The Maldives is one of the world’s top luxury vacation destinations due to its clear waters, pristine white sand beaches and coral atolls with world-class resorts like Four Seasons, W Retreat, Park Hyatt and more. The Maldives is a tourist destination where the number of visitors annually, on pace to exceed one million arrivals in 2014, outnumbers the 350,000 island residents by 3:1.
Europeans have been the largest tourism demographic since the first hotel resorts were built in the Maldives in the early 1970s. In 2014, for the first time, visitors from the Asia-Pacific region surpassed Europeans. 313,000 Europeans traveled to the Maldives between January and July 2014. Arrivals reached 341,000 from Asia-Pacific nations, led by Chinese as the largest single nationality visiting the Maldives with 215,000 arrivals. This was a 20% increase in Chinese over 2013. Americans accounted for about 14,000 arrivals from January to July 2014.
105 tourist resorts with 22,944 beds comprise more than 80% of the lodging availability in the Maldives.
Gary Leff of View from the Wing has a comprehensive trip report of his May 2014 stay at Park Hyatt Maldives.
The question addressed in this article is where does all the trash generated by one million tourists in the Indian Ocean remote islands paradise go once the tourists leave after their average stay of six days in luxury resorts?
Maldives Tourism Trash Problem
Tourists generate twice as much waste per person as residents of the islands’ nation capital city of Male with an estimated 3.5 kg (over 7 pounds) daily and about five times the waste generated by islanders on the other 200 populated islands of the Maldives.
Thilafushi, located four miles from the capital Male, is an island created in 1992 for trash collection from the 100+ tourist resort islands of the Maldives.
Descending by plane into the Maldives offers a panoramic view of azure seas and coral-fringed islands, but as the tarmac nears, billowing smoke in the middle distance reveals an environmental calamity.
‘Toxic bomb’ Ticks on Maldives Trash Island (Oct 18, 2013)
A migrant from Bangladesh, he is one of several dozen employees on “Rubbish Island” — the biggest waste dump in the country where he’s paid $350 a month for 12-hour shifts, seven days a week.
Bottles of beer — illegal for local Muslims but ubiquitous on tourists’ islands — lie scorched next to piles of half-burnt hotel forms requesting speed boat transfers.
Thilafushi was brought to my attention today by an unexpected source, The Weather Channel.
After looking through the photos in the article, I did a Google search of Maldives trash and learned quite a bit about the environmental impact of tourism on the Maldives. This is a country that had fewer than 2,000 international visitors in 1972 and will surpass one million tourists in 2014.
The country apparently is only presently in the stages of developing a comprehensive waste management plan.
Here are links to some of the best articles I read today on the issue.
TakePart.com – Garbage in Paradise: Inside the Maldives’ Trash-Only Island (May 21, 2012) – article by Jon Bowermaster, six-time grantee of National Geographic Expeditions Council.
One major worry is that if toxic products such as mercury, lead, or asbestos leak into the sea, it will have a dramatic effect on the undersea environment and will eventually find its way into the food chain. Initially, the garbage was buried on the island; now it is burned. The nasty smoke gives residents of Male headaches and coughs, especially when the winds blow from the west. Bluepeace, the 30-year-old environmental group that monitors local issues, calls the garbage island a “toxic bomb in the ocean.”
Daily Mail UK – Paradise trashed: The beautiful island in the Maldives that’s been reduced to a pile of rubbish – Chris Hall – June 23, 2012 (good photos).
Three-quarters of a million tourists flock to the pristine, white beaches every year – but this booming industry has come at a price. When the influx of foreigners left the government struggling to cope with a relentless stream of rubbish, their answer was to turn one of this islands into a dumping ground. Now, as they finally put an end to the practice of discarding and burning 330 tons of waste a day, Live looks at the damage already done. – Chris Hall.
Le Monde (English version) – Maldives: Idyllic Archipelago’s Unprecedented Floating Trash Dump – May 11, 2012
It’s now become a race against time. Maldivian authorities are struggling to minimize the toxic effects from Thilafushi. A new law is on the ropes, to limit the types of garbage that are destined for combustion: “Only organic materials,” Ahmed Murthaza says. At the same time, the Maldives is starting to export its recyclable waste, mostly iron and plastic, to China, Malaysia and neighboring India.
Garbage has already become the archipelago’s number two export, after the fishing industry.
Ecology.com – Trash in an Island Paradise – Bob Petz, May 21, 2012
Along with the crystal clear waters that attract well-pocketed tourists, Maldives is home to some of the richest coral reefs on Earth. Marine life includes well over 1,000 species of fish, almost 200 species of coral, 400 species of molluscs and 48 shrimp species.
Yet, the geology of the islands is prime for toxic leaching. Beneath a 6 inch layer of topsoil lies about 2 feet of sandstone, and under that, permeable sand and water.
Minivannews.com – Maldives’ waste management hampered by local politics, lack of funding – Leah Malone Jan 23, 2013
Resorts going it alone
Resorts are aiming for “self-sufficiency” when it comes to waste management, since there are no regional centres in operation.
While there are tourism regulations that require certain waste management systems are constructed on resorts, they are only inspected once constructed, Nizam told Minivan News.
“Facilities are not properly used, are very costly, and some resorts claim tourists do not want to see waste burning,” he said.
Whether resorts adopt sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices is de facto voluntary.
Some are motivated by the need to maintain an eco-friendly reputation and sell the Maldives as a “premium [vacation] destination” that is also “environmentally sensitive,” a resort manager told Minivan News.
Their resort is “trying to do the right thing” and has developed a waste management system that has reduced 70 percent of their waste.
“Thilafushi is just wrong. We have reduced our trips there from seven per week to one,” the source stated.
The resort also conducts training for staff and their Maldivian team has “embraced” these environmentally friendly practices, the manager claimed.
What are the resorts in Maldives doing about tourism waste?
One of the page tabs is Social & Environment.
Gili Lankanfushi continued aim towards sustainable waste management is based on: ‘Reduce’, ‘Reuse’, ‘Recycle’, ‘Don’t use it’ and ‘Dispose if there is nothing that can be done’. Styrofoam boxes that come to the island are being given to the neighbouring Himmafushi Island for reuse.
In 2006, we began an extensive waste management programme. Waste is now collected at the source separately in colour-coded bins at the Heart of the House. All the organic waste is then used in composting, which is used in the two gardens of the island. Waste that does not receive treatment is disposed at a municipal landfill some 12 kilometres away from the resort, where it receives final treatment.
A set of responsible purchasing ensures that minimum waste arrives to the island.
All the office paper used in the resort is incinerated after double-sided printing. Cardboard and other forms of paper are also incinerated on the island. The volume of this incineration is safe for the environment and does not pollute the air.
All glass bottles and other glasses are collected for treatment onsite. An electric crushing machine crushes all the glasses and transform it to sand or gravel sizes before being used in building construction.
What are we doing?
- Liquid soaps, shower gel, shampoo and body lotion are stored in refillable ceramic bottles and delivered to the resort in bulk.
- Fruits and vegetables come in reusable baskets.
- Wastebaskets in the guest rooms do not have a plastic or paper liner.
- Waste collection bins in the kitchen and public spaces have tough, reusable liners.
- Waste-free breakfast: The use of individual packs of cereal, butter, jam and yoghurt has been discontinued at the breakfast buffet. Items for breakfast are purchased in bulk and displayed on the buffet in bowls to eliminate waste.
- We use starch-based biodegradable materials for disposable items in picnics and excursions.
Many of us dream of a vacation in the Maldives. Some travelers allot funds to travel savings for this kind of trip. Some plan honeymoons. Some save points and miles for award flights to Male and hotel nights with Hyatt, Starwood, and Hilton.
I read one article that mentioned two airlines (not by name) that gave passengers on flights a trash bag for their Maldives vacation they could bring back full on the plane, free of charge, when departing the Maldives.
Think about your environmental impact when traveling. Strive to travel with a light global footprint.
Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.
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