BANYAN TREE MALDIVES MARINE LAB LOOKS AHEAD AFTER FIVE YEARS OF ENVIRONMENTAL WORK

Thursday, 26 February 2009 23:16

Banyan Tree’s in-house Marine Lab at Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru celebrated its fifth anniversary in January, making it the longest running resort-based marine research facility in the Maldives.
In the past five years, the Marine Lab has been involved in major projects such as tsunami recovery efforts, working with endangered and threatened marine species, planting coral gardens, mentoring at-risk children, and sharing sustainable livelihood methods with local communities.


The successes of the Banyan Tree Maldives Marine Lab have shown that private resorts can enable stewardship and understanding of their own reefs, as well as that of the whole Maldives archipelago, protecting against phenomena such as beach erosion and coral bleaching due to climate change.
Origins of the Banyan Tree Maldives Marine LabIn January 2004, Banyan Tree established a dedicated marine research facility to spearhead its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities in the Maldives. The goal of the Banyan Tree Maldives Marine Lab is to increase awareness of coral reefs and their inhabitants throughout the Maldives, and to actively protect and regenerate Maldivian reefs. The Marine Lab has a full-time marine biologist, a lab manager and dedicated marine environment officers, who are from local communities and trained in coral reef conservation.

Since its inception, the Marine Lab has been led by Mr Abdul Azeez Abdul Hakeem, Banyan Tree’s Area CSR Director – Indian Ocean. Mr Azeez has successfully helped with many reef conservation and restoration measures for Banyan Tree in an attempt to recover and protect coral reefs that were severely damaged during a 1998 El Niño mass coral bleaching event. The Marine Lab was conceived and created to lend further support to such conservation efforts. Reef restoration efforts have had a major impact on reef recovery and health, particularly the monthly reef cleanings which over the last six years have removed trash and coral predators like crown-of-thorns starfish and pincushion starfish. As of 2009, the resort reefs surrounding Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru and Angsana Ihuru in the North Malé Atoll have reached a 45% overall coral cover in the recovery after the 1998 El Niño bleaching, a rate that is two to five times higher than other surveyed reefs in the central and northern Maldives.

The role of such private marine research facilities on coral reef conservation should not be underestimated: Resorts in the Maldives act as de facto marine protected areas, empowered by the Maldivian government to be as proactive as desired while adhering to environmental guidelines. There is no university in the Maldives, and as such, the Banyan Tree Maldives Marine Lab takes on a hosting role to accommodate visiting scientists who contribute to scientific understanding of marine studies in the country. Through its efforts, the Marine Lab hosted the first group that filmed coral spawning in the Maldives in 2003.

Educational WorkOn a regular basis, the Marine Lab offers short- and long-term educational internships to local school children and interested higher education students. These internships provide students with an opportunity to enhance their knowledge of the marine environment, ecology and conservation. The aim of this programme is to educate and inspire the younger generation to be proactively involved in marine conservation.

Furthermore, at least six times a year, the Marine Lab welcomes groups of local students to the lab to learn about coral, shark and turtle research projects, to take part in hands-on conservation activities, and to enjoy marine conservation presentations and lessons conducted by the expert staff of the Lab.

The Marine Lab team also works closely with resort guests to enhance everyone’s experience of the surrounding reef, through complimentary marine biology classes, stingray and turtle feeding sessions, and guided snorkelling trips.

The MaldivesThe Maldives is an Indian Ocean country of nearly 1,200 low-lying coral islands in 24 atolls. There are about 200 local inhabited islands and 100 private resort islands in the. As the lowest lying country in the world, the Maldives has the most to lose from global climate change and rising water levels.

The Maldives relies on reefs for fishing, tourism, island formation, as well as natural barriers to waves and beach erosion. However, changing weather and reef degradation have increased beach erosion in the last 15 years.

In developing countries with limited technical environmental expertise or poor infrastructures, private conservation and research programs can act as forces of change on par with non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, and governments.
Businesses are in the position to facilitate and create change through their product offerings and purchasing power. As a hotel and resort operator, Banyan Tree is additionally well placed to facilitate sustainable change. Between the number of guests arrivals at the resorts every year, as well as the number of properties that are in developing areas, Banyan Tree has the opportunity and responsibility to share what has been learnt with guests while also partnering with communities to share as much of the benefit of tourism as possible.

Green Imperative Fund
In the spirit of its philosophy, Banyan Tree Holdings Limited set up the Green Imperative Fund (GIF) in 2001 to formalise its corporate social responsibility efforts. Established in all Banyan Tree and Angsana properties, the fund aims to widen the reach and effectiveness of the company’s efforts to provide critical support to worthy environmental action and community based projects where the Group has a presence. Every guest is invited to be a partner through a small preset contribution per room night, under an “opt-out” arrangement. Contributions are matched, dollar for dollar. The Banyan Tree Maldives Marine Lab is privately funded by Banyan Tree through the funds raised by the GIF.

In 2007, a second Banyan Tree Maldives Marine Lab was established on the island of Velavaru in South Nilandhe Atoll, Maldives. The Marine Lab on Velavaru focuses on protecting surrounding reefs and sea turtles, a keystone species particularly vulnerable to a wide range of destructive human activities. Angsana Velavaru is a known turtle-nesting site, home to two endangered species – the Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtles. Further information on Marine Lab initiatives can be found here. For more information, please visit the Banyan Tree Corporate Social Responsibility website at banyantree.com/csr.

About Banyan Tree
VabbinfaruLaunched in 1995, Vabbinfaru in Divehi means “round island circled by a round coral reef”. This paradise island of North Malé Atoll is just 20 minutes by speedboat from the airport. It is on this island of white coral sand, surrounded by what must be the bluest water in the world, that sit 48 captivating villas cooled by the natural sea breeze of the Indian Ocean. The resort’s house reef is ideal for snorkelling straight off the beach; while stingrays are fed along the beach every day at 5pm.

For hotel reservations, please contact Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru at +960 664 3147, or Banyan Tree Main Reservations at +65 6849 5800. One–stop reservations at the best rates can be made on the award-winning website, banyantree.com.

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