To most, the Maldives is inextricably linked to visions of barefoot honeymoons, nearly-neon blue waters and pearlescent sand beaches. But it mustn’t be forgotten that this tiny island nation is at the forefront of the world’s climate crisis. Comprised of 27 fragile atolls collectively hosting 1,200 low lying coral islands, the Maldives is the flattest country on Earth with 80 percent of its land area rarely exceeding 3.5 feet in elevation. One could imagine the drastic impact of rising sea levels, and the importance of preserving this incredibly sensitive environment.
There are over 130 hotels and resorts in the Maldives, and tourism visits continues to rise. With the creation of Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, Hilton became the country’s first international hospitality brand in 1997, pioneering the now-signature stilted overwater bungalow architecture. Even more impressive, the resort was the first to build an entirely underwater restaurant, and just last year, it debuted The Muraka, its game-changing ultra-luxe residence that sits partially submerged 18 feet below the Indian Ocean.
But being on the leading edge of the Maldives’ top-tier hospitality offerings today now requires a deep-rooted environmental sensitivity that extends throughout all of its operations, with a particular focus on helping local communities thrive as well.
“Being eco-friendly by educating through awareness, prevention and action—all to preserve it for future generations to enjoy—is crucial when traveling to a small island nation such as the Maldives,” says Kim Roberts, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island’s Director of Marketing and Communications.
Conrad Hotels & Resorts are part of the Hilton family, which wholly commits to an in-house corporate responsibility program called Travel with Purpose. “It’s a comprehensive effort that includes both environmental sustainability and community investment initiatives,” Roberts explains. “Above all, it’s designed to make a lasting impact on the environment and the lives of people in the communities where we operate.”
As a result, Hilton became the first major hotel company to both set science-based targets for reducing carbon emissions as per the Paris Climate Agreement, and to commit to sending zero hotel soap to landfill.
“We plan on doubling our investment in inclusive growth for all our programs that help women, youth, veterans, refugees and people with disabilities around the world. This is so our communities can realize the full economic benefits of travel and tourism. All of this is in line with our pledge to further the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” she says.
Not only is the Maldives outpost one of the most profitable in Conrad’s portfolio of resorts, but it also has a formidable set of sustainability programs to match. Here are a few that stand out.
Involving guests in coral regeneration
In 2016, more than 60 percent of coral in Maldivian reefs was bleached—a disastrous effect from a spike in ocean temperatures caused by El Niño. “Bleaching is when the algae that typically lives inside the coral vacates,” says marine biologist Corey Akers from the Ocean Group Maldives, a dive and water sports operator that has a branch at Conrad Maldives. “The algae helps give the coral energy by living inside its tissues, which are normally transparent when healthy. Bleaching turns them white.”
The next year, the Conrad partnered with Ocean Group on a marquee coral restoration project that allows guests to be involved in the rehabilitation. On metal frames that guests can adopt, coral fragments are zip-tied and submerged into the ocean for another shot at life. “It’s kind of like a nursery,” explains Akers, who grew up in Virginia. “They are living, but broken pieces of coral that were found on the seabed. We just make sure that they have a better chance of survival again after being nursed back to health.” The frames are used to fill in areas of the house reef and lagoon that are typically sandy, with no current reefs.
Along with the hands-on participation, guests will also receive an adoption certificate, a dedication plaque, a photo album of the planting process and photographs on the frame’s progress every six months. In May 2019, the Conrad team hosted a coral planting day at the nearby island of Dhangethi, sharing their expertise with the local community.
READ MORE: 7 Sustainable Travel Tips
Creating awareness of the threats to marine biodiversity
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island’s most recent initiative is a partnership with the nonprofit Maldives Whale Shark Research Program. In addition to sponsoring their internship program, which grants locals extensive experiential learnings in marine biology, the resort helps run educational awareness campaigns and recreational activities that encourage both locals and guests to be part of the conservation conversation.
Leveraging desalination instead of bottled water
Considering the property’s remote location in the middle of the Indian Ocean, there are several innate challenges to procuring an adequate supply of drinking water. Conrad Maldives addresses this with an on-site desalination plant that produces over 600 gallons of purified water daily from seawater. Two separate taps supply still and carbonated water, which are both decanted into reusable glass bottles for all the guest rooms and dining venues throughout the resort.
Displaying conversation-starting, eco-conscious art
Reflecting the resort’s affinity for design is its partnership with eco-artist John K. Melvin, who “engages ecological and conceptual themes through the use of specific materials and method in large, small, public and private art projects.” EvoGyre is his massive installation that hangs in the resort’s Ragali Bar. Made of 5,500 locally-sourced plastic bottles, the piece evokes a jellyfish suspended from the ceiling.
Introducing hydroponic gardening to locals
Conrad Maldives has a lush garden on property that supplies an extensive amount of produce to the resort’s restaurants, like herbs, chilis and lettuces. Some of this is grown hydroponically, a technique that has since been introduced to the island of Dhigurah in the same atoll. The Conrad team donated and installed the system in a school, where it has been used by the school’s student environment club for four harvests.
According to Kim Roberts: “Through a mindful approach to travel, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island aims to inspire change and drive advocacy for the environment through its guests.” While this real life paradise may not be invincible to the effects of climate change, it’s certainly worth every possible effort to preserve it.
For an inside look at another laid-back but luxurious Maldives resort, discover Six Senses.
And for more on sustainable travel, take a cue from these 17 eco-travelers.