The Republic of Maldives is an intensely one-of-a-kind nation—composed of 26 atolls, or ring-shaped coral reefs, the nation is an archipelago state surrounded by rich marine wildlife perfect to experience on your Maldives vacation. Its land area is quite small at roughly 298 square kilometers, yet it’s emerged as a renowned, remote, serene nature-surrounded destination for travelers from around the world.
Ecotourism is on the rise there, as the future of the nation itself as well as Maldives tourism depends on the health of the environment. Ecotourism is defined by the Global Ecotourism Network as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and creates knowledge and understanding through interpretation and education of all involved: visitors, staff and the visited”.
A rich yet increasingly fragile ecosystem surrounds the islands—shallow coasts, deep seas, reef ecosystems, wetlands, drylands, and birds, to briefly name a few aspects. Additionally, there are over 1,000 species of fish, and 21 species of whales and dolphins. Many people travel to Maldives with hopes of seeing the shores lit up at night from the bioluminescent organisms. You can look forward to these sights on your Maldives vacation, while also dedicating effort to doing your part in maintaining its untouched nature.
The Evolution of Tourism on the Islands
Those looking to travel to Maldives are probably all too familiar with the stunning beaches, floating bungalows, and endless marine activities often photographed, attracting around 650,000 travelers per year. As of 2018, the Maldives operated 130 island-resorts. Between 2018 and 2021, close to 50 island-resorts opened or are in the process of doing so, and this growth rate has been fairly typical for the last ten years. Tourism accounts for 30% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.
However, the pristine beaches of the Maldives haven’t always been open to visitors—the Ministry of Tourism is actually getting ready to celebrate the 50th year of Maldives tourism in 2022. And, interestingly, the Maldives were strictly separated into “resort islands” that travelers could go to, and “local islands” that were closed off for visitors and only Maldivians lived, for much of this time. However, since a change in government regulations in 2009, travelers can stay among the local population rather than just privately-owned land, which marked a significant change to Maldives tourism. Now, more tours are available to interact with local Maldivians, learn about the culture, and support local businesses.
In addition to relaxing in the sun, you can enjoy many activities on your Maldives vacation—popular ones offered throughout the islands are snorkeling, SCUBA diving, parasailing, and other marine activities. Most wildlife you’ll see is marine wildlife, such as sharks, turtles, dolphins, whales, 2,000 species of fish, and of course, the famed coral reefs.
However, the Maldives’ tourism industry is under some pressure as the ecosystem is increasingly fragile both due to climate change and development; where there used to be untouched marine life, there are now bungalows and underwater restaurants. Because of the industry’s importance, climate change is especially a crucial point—they are one of the island nations anticipated to be most impacted by rising sea levels.
What Ecotourism in the Maldives Looks Like Now
While Maldives tourism has generated a lot of money, it also presents environmental consequences. With 80% of land sitting less than one meter above sea level, climate change has the power to affect the ecosystem hugely and affect the whole economy. Therefore, ecotourism is receiving more attention from the government and individual resorts, some of whom are adopting missions for complete self-sufficiency and house a resident marine biologist.
Therefore, there are some policies that the Maldives has adopted to encourage ecotourism, as well as local initiatives and NGO operations which establish things like plastic clean-up days and educational environmental tours. In 2009, the government established more regulations on marine activities and created protected biospheres.
Additionally, the government created the President of Maldives Green Resort Award in the early 2000’s to encourage local resorts to adopt green and sustainable policies by awarding just one each year with the title. Travelers also pay a flat $6 (USD) “Green Tax” per day on private resorts—for local guesthouses, it’s only $3. The revenue from the tax is used for waste management and conservation efforts. However, resorts still vary widely with their sustainability practices, making it necessary to research the initiatives by any specific resort while planning your Maldives vacation.
The Center for Responsible Travel, a global nonprofit based in Washington D.C., suggests staying at local guest houses if you travel to Maldives as opposed to internationally-owned resorts. This way, you can interact with culture both socially and economically and leave a lighter carbon footprint. Oftentimes, more of your expenses will go back into the Maldivian economy as you’re not staying in a foreign-owned private resort.
Additionally, the Ministry of Tourism and the United Nations Development Programme signed a “Re-Imagining Tourism” Project in April 2021. This community-based tourism development plan ensures more significant dividends to nature and communities, and provides increased opportunities for women and youth. Specifically, it includes measures to escalate marketing of local opportunities, establish sustainability standards for resort islands, and reskill women and youth to be able to more fully participate in the tourism industry. Within it is an overarching goal to create more robust local island tourism development plans.
Ecotours To Experience on Your Maldives Vacation
While Maldives tourism often revolves around viewing marine wildlife and relaxing on the beach, there are a range of diverse ecotours to fill your time. You’re able to do many marine excursions through resorts (which is another reason to pick a more ecofriendly establishment), but there are also a few more localized tours that emphasize supporting the Maldivian economy.
For example, Secret Paradise is a tour company that curates various itineraries for you to pick from—snorkeling tours, sandbank trips, or more cultural-oriented ones such as food and walking tours in Malé, the capital city, to name just a few. They offer half-day, full-day, and multi-day excursions to incorporate into your Maldives vacation. Working with local communities is a pillar to their work; all tour guides are locals, and the company embraces educating travelers on topics like reef etiquette and encouraging them to take plastic waste home. Most of their tours invite travelers to purchase local arts, crafts, and food from local businesses.
With Secret Paradise, you can also take very environmentally-focused trips in partnership with the cleanup and reef rehabilitation organization called Save the Beach.
If you’re looking for a remote beach getaway, the Maldives certainly has some more eco-friendly options for you to discover on both local islands and on private resorts. Lean into ecotourism on your serene, calm, yet adventure-packed Maldives vacation!
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