Eco Travel in the Maldives (Before They Disappear)

The Maldives, the smallest of Asian nations, is a popular eco travel destination. It's also the lowest-lying nation, and stands an average of about 5 feet above sea level. In other words: if the ocean rises three feet, as is predicted by 2100 due to global warming, the Maldives would be (mostly) uninhabitable.

President Mohamed Nasheed set up a fund that will help the entire nation (400,000) move to another continent, if need be. Most likely, they would go to India, Australia, or Sri Lanka. How will they pay for the new homeland? Eco travel. 500,000 tourists visit the Maldives each year, and the money they spend goes towards the potential purchase of a new homeland. It's a whole new kind of sustainable tourism.

It's not exactly the kind of eco travel destination that attracts backpackers, though. More than 80 luxury resorts stand on their own private islands in the Maldives, including the only "floating" Four Seasons in the world: a fancy 128-foot catamaran. What else can you expect? Luxuries galore: thatched beach roof villas with private pools, spas, turquoise water and so forth.

Don't expect pure excess though: most of the resorts have admirable environmental programs. President Nasheed hopes to achieve carbon neutrality within the next decade. After announcing his plan, last year, Nasheed said, “Climate change is a global emergency. The world is in danger of going into cardiac arrest, yet we behave as if we've caught a common cold. Today, the Maldives has announced plans to become the world's most eco-friendly country. I can only hope other nations follow suit.” Thanks to Nasheed's dedication and eco travel luxury lodging, the Maldives ecosystem is well-protected.

The Maldives is a haven for underwater adventurers. Clownfish, dolphins, lionfish, parrotfish, and over 300 species of fish live in the Maldives coral reefs. In 1998, El Niño killed a large percentage of the reefs, but scientists carefully restored their health. Electrified cones were placed underwater to attract larva, and the coral grew four times faster than ordinary coral. The coral works as a nature barrier agains storms, and also remove carbon dioxide (which can, of course, lead to global warming).

Tourism is the main industry in the Maldives, and it has been that way since 1972. The country has an excellent reputation for luxury eco travel. However, last week, an someone uploaded a video on YouTube of a Swiss couple who thought they were renewing their marriage vows. Instead, they were being mocked and told they were "infidels" and "swine" and other (much nastier) accusations. Ahmed Shaheed, foreign minister, apologized, saying he intended to restore the Maldives status as a "world-class tourist destination". Hopefully, the activity of this young man will not effect the future eco travel industry too severely; after all, the Maldives need to keep raising money for their future homeland, and protecting the species in their coral reef.

Photo credit: Nevit Dilmen