldives, tourists generate daily and individually more than 7 kilos of waste, against a little less than 3 kilos for a Maldivian.
Then, the toxic fog from the waste that ends up being burned pollutes the atmosphere and represents a public health problem for the inhabitants of the capital Malé, located only 8km from the Garbage Island.
A lot of waste also ends up in the ocean, especially micro and nano plastics, which damage coral reefs, are ingested by marine animals, contaminate marine biodiversity… and end up on our food.
Garbage Island of Thilafushi, a few kilometers from a resort and the capital ©️Google Maps (2022)
In the past, the Maldives was famous for the production and export of coconuts (coconut ropes and other products), cowries, dried tuna, ambergris (maavaharu) and sea coconut (tavakkaashi).
Today, most of the country’s GDP is based on tourism and its indirect sectors (construction, real estate, transport). Fishing and agriculture only contribute 4.7% of GDP.
A dependence on tourism that has shown its limits during the covid-19 pandemic. So, why do we want to develop sustainable tourism in the Maldives?
Cowries, a Maldivian specialty ©️Canva
Because sustainable tourism can stimulate economic diversification!
Pratap explains that a “smart” tourism can help finance other sectors to help a country become more independent.
For example, helping to build factories, hospital infrastructure, education, etc.
But all tourism actors must take part in this change: from the hotelier to the government, while passing by the travelers, the travel agencies, the banks, the NGOs, etc. A sustainability that must be planned and structured.
The money from tourism could be used to set up small textile units so that they no longer have to import it. This would bring work, diversify the economy, reduce dependence on tourism
A wind of sustainability is blowing more and more on the Maldives, with structuring plans like the Maldives Clean Environment Project (MCEP) and the Maldives Enhancing Employability and Resilience of Youth (MEERY).
These World Bank-supported projects aim to help the government develop
sustainable waste management system and educate the younger generation about sustainable development.
Initial actions are already being taken. As of June 1, 2022, the government has banned the production, import and consumption of single-use plastics.
Reassuring news that allows tourism to act even more concretely in favor of sustainable development.
In addition, Pratap informs us that there are many local NGOs that tourists can get involved with to have a positive impact at their destination.
Would you kill your mother?
The ocean is the mother that feeds the Maldivians.
Nobody would like to kill his mother.
The population is becoming aware but they need help.
We must continue to come to the Maldives and not leave them alone with their issues.
Initially rather skeptical about sending clients to the Maldivian archipelago, Pratap accepts, provided that these stays allow travelers to understand the island, its people and that they have a positive impact.
For Le Monde en un Regard, the essence of sustainable tourism lies in meeting the inhabitants.
A meeting that can be difficult in the Maldives since the inhabited islands are often separated from the island resorts. Indeed, the Maldives is an Islamic Republic with values that are rather far from the customs of international luxury tourism.
But as on its other destinations (read our article on Madagascar), Pratap identifies local associations to allow tourists to act, to meet and to understand the people: to have new gaze.
For example, in terms of health, the infrastructures are rather poor in the Maldives.
In case of serious problems, those who can afford it go to India for treatment. Sustainable tourism could help build better hospital infrastructures.
The Maldives is also famous for its shell…
but these are sent to India for the manufacture of jewelry.
Sustainable tourism could help relocalize jewelry manufacturing by financing small factories. This would create jobs and diversify the economy.
A trip to Maldives with
Coral protection activities
Meals with the inhabitants
Support for craftsmen (embroidery, jewelry…)
Bringing materials to schools
Accommodation in sustainable hotels
Stay in eco-friendly hotels
All land must be respected.
We are not a travel agency if we do not respect the planet.
We don’t just make reservations. We are ambassadors.
Le Monde en un Regard‘s philosophy is to see tourism as a wave. The traveler arrives and leaves, leaving something behind. In exchange, he returns home changed: better.
Zoom on Le Monde en un Regard
Pratap Lall has been working in sustainable tourism since 1982.
So, for 40 years, he has looked at the world differently and invites travelers to look at it with him.
Its objective: to make tourists discover countries from a different point of view, by showing them, without filter, what classic tourism generally tends to hide: the realities of the country, their socio-economic problems, the poverty.