Holistic Approach to Reef ProtectionDISCOVERY, PASSION | 22 November 2018
All the postcards, website galleries and Google image searches in the world cannot prepare you for the Maldives. Scooting in a speedboat across the indescribably blue water sprinkled with pearly islands feels like a dreamscape but as I settle in at Anantara Veli, there’s plenty of unassailable sensory proof that it is, in fact, real. The powder-soft sand underfoot; the fish that nibble my toes dangling from the over-water deck of my pool villa; the sun sparkling off the lagoon, glassy calm thanks to the protection of coral reef that curves around Anantaras Veli, Dhigu and Naladhu. This coral, in fact, is the best proof of all of the reality of life in The Maldives.
Beneath the perfect water, this powerful barrier and source of life for the zillions of colourful creatures that live and feed off it, turned out to be the most resounding reminder that this gorgeous archipelago isn’t just a picture postcard but a living breathing organism that needs work, care and attention. When you wander around Anantara Veli, with its luxury private pool villas and world class spa, you don’t expect the focus to be equally on coral reef protection, but the chance to play even just a tiny part of that turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip.
In 2015, rising sea temperatures caused a massive bleaching event; effectively, the coral reefs in The Maldives expelled its algae--the algae that gives coral its colour and lots of the nutrients and vitamins the marine life feeds off. Over three years, 70% of the coral in the world was bleached and 30% died. I know all this because of HARP. Holistic Approach to Reef Protection is a joint sustainability project between Anantara and CPR (Coral Reef Protection) to regenerate the coral and getting involved in the project is as integral an activity in this luxury resort as paddleboarding or getting a massage in the spa.
So, instead of sunbathing or beach yoga, we spent one of our mornings with the HARP team, cable tying tiny pieces of coral that survived the bleaching onto a rope, which they stretched out in the water, secured at each end on a frame, as part of their coral nurseries. Down there in those shallow crystal waters, it was amazing to see some of the more mature nurseries already blossoming into a healthy tangle along the rope. These lovely rich coral bushes will eventually get placed onto the bleached coral reef, to restore it and the life it supports. The project is already working; the teams from both CPR and Anantara said that they’ve seen incredible new colours return to their coral reef and increasing numbers of happy fish living within it, which, of course suits the visiting snorkelers and divers in turn.
On the face of it, a stay at luxurious Anantara Veli brings words like “incredible”, “unbelievable” and “unreal” to mind, but discovering the truth about the fragility of the coral reef and the urgency of its regeneration actually makes the experience of visiting the resort more, well, real. It was such a powerful reminder not to take the gobsmacking natural beauty of The Maldives for granted, and so inspiring that there was something practical we could do to help. Not that I’m averse to lying on the pristine beach or private pool deck of a luxury resort all day, drink in hand, but there’s something about visiting somewhere as beautiful as Anantara Veli and being part of its coral maintenance.
The only problem is, now I feel so connected to that crucial coral, I want to know how it gets on. So I guess I’ll have to make a return visit.