Ecotourism is becoming such an imperative movement to sustain the vulnerable tourist destinations that we all know and love, and Secret Paradise Maldives is pioneering this ecotourism movement right here in the exquisite ocean paradise we call the Maldives.
Secret Paradise Maldives was founded in 2012 with a mission to “introduce the ‘Real’ Maldives to guests, and support local communities.” Co-founder Ruth’s love for the Maldives begun in search of manta rays and whale sharks on a scuba-diving vacation back in 2000. Almost 20 years on and she now shares that love with travellers from all over the world, promoting the “friendliness and hospitality” of the Maldivian people and showing guests a new side to this country.
The stereotypical image painted of the Maldives is often a waterfront bungalow overlooking the vast crystal-coloured ocean and comes with a hefty price tag. However, a change in government regulations in 2009 allowed tourists to now stay among the local population, rather than just on privately owned resort islands. This opened up a world of opportunity for some of the somewhat 200 inhabited Maldivian islands.
Secret Paradise curates their tours around ecotourism and community-based tourism. One such tour is “An insight into marine conservation” where guests meet local conservationists and learn about Maldivian ecosystems, as well as conservation challenges arising from coastal development unique to small island states. Guests have the opportunity to snorkel a reef rehabilitation project (coral nursery) created by activists from NGO Save the Beach, helping to reverse the damage coral bleaching has caused on the reefs here.
Since 2014 coral bleaching has severely affected between 60 percent and 90 percent the Maldives reefs, causing a strain on the natural ocean ecosystem and threatening the biodiversity of these islands. During the tour, I learn about how the coral reefs play a major role in sustaining an abundant fish population, one of the main sources of protein for the Maldivian people. If the reefs are threatened, so is the nation.
One other threat to the reef is the increase in ocean acidity caused by pollution. With no proper waste management systems in place in capital Male, or surrounding islands, beaches and surrounding oceans have become littered with trash, specifically, single-use plastic.
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Listen to my interview with Ruth from Secret Paradise Maldives on the link below.
Speaking with NGO Save the Beach founder Beybe, he explains “When I was a child all the waste we produced was organic and would decompose when discarded. Nowadays we are dealing with products that will be around long after we are not. The older generation of locals do not know that these products are indisposable.”
While the tour provides first-hand insight into the challenges the Maldives faces, it also provides insight into solutions and helps guests understand the importance of ecotourism on these shores.
“The basis of our tours has always been to allow guests to learn about the Maldives, its culture, beliefs, and traditions. What better way to do this than to see the country through the eyes of a local and experience daily life by travelling by public ferry, staying on a locally inhabited island – where the local community benefits directly from the income gained from local island tourism, or learning about local conservation efforts.” – Ruth, Secret Paradise Maldives
While visiting the Maldives I also participated in the Secret Paradise “Discover Huraa the Local Way” tour, a half day tour that takes guests to Male’s neighbouring, yet sleepy, island of Huraa.
This tour was chosen because of it’s close proximity to Male and the opportunity to provide insights into the simple life led by the villagers here. Our guide takes us to a fishing boat shed where we witness the construction of a fishing vessel. We are even able to climb into the shell and see the men at work, carefully constructing each section of the boat that will soon take up to 25 men out to see to fish the waters and provide a food source to the local population.
We take a stroll through the mangrove swamps and freshwater lake, a unique attribute that sets this island apart from the others. The mangroves are a protected nature reserve, providing a safe resting place for species of protected birds in this region. I learn how the leaves from these mangroves also served as a major food source during times of war.
It’s great to see this side of the Maldives, almost untouched by tourism, giving me a glimpse into the true life of a Maldivian local. It’s everything I love about community-based tourism and more! In the evening I get to sample ‘hedika’, local savoury snacks served with black tea, as we watch the sunset over the ocean and I take in all the is the Maldives.
Secret Paradise’s commitment to sustainable tourism shines through in all of their tours and sets them apart as a key player in protecting the Maldives from unethical tourism practices. In fact, on World Environment Day, June 5th 2018 Secret Paradise invited all their partner guesthouse properties to pledge to stop the use of plastic drinking straws in their guesthouses, an initiative in the fight against plastic pollution.
Local NGOs, island communities and environmental groups are working hard to clean up the countries plastic issue with initiatives including beach clean ups, reduction of plastic bag use and environmental awareness campaigns.
By joining Secret Paradise and their partners on your journey to the Maldives you too can contribute to this growing movement.