Travel

It is not an easy task try­ing to de­scribe the beauty of the Mal­dives be­cause sim­ply put, the won­ders of this idyl­lic par­adise are in­de­scrib­able for the most part. The sands are white and pow­dery, the sea seem­ingly changes shades at will and the sharks are

MillionaireAsia India - - Contents - Kounteya Sinha

– Walk along the pow­dery white sands of very beau­ti­ful beaches of Mal­dives.

At rst, they look like dew drops – gi­ant round blotches on an end­less palate of blue paint. The sea is moody and al­most in­de­ci­sive – un­able to  x its mind on its favourite shade. Every 100 me­tres, it changes its mind – some parts a shade of dark cobalt, oth­ers Eton, turquoise, Per­sian and elec­tric.

Wel­come to the world’s most dis­parate coun­try – Mal­dives - where even the sharks are friendly and the high­est point – Mount Villingili is slightly taller than a golf mound at four feet 11 inches.

Get­ting to Mal­dives for In­di­ans is easy. A cou­ple of hours to Ban­ga­lore and then an hour long early morn­ing ight to Male. My Indian Air­lines ight was bang on time. I landed at the air­port – sur­rounded on all four sides by wa­ter, only to be re­ceived by a broad smil­ing lo­cal, dressed in all white, who es­corted me to speed­boat. A re­fresh­ing wel­come drink and a cold sweet towel trans­ported us to a dif­fer­ent world for a brief minute. The lo­cal, a staff of one of the world’s most ex­otic and sought af­ter is­land re­sort – Gili Lankan­fushi where I was to stay for three nights, sud­denly made a unique de­mand – hand over your shoes and kiss it good­bye for the next few days that you are here, he said, smil­ing all through.

The Gili ex­pe­ri­ence had started – no shoes and no news – a unique con­cept that has won it world­wide fame.

The idea is to com­pletely re­lax – let your feet wade through white pow­dery sand – to leave all worldly wor­ries out­side be­fore step­ping into the is­land and im­mers­ing our­selves into a hyp­notic di­vin­ity.

The speed boat roared to a start and ew over the choppy green wa­ters. In 45 min­utes, I got the rst glimpse of Gili – authen­tic Mal­di­vian dho­nis ( boats) with white sails dot­ted against the back­drop of shin­ing green co­conut trees and thatched palm leaf roofs.

Brad Calder, a burly, great na­tured bloke who had in­vited me to be his guest was wait­ing at the jetty with his in­cred­i­ble team cho­sen from across the world to re­ceive me. The hand­shake and the wel­come were as warm as the Mal­di­vian sun at high noon. Brad and his beau­ti­ful wife had us for an in­cred­i­ble yak­i­tori din­ner the rst night. We be­came friends and soon re­alised that Brad’s in­cred­i­ble ad­ven­ture spirit lead­er­ship had brought in unique ideas to that is­land. Can you other­wise imag­ine ly­ing on ham­mocks dug into the shal­low ocean bed for you to re­lax in the mid­dle of the sea?

The next morn­ing I got the real sense of beauty of this is­land that bases its core val­ues on sus­tain­able tourism.

The wa­ter vil­las are built keep­ing the en­vi­ron­ment in mind. The jetty is made of old treated tele­graph poles so that trees did not have to be cut from the forests. Bi­cy­cles are parked out­side every room made from bam­boos.

Mal­dives un­der­stands how im­por­tant sea life is to its ex­is­tence, es­pe­cially corals. The gov­ern­ment of Mal­dives held the rst ever un­der­wa­ter cab­i­net meet­ing some years back to gain the world’s at­ten­tion to­wards se­ri­ous coral loss.

Gili on the other hand has de­vised one of the world’s most in­cred­i­ble and unique hol­i­day ex­pe­ri­ences – coral line adop­tion pro­gramme.

Coral Reefs are some of the most im­por­tant ecosys­tems on earth. Home to 25 per cent of all ma­rine sh species, coral reefs sup­port more species per unit area than any other ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment, in­clud­ing about 4,000 species of sh and 800 species of hard corals. Sci­en­tists es­ti­mate that there may be an­other one to eight mil­lion undis­cov­ered species of

or­gan­isms liv­ing in and around reefs.

This bio­di­ver­sity is con­sid­ered key to nd­ing new medicines for the 21st cen­tury. Many drugs are now be­ing de­vel­oped from coral reef an­i­mals and plants as pos­si­ble cures for cancer, arthri­tis, hu­man bac­te­rial in­fec­tions and viruses.

How­ever, reefs in Mal­dives are fac­ing some se­ri­ous threats, lead­ing to fears that Mal­dives will dis­ap­pear into the sea in a few decades. Weather-re­lated dam­age to reefs oc­curs fre­quently. Large and pow­er­ful waves from hur­ri­canes and cy­clones break apart or at­ten large coral heads, scat­ter­ing their frag­ments. In­creased sea sur­face tem­per­a­tures due to global warm­ing have had dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects on coral life in the Mal­dives. Sea sur­face tem­per­a­tures spiked at 33°C Mal­dives, which re­sulted in mass coral bleaching.

Sur­veys have shown that an as­tound­ing 80 per cent loss in liv­ing coral on some reefs in Mal­dives, with cer­tain species lo­cally wiped out al­to­gether. In an ef­fort to bring the corals back to life, Gili in 2014 ini­ti­ated the Coral Lines Project. In March of that year, ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist Vaido­tas Kirsys ini­ti­ated the first ever process to re­grow frag­mented and or­phaned corals onto ar­ti­fi­cial un­der­wa­ter lines and

make them grow and come back to life.

This form of coral gar­den­ing in­volves two sim­ple steps – corals are rst nursed in a mid-wa­ter rope nurs­ery be­fore be­ing trans­planted to Gili Lankan­fushi’s house reef.

For guests like me, it was an eye opener. It meant I could get in­volved di­rectly in sav­ing the Mal­di­vian en­vi­ron­ment. How? Sim­ple. Guests at Gili Lankan­fushi can now adopt a sin­gle rope for a one-time pay­ment of $140. They are in­vited to join the ma­rine bi­ol­o­gists as they frag­ment one coral colony into 50 small pieces to be at­tached to a ve me­tre long rope.

Coral is a colo­nial an­i­mal, so even if it is cut up, the frag­ments will still sur­vive pro­vided they are in favourable con­di­tions and at­tached to solid sub­strate. The coral colonies Gili uses to frag­ment are those that have been bro­ken off by storms or taken from con­struc­tion zones; corals that would be un­likely to sur­vive if left alone. Once the frag­ments are in the rope, each coral is mea­sured with guest. The Coral Lines are left to grow in the mid-wa­ter nurs­ery for one year un­til they are large enough to be trans­planted onto the reef.

Guests who have adopted a line of corals are kept up­dated on the de­vel­op­ment of their line every three months, be­sides be­ing in­formed about the coral’s growth rate. The idea has be­come a mas­sive hit with guests.

Bri­tish ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist Deb­o­rah Burn who runs the pro­gramme now says, “The phe­nom­e­non of coral bleaching is dev­as­tat­ing for our is­lands, this is why Gili has ded­i­cated it­self to sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment. Even guests who come to stay with us have taken a keen in­ter­est in this coral line adop­tion pro­gramme. We now have 151 lines adopted each with about 50 corals. Till date, we have about 7000 frag­ments that have been planted since the be­gin­ning of the project. To date, we have a 71 per cent sur­vival rate th­ese corals.”

Burn, who is orig­i­nally from New­cas­tle Univer­sity, added “The nurs­ery is ve me­tres deep and about 400 me­tres from the is­land. We have a oat­ing plat­form you can reach by boat and jump off there to go to the nurs­ery.”

Hol­i­day has never been this grat­i­fy­ing for me. Eversince I adopted a coral line, I ea­gerly wait to see how my adopted chil­dren are do­ing. I now feel as if I too have con­trib­uted, in my small way, to save the in­cred­i­ble Mal­di­vian par­adise.

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