World Oceans Day is always an important date in the calendar for oceanic resorts around the world as it allows them the opportunity to educate their guests further, involve them in participatory activities and draw more attention to the important work needed to help save our oceans. This year makes it a more unique one because so many of us around the world are still in lockdown and the resorts themselves are shut. So how are they marking this year’s occasion and what are they doing for guests when they reopen? For example, Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort are offering children’s diving lessons making them the only property on St Lucia to offer this. Posidonia Meadows at MarBella Corfu, Greece are looking after marine life and hosting educational underwater safaris, while the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa has a brand new coral propagation programme.
With the Maldives in mind, I spoke exclusively to Tom Zimmer (Senior Diving Instructor) and Kiri Spanowicz (Marine Biologist) at Seaside Finolhu in the Maldives for 7* Life to find out what World Oceans Day means to them, what they’re doing for guests this year and what initiatives they’re involved in.
At Seaside Finolhu, we strive to recognise the importance of our oceans every day, and even more so on World Oceans Day. Especially here in Maldives, we rely heavily on the ocean as a source of food, water, oxygen, and entertainment. Afterall, it’s why tourists continue to flock to our amazing country. We will be closed for renovations during this year’s World Ocean Day, however we aim to participate in regular beach cleanups with the staff that have remained on the island.
You and your team lead guests on a number of onsite conservation initiatives, what is the purpose of them?
Most of our initiatives have a primary focus on public education. We encourage our guests to provide information on wildlife sightings around the island, which we then submit to larger organisations for worldwide data collection. In addition, we provide a weekly presentation about the current status of the Maldives and our oceans, which teaches guests about our ongoing projects and what they can do to assist while on holiday and at home.
What kind of cleanup projects is the resort involved in? And how often are they carried out?
We participate in regular local island beach and reef cleanup projects with which we involve members of the local community, resort staff, and guests. We strive to do these once a month and it can be a great way to educate the public on the larger problem with rubbish in the Maldives.
What sort of waste and damage have you encountered?
As in most other places in the world, plastics are a primary concern for our oceans. We regularly find single use water bottles, plastic cutlery, shopping bags, food wrappers, and cigarette butts. Even as these items slowly degrade in the sea and sun, they turn into smaller micro-plastics that wash onto the beach and are near impossible to clean up. By far, however, one of the most detrimental pieces of waste for our oceans are fishing nets and lines. These can entangle marine life as well as smother coral reefs and it is something we encounter on a near daily basis. We can do our part to reduce this impact by ensuring that we always obtain our seafood from sustainable fishing sources.
Here in Baa Atoll, we have two main festivals throughout the year. Sea Turtles and Manta Rays are a common occurrence here, so these two festivals aim to celebrate their presence as well as promote sustainable activities to protect them. Local islands, national organisations, and resorts come together once year for each of these festivals and it is a great way to showcase what everyone is doing to protect our seas.
What marine life is local to Finolhu and how does the resort care for them?
At Finolhu, we are quite lucky to be located in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. One of the primary reasons for this designation is because Hanifaru Bay (located on the eastern side of the Atoll) is world-famous for Manta Rays between the months of May-October. Guests can participate in our regular snorkel trips to see these amazing mega-fauna in numbers up to 100 individuals. In addition, our long sandbank makes Finolhu a unique site for regular turtle nests. The female sea turtle will bury her eggs in the sand where they incubate for roughly two months before they hatch and head back to sea. If we’re lucky, we can catch a hatching event at the perfect moment to allow guests a once-in-a-lifetime experience of watching these babies run back to sea. As adults, the turtles live on our nearby reefs which guests can experience with our regular turtle safaris. Manta Rays and Turtles both have unique patterns on their bodies which allow us to identify specific individuals. When we get a clear picture of them, we can upload it to a database which allows organisations to track these individuals and study them around the globe. All of our eco-tourism activities have the underlying goal of educating our guests and protecting our natural resources as much as possible.
This is an ongoing project which we hope to expand on in the near future. Our aim is to collect broken coral fragments from our nearby reefs and attach them to a metal frame in our shallow lagoon. As these fragments grow to a healthy size, we can transplant them back to our reef which can help us combat the ongoing problem of coral bleaching. Coral reefs are referred to as the rainforests of the sea because they support such a wide diversity of marine life.
What will the partnership with Parley for the Oceans hopefully achieve?
Parley for the Oceans is an organisation that strives to combat the ongoing issue of plastic pollution in our seas. Because we are such a heavily oceanic country, Maldives is a site of particular focus for their initiatives. We have made it a point to reduce our single-use plastics at Seaside Finolhu and we go even further when recycling the plastics that we find in the sea. All of these plastics are sorted on our island and sent back to Parley’s headquarters in Male. From there, they ship the plastics to the Adidas factory in Taiwan where it is recycled into clothes and shoes for sale back to the public. We also expanded our partnership to include local communities, which allow them to recycle their single-use plastics; a practice that is typically quite difficult and expensive on remote islands. By continuing our work with Parley and the local communities, we hope to effectively reduce our impact on the environment and encourage sustainable practices worldwide.
What is Finolhu’s Dive Butler?
Dive Butler International operates all of our scuba diving and excursions here at Seaside Finolhu. The company strives to provide private and semi-private luxury diving experiences on yachts and 5-star resorts around the world. Our aim is to completely personalise your diving experience while staying at Seaside Finolhu and to create truly unforgettable memories. Come dive with us at Seaside Finolhu and see why so many guests can’t wait to return again next year!
All of our conservation initiatives at Seaside Finolhu are implemented and supervised by our experienced team of Marine Biologists. Hailing from the US, Tom Zimmer (Senior Diving Instructor) and Kiri Spanowicz (Marine Biologist) both hold degrees in Biology with experience in coral restoration and conservation. Both have been diving and working worldwide in locations such as Madagascar, Australia, South-East Asia, The Caribbean, and South America. With their undying love for the sea, they strive to do their part to protect it in everyday life and educate the public to make the world a better place for tomorrow. We are excited to see how they grow the Marine Biology program here at Seaside Finolhu.