Mar­lon Brando’s eco-lux­ury legacy

Mar­lon Brando’s Tahi­tian par­adise


An ex­otic is­land par­adise in French Poly­ne­sia bought by Mar­lon Brando in the ’60s is us­ing its Hol­ly­wood im­age to tackle en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues with a lit­tle help from its jet-set vis­i­tors.

The tiny, palm-fringed atoll of Te­tiaroa was once a fa­vorite hol­i­day spot for Tahi­tian roy­alty be­fore the late Amer­i­can movie star fell in love with it while film­ing Mutiny on the Bounty in 1961 on is­lands close by.

Brando mar­ried co-star Tarita Teri­ipaia and the cou­ple raised a fam­ily on Te­tiaroa, now home to a lux­ury eco-re­sort that bears the reclu­sive ac­tor’s name and reg­u­larly pam­pers A-list clien­tele such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, and Barack Obama.

Guests at “The Brando” help fund re­search projects by pay­ing up to $10,000 a night to stay in the ele­gant thatched vil­las over­look­ing a turquoise la­goon.

As Pippa Mid­dle­ton soaks up the rays while on hon­ey­moon or Obama seeks in­spi­ra­tion to write his mem­oirs, sci­en­tists qui­etly go about their work test­ing ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion to study the ef­fects on coral bleach­ing.

Be­hind the but­ler ser­vice and Miche­lin-star cuisine, the re­sort has built on Brando’s own vi­sion for a sus­tain­able en­vi­ron­ment, to be­come one of the most eco-friendly ho­tels in the world, run­ning on so­lar power and co­conut oil.

Lux­ury eco-tourism is a grow­ing sec­tor of the travel in­dus­try with big name ho­tel brands such as Alila and Aman in­vest­ing heav­ily in en­sur­ing their green cre­den­tials.

Bou­tique re­sorts that pride them­selves on sus­tain­abil­ity and giv­ing back to the lo­cal com­mu­nity such as Song Saa pri­vate is­land in Cam­bo­dia, Ni­hi­watu in In­done­sia, and the Soneva ho­tels in Thai­land and the Mal­dives, are also in­creas­ingly in de­mand.

But Te­tiaroa, where leg­end has it Bri­tish sailors who seized con­trol of the Bounty in 1789 found ves­tiges of a pa­gan sex cult, has the added bonus of old Hol­ly­wood glam­our.

Brando’s grand­daugh­ter Tumi grew up on the is­land, fish­ing for snap­per and grouper in the la­goon, home to ju­ve­nile lemon and black tip sharks, which glide lazily among the corals as guests snorkel.

The 29-year-old works as the chief com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer for the non-profit Te­tiaroa So­ci­ety, a sci­en­tific or­ga­ni­za­tion de­voted to marine wildlife founded by the Brando es­tate, which owns the atoll.

Co­conut power

“Our aim is to raise aware­ness,” she told AFP as marine bi­ol­o­gists stud­ied shark pop­u­la­tions in­side the 4.8 kilo­me­ter wide la­goon, which con­tains at least 167 species of fish, in­clud­ing par­rot­fish and spot­ted ea­gle rays.

“First among lo­cal peo­ple, be­cause we want to pro­tect our en­vi­ron­ment. Maybe Amer­ica or China—they come to my mind first be­cause they’re the big­gest pol­luters—can emu­late us.”

Opened in 2014, the ho­tel’s elec­tric­ity comes from more than 2,000 so­lar pan­els, which line the is­land’s tiny run­way, and gen­er­a­tors fu­eled by co­conut oil. Its air-con­di­tion­ing is pow­ered by deep sea­wa­ter—a brain­wave of Mar­lon Brando’s.

Mos­qui­toes are dy­ing out at the re­sort where re­searchers have found a way to ster­il­ize an in­va­sive species capable of car­ry­ing dengue and Zika virus.

Brando pre­vi­ously ran a mod­est eco-lodge after buy­ing Te­tiaroa, where celebrity buddy Robert De Niro, a guest in the late 1980s, once amused him­self by wait­ing on ta­bles.

Brando died in 2004, but Te­tiaroa, lo­cated some 2,700 miles south of Hawaii, has been pre­served in line with his eco­log­i­cal vi­sion; re­sort staff mem­bers even keep a pet cat called Mar­lon in homage.

“He was pas­sion­ate,” said Tumi. “He was dragged here by Hol­ly­wood, then grandma made him come back.”

Fol­low­ing Brando’s blue­print, nat­u­ral­ists at the is­land’s re­search cen­ter mon­i­tor its count­less trop­i­cal birds and tur­tle sanc­tu­ary, ready to res­cue clumsy hatch­lings be­fore they can be­come a meal for preda­tors.

Ca­nary in the coal mine

Lux­ury eco-re­sorts of­fer high rollers a chance to off­set any guilt they might feel over their car­bon­heavy life­styles.

“You need to look at the full pic­ture of sus­tain­abil­ity,” said Rochelle Turner, re­search di­rec­tor at the World Travel and Tourism Coun­cil.

“Of­ten, these up­scale re­sorts lead the way. They have a much higher profit mar­gin so they’re able to do things that make their des­ti­na­tions more pro­tected.

“But they pass on knowl­edge to the mass mar­ket too,” she added. “Even back­pack­ers are learn­ing from what is hap­pen­ing at the high end.”

Te­tiaroa is ideal for eco­log­i­cal re­search, ac­cord­ing to Frank Mur­phy, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Te­tiaroa So­ci­ety, to which DiCaprio and Depp donate.

“We’re perched here on one the most vul­ner­a­ble spots on earth. It’s kind of the ca­nary in the coal mine for cli­mate change so we bet­ter be do­ing our damnedest to fig­ure out what’s go­ing on,” he said.

“The El Niño years we’ve had over the past 20 years gives us a glimpse into what will hap­pen with global warm­ing.”

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