As travel writer Rooksana Hossenally last week slammed the Maldives' 2020 carbon neutral ambitions and the high-profile environmental rhetoric of former President Mohamed Nasheed, the present government has said it is confident tourism and green developments can viably exist side-by-side.
In a series of articles to be published over the next few weeks, Dhonisaurus looks at a number of green issues facing the country’s travel industry; from adopting sustainable resort certification, to trying to ensure eco-friendly supplies for those all important holiday staples like wines and ingredients.
Yet, to kick start this focus, it seems prudent to start with an an article appearing in the Huffington Post this week entitled: “Waking up to 'Greenwashing' in the Maldives”.
The article, by travel writer Rooksana Hossenally, criticises the Maldives' national commitments in recent years to try and meet an ambitious pledge to be entirely carbon neutral by the start of the next decade. It also accuses former President Nasheed of failing to address the most pressing domestic environmental issues and explain them to the local populace.
Nasheed was himself ousted in a controversial transfer of power in February that both he and his party have alleged was a “coup d'etat” sponsored by mutinous elements of the police and military as well as former opposition politicians that now serve in the present coalition government.
Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), remains the country's sole political opposition, whilst the key minds behind a risk-mitigated renewable energy investment devised for the former president's administration have raised concerns about the viability of large scale national sustainability commitments in the current political uncertainty.
President Waheed has recently outlined his own government's vision for sustainability initiatives. These plans include aims to become the world's largest marine reserve in five years, while remaining focused on existing commitments to become carbon-neutral by 2020.
Hossenally nonetheless remains sceptical about the reality of meeting Nasheed's well publicised sustainable aims.
“Earlier on this month I found myself in the Maldives for hotel reviews and was outraged by the gap between President Nasheed's 'carbon neutral promise within a decade' and the reality that I was faced with,” she wrote.
“Going carbon-free is not only impossible for the Maldives, but it would severely penalise the country's main industry: tourism, which would, needless to say, cause the Maldives to slip into dangerous financial waters, in addition to the already rising sea levels around the islands. “
Amongst the main environmental concerns highlighted by Hossenally, were the country's reliance on a national transport network, which due to the thousands of islands that make up the atoll nation, is based predominantly on boats and planes.
“The president's objectives are without doubt perfectly admirable,” she wrote. “But how does he imagine the tourism industry functioning without transport?”
Also identified as major issues were the lack of locally produced ingredients and goods as well as the need for resorts to provide utmost luxury to their guests.
“Hotels are only too proud to tell you that they desalinate their own water and bottle it themselves. I agree that this may be more efficient than importing tons of non-biodegradable plastic bottled water, but the desalination process requires the burning of fuel,” she wrote.
Questions were also raised about the potential long-term impacts feeding programmes, designed to bring guests closer to local wildlife such as mantas, will have on disrupting the country's surrounding ecosystems.
Management issues at the island of Thilafushi, which serves as the nation's central waste disposal tip, were also highlighted in the article as reportedly exacerbating to the rubbish and waste washing up at islands around nearby Male' and the surrounding atoll.
However, key to the travel writer's concerns were accusations by one local man that Nasheed had done little to explain the environmental problems facing the nation to his own people
“According to a very passionate Maldivian gentleman sitting at the café across from the [Khaadedhdhoo] airport, what the president said in a radio broadcast was the following: 'We are sinking. So we have to move somewhere else.'” she claimed. “This, according to the same gentleman, was the extent of the president's discourse to the people on the problem of rising water levels and his initiative to build a second island and plots of lands in nearby Sri Lanka and India to relocate the population.”
Hossenally concluded that the apparent failure of the former president to explain the challenges said to be facing the Maldivian people had led to a loss of respect locally for his green ambitions.
“If his people don't understand the problem then how does the president expect the Maldives to be carbon neutral in less than 10 years? For surely a sustainable environmental impact would have to be a general effort made by the entire population,” she said. “The only thing President's Nasheed's transparent ploys promote are disillusionment and ironically, more carbon -- a rise in tourist numbers undeniably leads to a rise in carbon emissions. Sadly, the Maldives isn't the only country to use green wash as a marketing tool to promote the country as a top tourism destination. There are plenty more.”
Speaking to Dhonisaurus today, the country's recently appointed Minister of Environment and Energy Dr Mariyam Shakeela rejected the view that the country's sustainability developments came at the expense of developments within tourism.
“I'm sure there are developments that we will be able to make side-by-side with the tourism industry and we are going the right way with this," she claimed.
Amongst these stated commitments, Dr Shakeela believed that the present government's aim of transforming the country over the next five years into the world's largest bioreserve was going extremely well. The bioreserve pledge comes on the back of the establishment of several existing protected marine sites in recent years.
Alongside claims by resort operators of their commitments to bring their operations in line with international sustainability standards, the country has begun to see the formation of marine parks and other underwater reserves.
Over in Baa Atoll for example, which has recently been awarded the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Biosphere Reserve status, properties like the Reethi Beach Resort are uncertain as to the direct impact protected marine areas may have on their operations.
Marine National Park
Within the country's northerly Noonu Atoll, the Hilton Iru Fushi resort has announced that it has began working with the country's first Marine National Park (MNP) at Edu Faru in a bid to play up the surrounding natural appeal of the area for guests.
According to the MNP's management, after signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the previous government in August 2011, guests staying at certain nearby properties like the Iru Fushi resort are cautiously being welcomed to explore the protected underwater habitats.
Local NGOs have also welcomed the previous government's commitments to establish and extend several protected ecological preserves in areas like Baa Atoll, despite calling for amendments to the efficiency of collaboration between different ministerial branches in ensuring eco-protection.
The Bluepeace organisation said last June that government action to protect marine areas was an “encouraging development”, despite its concerns about the efficiency of collaboration between different ministerial branches over eco-protection.
Back in June, President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza claimed the Waheed administration would “not completely” reverse the previous government’s zero carbon strategy: “What we are aiming to do is to elaborate more on individual sustainable issues and subject them to national debate. Previously, these discussions on sustainability were not subjected to a national debate, such as through parliament,” Riza said.