Things you should know if you are travelling to the Maldives on a budget

This is the last part of this five part blog……

The Republic of Maldives is a Muslim country

The Maldives is a 100% Muslim country and care needs to be taken in relation to the dress code on local islands. Whilst it is acceptable for men to wear T Shirts and shorts or swim shorts; females should avoid causing offence by maintaining a more conservative approach to clothes by wearing T Shirts, loose shorts or sarongs and avoid wearing bikinis and swimwear unless on an uninhabited island, picnic island, sandbank, dive boat or resort island. Whilst the law restricts the wearing of bikinis on local islands, many guesthouses now provide dedicated tourist beaches or private gardens and sunbathing terraces.

Most hotels and guesthouses can arrange visits to nearby resorts where bikinis can be worn freely and alcoholic beverages are available. Note that resorts charge an entrance fee and access is subject to availability.

Don’t be afraid to travel in low season

With a tropical climate, plenty of sunshine and temperatures around 30°C throughout the year, there is never a bad time to visit the Maldives. There are however two distinct seasons; dry season (northeast monsoon) and wet season (southwest monsoon), with the former extending from January to March when rates will be at their highest and the latter from mid-May to November. The rare thunderstorm in the Maldives (especially around the southwest monsoon months) can be a welcome respite from the sun.

There can be heavy rain showers pretty much any time of year, but they tend to be short and cannot be accurately predicted seasonally (in other words – don’t worry too much about them – you will quite possibly experience some rain showers, but the majority of the weather should be great, and you will be unlucky to get several consecutive days of heavy rain).

Diving is good all year-round, although a basic rule is that reef life is more varied and visibility is better on the western side of any atoll from May to November and on the eastern side of any atoll from December to April.

As the Maldives is situated so close to the equator it is possible to burn even on a cloudy day and sun screen should be applied as a matter of course.

For those travelers who are looking for a helping hand to arrange a budget trip to the Maldives, require advice on which island or guesthouse to choose or want to experience more of the cultural elements of the Maldives the Secret Paradise team are just an email or phone call away!

About Secret Paradise

Since 2012 Secret Paradise has been at the forefront of the Maldives local island tourism industry, promoting and supporting guesthouses, dive centres and activity operators based on locally inhabited islands throughout the Maldives archipelago. Offering group and private tours or independent travel packages, Secret Paradise holidays are designed to allow guests to engage with local people and experience the best from a paradise generally known as a luxury resort destination.

Responsible Tourism plays a very large part in what we do. We are mindful of ensuring we promote local tourism in line with Maldivian culture and beliefs and through education of both guests and locals we aim to protect the environment and limit where ever possible any negative impact to local life. We partner NGOs such as Save the Beach and marine charity organisations such as Maldives Whaleshark Research Program to provide opportunities for our guests to learn and support local conservation initiatives.

The benefit of travelling with us is that Secret Paradise guarantees you prompt and efficient personal service. We deliver high standards of service and professionalism and you can rely on Secret Paradise to provide expert local knowledge, clear communication and honest advice.

www.secretparadise.mv

Coral fluorescence at Gili Lankanfushi

Are corals a shining beacon at night? Corals are not just a wonder to observe during the day, at night they glow. This isn’t just for our viewing benefit; it plays a vital role in the long term survival of coral.

Fluorescence of Porites cylindrica

Fluorescence of Porites cylindrica

Due to the richness of life they create, corals are often described as the rainforests of the ocean. Their structural complexity supports one of the world’s most productive ecosystems providing ecological diversity and outstanding beauty. The coral animal (polyp) co-habitats its calcium carbonate skeleton with photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae. These algae harness energy from solar radiation and provide the polyp with 95% of its food. Coral is therefore limited to the habitat range of the algae, which in turn is limited by the penetration of the suns ray into the ocean; both the intensity and spectral diversity of light dramatically decreases with increasing depth. Although the blue/green portion of sunlight reaches depths of around 200m the algae requires the higher light levels found in the upper 30m of the ocean. Corals are therefore limited to the upper portion of the ocean; aptly named the sunlight ocean. 

Spectral diversity of white light (sunlight) and the depth that the light waves penetrate. Image credit tohttpksuweb.kennesaw.edu

 

The corals exposure to high light levels is crucial for its survival, but this is not without consequence. The high light intensity that corals are subjected to everyday can damage coral and zooxanthellae – similar to our skin and sunburn. Shallow water corals have a solution to this: fluorescence. The coral contains special pigments (green fluorescent pigments (GFP) and non-fluorescent chromoproteins (CP) which act as sunblock. The fluorescent pigments are in particularly high concentrations and contribute to the beautiful rainbows of colours which can be observed on the reef. When the coral is subjected to high sun exposure the pigment concentration increases, hence limiting the damage experienced by the algae when under stress from sunlight. The pigments are also involved in growth related activities, including repair. Injured coral will produce colourful patches concentrating these pigments around their injury site which prevents further cell damage. Some corals have been found to distribute fluorescent pigments around their tentacles and mouth to attract prey.

 

We are able to observe the fluorescent pigments when corals are illuminated at specific wavelengths (generally blue light). In high pigment concentrations corals can become shining beacons at night. Light is absorbed by the pigments and then re-emitted. During this process some energy is lost resulting in a different colour being observed – generally green. During our blue light night snorkel it is possible to see corals glowing on the house reef at Gili Lankanfushi.

Fluorescence of Porites cylindrica

 

It is now widely accepted that fluorescent pigments aid in sun protection, so why do corals below 30m still have these pigments? In shallow reefs generally only green fluorescence is observed, whereas in the mesophotic zone (between 30 – 100m) corals shine green, orange, yellow and red. Fluorescent pigments are energetically costly to create, therefore the pigments must have a biological purpose, or else they would not exist at this depth. A study carried out by the University of Southampton found that deeper corals produce fluorescence without light exposure, which suggests that these corals are not producing pigments for sun protection. It is suspected that the corals are producing pigments to transform short light wavelengths received into longer wavelengths to enhance algae photosynthesis, thus producing more food for the polyp. It has also been suggested that it may link to behavior of reef fish, although more studies are required. Next time you are night diving take a look. Harnessing these fluorescent pigments could pose significant advances for medical, commercial and ecological purposes.

Many Acropora species also have fluorescent pigments. Credits to: Reef Works

 

Marine biologists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at San Diego have suggested that monitoring fluorescence could be an easy and less invasive way to monitor reef health. Scientists measured the fluorescence levels after corals were exposed to cold and heat stress. The levels were reduced when exposed to both stresses, although coral subjected to cold stress adapted and fluorescence levels returned to normal. Corals subjected to heat stress lost their algae and starved. Therefore, if high fluorescence levels are observed it suggests that the reef has a healthy coral population. Additionally there are many medical benefits that can be gained through the understanding and utilization of coral fluorescence. 

 

There are promising applications for biomedical imaging, for example pigments can be used to tag certain cells e.g. cancer cells which can then be easily viewed under the microscope. The fluorescent pigments also have the potential to be used in sun screen. Fish feeding on coral benefit from the fluorescent pigments which suggests that the pigments move up the tropic levels (food chain). Senior lecturer from King’s College London and project leader of coral sunscreen research, Paul Long and his team have suggested that if the transportation pathway up the food chain is identified it may be possible to use this to protect our skin against UV rays in the form of a tablet. This could a break-through in terms of reef safe sun screen.

 

Next time you are night snorkelling shine a blue light on the corals and view this natural wonder yourself! 

PADI’s guest blogger Emma Bell introduces herself:

I am a marine biologist and scuba diver from England. I have had the privilege of working in Greece, Seychelles and Maldives. I have worked in an aquaculture research centre where I focused on hormonal manipulation of a pelagic fish species. In addition, I have experience with coral restoration projects including frames and ropes; habitat restoration – crown of thorns, drupella and invasive plant species removal; educational activities and social media updates including blogs. I have also monitored population dynamics of bird, turtle, shark and cetacean species to aid in their conservation. I started my career working in the Maldives and I have done a round trip via Greece, England and Seychelles, I hope to increase my skills set and knowledge further whilst I am at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives.

 

Things you should know if you are travelling to the Maldives on a budget

This blog has several parts, next week read about general tourist information……

Tourist Information

Unlike most destinations, don’t expect to find a tourist information centre that will provide answers to all your questions. There is an Information Desk within the arrival area of the airport who are happy to point you in the right direction, assist you if you need to contact your accommodation provider and provide you an information booklet. They are not there, however, to organise accommodation, excursions or transfers. Once you arrive at your hotel, guesthouse or resort they will be able to offer advice on excursions and activities or check out Trip Advisor for local operators providing these services.

 

Transferring from the airport

Unlike other International Airports don’t expect to be able to hail a taxi as there is no taxi rank. If you have booked with a hotel, guesthouse or resort and provided them with your flight arrival details it is usual for them to send a representative to meet with you.

To reach Male independently you can choose to take the Airport Express Speedboat, the charge is MRF30 or US$2 for a one way transfer per person, leaving every 15 minutes. Or the airport public ferry, charge MRF10 or US$1 per person one way, leaving every 10 minutes. Both leave from the jetty opposite the Domestic Terminal. When you arrive in Male, just a 10 minute public ferry ride, you will be able to hail a taxi from the ferry terminal to your destination, guesthouse or hotel. A one stop drop regardless of distance is 25MVR plus an additional 5MVR per item of luggage.

To reach Hulhumale independently you can either enquire as to if a guesthouse vehicle has room on their return journey, the charge would usually be around US$10 one way or take the public bus. The airport bus departs every 30 minutes from the airport and Hulhumale on a 24 hour timetable. On the hour and on the half hour except on Fridays during Friday Prayer when there are no busses between the hours of 11:30 and 13:30. The charge is 20MVR per person one way and it is a journey of 15 minutes. Luggage is accepted and stored in the luggage compartment. At the airport the bus stop is located outside of the International departure area to the left of the food court as you face the ocean.In Hulhumale the bus stop is at the T Junction of Nirolhumagu and Huvandhumaa Higun.

Due to the location of the airport terminal it is not possible to walk to Hulhumale.

If you are transferring on to an island outside of the immediate capital area it is likely that transfer arrangements offered will include speedboat or for islands further afield a domestic flight. These methods will add a minimum of $25 per person one way dependent on distance and if the service is scheduled. Note the Maldives covers a distance of 500KM north to south. If you have done your homework it is possible to take a local ferry to many central atoll islands. These local ferries depart from one of a number of jetties in the capital Male so ensure you have allowed time to cross to the capital and locate the correct jetty.

Business Hours

It is important to know that the Maldives follows a business week from Sunday to Thursday.  Most places are closed on a Friday until after Friday prayer. No public ferries operate on a Friday with the exception of those operating in the capital area between Male, Hulhumale and Villingili. These ferries also stop operation between 11:30 and 13:30 for Friday prayer.

The shops in the Maldives open at different times in the morning but usually before 09:00. Most shops close for prayer times for an interval of 15 minutes. The latest time for the shops to close business is 22:00 and cafes and restaurants 23:00.

About Secret Paradise

Since 2012 Secret Paradise has been at the forefront of the Maldives local island tourism industry, promoting and supporting guesthouses, dive centres and activity operators based on locally inhabited islands throughout the Maldives archipelago. Offering group and private tours or independent travel packages, Secret Paradise holidays are designed to allow guests to engage with local people and experience the best from a paradise generally known as a luxury resort destination.

Responsible Tourism plays a very large part in what we do. We are mindful of ensuring we promote local tourism in line with Maldivian culture and beliefs and through education of both guests and locals we aim to protect the environment and limit where ever possible any negative impact to local life. We partner NGOs such as Save the Beach and marine charity organisations such as Maldives Whaleshark Research Program to provide opportunities for our guests to learn and support local conservation initiatives.

The benefit of travelling with us is that Secret Paradise guarantees you prompt and efficient personal service. We deliver high standards of service and professionalism and you can rely on Secret Paradise to provide expert local knowledge, clear communication and honest advice.

www.secretparadise.mv

 

Things you should know if you are travelling to the Maldives on a budget

This blog has several parts, next week read about general tourist information……

Currency Exchange

The Maldives has a non-convertible currency – Maldivian Rufiyaa – this cannot be purchased beforehand. One Rufiyaa is 100 Laari and is available in 500, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5 Rufiyaa notes. The US Dollar is accepted as legal tender throughout the Maldives. Should you arrive with no USD$ then other major international currencies can be exchanged at the Bank of Maldives Foreign Exchange counter located in the arrival hall. This is the only dedicated foreign exchange counter in the Maldives. It is advised not to exchange currency in Male where bank queues are common and waiting time lengthy.

Only major foreign currency will be exchanged for local currency MVR. Hold on to your exchange receipt as you will need to present this upon departure at the exchange counter if you wish to change local currency back to foreign currency.

Paying in USD$

One US Dollar is equivalent to 15.42 Rufiyaa. However, the exchange rate offered on US$1 and US$5 notes by local businesses may be lower.This is because there is a 3% handling charge made by the bank on the deposit of US$ notes of US$5 or less.

The banks in the Maldives are very particular about the condition of bank notes and will refuse deposits of old style US$, even though still an active currency, damaged notes, badly creased, well-worn, or defaced notes will also be rejected. Therefore, if presenting such a note as form of payment you may be requested to change to a note of better condition. Please do not take offence, it is purely that the note will have no worth to the individual to whom you are paying.

Generally, any change given on a purchase made in US$ will be given in local currency MVR.

IMG_3670

ATMs and Credit Cards

Most banks represented in Malé provide ATM services. The Bank of Maldives has several branches in Male as well as other major population hubs such as the Male International Airport, Hulhumale and Gan. Several other regional banks also operate in central Male, including the State Bank of India, Bank of Ceylon, and HSBC. There are no banks on resort islands nor on many local islands. Only local currency MVR will be dispensed from ATMs. There is an ATM at the Male branch of the Bank of Maldives dispensing US$, however, it only dispenses to Bank of Maldives cardholders.

All major credit and debit cards can be used at resorts, hotels and many shops and restaurants in Male as well as on local islands. Note however, that a credit card payment fee may be applied to the total value of your bill. This charge can fluctuate dependent on the credit card payment processing company and may be up to the value of an additional 5%.

Local Tax

All services directly related to guests will incur 10% service charge and 12% T-GST (Tourism Goods and Service Tax). The 10% service charge is applied to the total value and 12% T-GST applied to the total value + service charge.

On local islands GST (Goods and Service Tax) is imposed on the value of goods and services supplied by a registered business such as a local café, local restaurant or local shop.

Environmental ‘Green’ tax will be applied to all stays in accommodation registered as a hotel, resort or liveaboard from 1st November 2015. This adds a further US$6 per person per night and is not subject to T-GST/GST.

From October 2016 $3 will be charged per person per night for guests staying on local islands in guesthouses.

Always check the small print online or ask if it is not clear to ensure that all appropriate local tax is included. What at first appears to be a great deal may not turn out to be.

to be continued…….

About Secret Paradise

Since 2012 Secret Paradise has been at the forefront of the Maldives local island tourism industry, promoting and supporting guesthouses, dive centres and activity operators based on locally inhabited islands throughout the Maldives archipelago. Offering group and private tours or independent travel packages, Secret Paradise holidays are designed to allow guests to engage with local people and experience the best from a paradise generally known as a luxury resort destination.

Responsible Tourism plays a very large part in what we do. We are mindful of ensuring we promote local tourism in line with Maldivian culture and beliefs and through education of both guests and locals we aim to protect the environment and limit where ever possible any negative impact to local life. We partner NGOs such as Save the Beach and marine charity organisations such as Maldives Whaleshark Research Program to provide opportunities for our guests to learn and support local conservation initiatives.

The benefit of travelling with us is that Secret Paradise guarantees you prompt and efficient personal service. We deliver high standards of service and professionalism and you can rely on Secret Paradise to provide expert local knowledge, clear communication and honest advice.

www.secretparadise.mv

7 reasons Fulidhoo Island in the Maldives is a dream diving destination

A Maldivian island that’s within easy access from the international airport, but feels remote? It seems almost impossible to find these days. But Fulidhoo Island in Vaavu Atoll is quickly garnering a reputation for being convenient yet secluded. The island is a fantastic base to explore an atoll offering some of the country’s best channel dives and the chance to dive with up to 100 nurse sharks at night. And with rooms starting at 40 US dollars, there’s really no reason not to go. But if you still need convincing, here’s seven reasons why it should be your next diving destination.

Fulidhoo Island Maldives

1. It costs 3.5 US dollars to get there from Male

No, that’s not a typo – you did read that correctly; it costs less than the price of a Starbucks coffee to get to Fulidhoo from the capital. Thanks to the government-subsidised public ferry that departs from Male three times a week, tourists can get to Fulidhoo for virtually nothing. The journey takes three and a half hours, but it’s scenic and comfortable, and there are snacks on board. It even has a sundeck for dolphin watching! Oh, and for those who prefer their transfers a little quicker, there are daily speedboats to the island for around 50 dollars per person that take an hour.

2. Vaavu Atoll is channel diving, sharky heaven

Throughout the Maldives, the passes that cut through the atolls’ barrier reefs are where the real pelagic action is found. Reef sharks, schools of trevallies and barracudas congregate here to hunt. And if the Maldives is known for its channels, then Vaavu Atoll, where Fulidhoo is located, is the country’s channel diving capital. There are dozens of channels in the atoll promising high adrenaline diving.

Shark diving with Fulidhoo Dive Maldives

3. Accommodation on the island is seriously affordable

Whereas resort islands in the Maldives charge eye-watering prices for just one night, because Fulidhoo is a local, inhabited island, divers can find accommodation in one of its small guesthouses for around 50 dollars a night for two people, including breakfast, even during high season. You can expect comfortable, clean, air-conditioned rooms, often with a sea view. And because Fulidhoo is so small, even the furthest guesthouse is only a 5-minute walk to the jetty.

Best local island dive centre

4. The island is famous for its beautiful lagoon and strong cultural traditions

Even among Maldivians, Fulidhoo has a reputation for being extremely beautiful. Vaavu is affectionately known as ‘Wow Atoll’ by locals. There’s no harbour, only a small wooden pier, so the beach is uninterrupted. The shallow lagoon stretches out far from the island and is a great place for kids to play, or to kayak. In fact, the island was recently voted Top Island 2017 at the annual Maldives Guesthouses Conference. And in the evening, divers can enjoy watching the locals play bodu beru (‘big drums’) and performing cultural dances – they’re famous for keeping local traditions alive.

5. You can dive with up to 100 nurse sharks at night

Vaavu Atoll’s most famous dive site is Alimatha House Reef, where divers can get extremely close to the resident nurse sharks and stingrays. As divers kneel on the sandy bottom, it’s not uncommon to see these harmless sharks squeeze between their legs or flop down beside them – it’s truly a bucket list experience!

6. You’ll often be the only divers on the dive site

Unlike South Male Atoll and Ari Atoll, Vaavu is home to only two resorts and only a handful of local islands, which means that the dive sites are far, far quieter. Similarly, liveaboards often head straight to Alimatha for a night dive and are in Ari Atoll by the following morning. All this means that for the most part, the northern part of Vaavu Atoll feels remote and unexplored, despite being extremely accessible.

Fulidhoo Dive Centre Maldives

7. From Fulidhoo, you can dive both the eastern and western sides of the atoll

There are two seasons in the Maldives. The Iruvai season, which runs from November to April, is when the wind generally blows from the North East and brings a hot, dry climate and the best conditions for diving. The Hulhangu season, from May to October, is generally seen as the low-season for diving, with chances of rain, wind and reduced visibility. However, during this season you can still get very good viz on the western edge of the atolls, which is when the location of Fulidhoo comes into play. Because the island is located on the northern tip of the atoll, depending on the wind, divers can enjoy dives with good visibility and good, incoming current throughout the year.

About the author: Adele Verdier-Ali is the co-owner of Fulidhoo Dive, alongside Maldivian PADI Staff Instructor Ali Miuraj. Fulidhoo Dive is a 5-Star PADI Dive Centre, and the only dive centre in Fulidhoo. For more information, visit www.fulidhoodive.com or drop them a line at hello@fulidhoodive.com.

 

 

Things you should know if you are travelling to the Maldives on a budget

This blog has several parts, next week read about money and taxes……

With the advent of local island guesthouses and low cost flight carriers there has never been a more affordable time to travel to the Maldives. At Male International airport it is becoming a far more common sight to see guests arriving with backpacks and not matching Louis Vuitton luggage. These travellers are here to experience a destination previously perceived to be only for those seeking luxury. So maybe it’s time you considered putting the Maldives on your travel map!

Whilst budget travel in the Maldives is a growing sector of the tourism industry there still remains limited information available for would be travelers and backpackers. So the team at Secret Paradise put our heads together to provide what we feel are the Top 10 tips every budget traveler should be aware of.

Clearing Immigration and security

To enter the Maldives no pre-arrival visa is required, a thirty day free visa is issued on arrival to all nationalities, provided the following conditions are met:

Be holding a valid passport (requires to be valid for 6 months from date of arrival) and have a valid ticket to continue your journey out of the Maldives

Confirmation of a reservation in a tourist resort or a hotel either in the form of a hotel voucher or online reservation and have enough funds to cover the expenses for the duration of your stay (US$100 + $50 dollars per day)

The right to refuse entry lies at the discretion of the Immigration official, so make it easier for yourself and organise your accommodation prior to your arrival. Online sites such as Booking.Com, Airbnb and Trip Advisor are a great place to start or if you are looking for more of an experience and not just accommodation contact Secret Paradise.

Once you have cleared immigration, collect your luggage and enter the arrivals hall where a representative of the guesthouse or resort should be waiting for you. Importing goods such as alcohol, pork items, pornography, idols of worship and narcotics into the Maldives is strictly forbidden. To make life easier declare the Buddha that you have purchased in Sri Lanka and the bottle of vodka picked up in duty free, the authorities will hold any items declared or undeclared for you to collect as you depart at the end of your stay.

to be continued………

 

About Secret Paradise

Since 2012 Secret Paradise has been at the forefront of the Maldives local island tourism industry, promoting and supporting guesthouses, dive centres and activity operators based on locally inhabited islands throughout the Maldives archipelago. Offering group and private tours or independent travel packages, Secret Paradise holidays are designed to allow guests to engage with local people and experience the best from a paradise generally known as a luxury resort destination.

Responsible Tourism plays a very large part in what we do. We are mindful of ensuring we promote local tourism in line with Maldivian culture and beliefs and through education of both guests and locals we aim to protect the environment and limit where ever possible any negative impact to local life. We partner NGOs such as Save the Beach and marine charity organisations such as Maldives Whaleshark Research Program to provide opportunities for our guests to learn and support local conservation initiatives.

The benefit of travelling with us is that Secret Paradise guarantees you prompt and efficient personal service. We deliver high standards of service and professionalism and you can rely on Secret Paradise to provide expert local knowledge, clear communication and honest advice.

www.secretparadise.mv

 

Coral Reef Research at Gili Lankanfushi Maldives

We encourage scientists to visit Gili Lankanfushi to share their knowledge with the Marine Biology team and carry out in-depth research of our local environment.

In an ever changing world, research is an important method of tracking environmental fluctuations and sharing information about our surroundings. After the coral bleaching event of 2016, Gili Lankanfushi wanted to learn more about the damage caused to our beautiful house reef. We hosted a team of experts funded by Rufford Small Grants Foundation, Chiara Pisapia, Dr Morgan Pratchett, and Deborah Burn who assessed the changes on the reef.  They focused on coral cover, coral size, and the number of young corals that have grown on the reef since the bleaching. Morgan Pratchett, the leading expert in Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS) Ancanthaster planci, also monitored the size, sex and distribution of COTS.

 

The team carried out an initial study in the Maldives in 2016 and then returned to the same sites in 2017 in order to carefully assess any changes in their original findings.  On Gili Lankanfushi’s house reef, the team carried out line surveys at five and ten metres along the drop off and found that after the bleaching, coral cover has dropped to 6% at five metres and 2% at ten metres. This low coral cover is predominantly due to the ocean warming event in addition to COTS predation. Yet, in comparison with other study sites, Gili Lankanfushi had a higher number of coral recruits than expected which means new coral is beginning to grow again on the shallow section of our reef. This results from the hard work of Gili’s Team.

Dr Morgan Pratchett, collected data on COTS around the resort.  Despite their beautiful appearance, COTS are far less captivating once you understand the threat they pose to a struggling reef. They eat the remaining hard corals and new coral recruits. Over the past year, their population has spiked into an ‘outbreak’ therefore they have to be removed from the reef and our team works tirelessly to find each individual. Morgan brought COTS to Gili Veshi, our Marine Biology Lab, to teach us techniques on how to better understand these starfish. By dissecting individuals Morgan was able to show our team the interior of each specimen and explain if the animal was well fed or reproductive.  We were able to highlight certain features under the microscope.  We found the starfish living on our house reef were starving and not yet reproducing which leads us to believe the outbreak is over.

 

The aim of monitoring our house reef over time is to predict and track recovery of different species. We are extremely grateful to the knowledge shared by Chiara, Morgan and Deborah hope they can visit the resort again in 2018 to assess how much our reef has recovered.  We look forward to their return.

PADI’s guest blogger Clare Baranowski introduces herself:

I am a marine zoologist from the UK who has worked throughout the tropics researching mega fauna and reef ecosystems in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. I have experience monitoring and restoring coral and surveying manta, turtle and dolphin populations. I began my career as a science communicator before moving into research and management roles, this is why I incorporate outreach and education into every project I work on and I hope to continue this at Gili Lankanfushi.

 

 

Prodivers Cleaned Up the World…

Sunday 17th September 2017 saw millions of people around the world join together for the annual Clean up the World event. Guest and team members of Prodivers on Kuredu and Komandoo joined them.

 

A team of more than 113 guests and staff took part in the event and collected rubbish from the islands, the ocean and the reefs.

A staggering 75 bags were collected as well as lots of pieces of wood and metal. The volunteers were organised into groups and were each given an area to clean.

After the clean-up came the celebration – participants enjoyed a cocktail party held in their honor and were each given a thank you gift of an event t-shirt.

A big thank you to the guests, Resort staff and Prodivers team members who gave up their time for such a good cause – what an amazing team effort.

 

Sun screen: A new threat to a vulnerable reef

Is it our health for theirs? Gili Lankanfushi begins an eco-sunscreen revolution.

Sun screen is a holiday essential – from children covered in a thick layer, to the bald spot on Dad’s head. We think sun screens are safe, but is this the reality? A key ingredient in more than 3,500 sun protection products is oxybenzone. This chemical is absorbed into our bloodstream, can cause allergic reactions and very worryingly was last tested as far back as the 1970’s. It is also possible that oxybenzone may act similarly to a related chemical, benzophenone which attacks DNA when illuminated, and can lead to cancer. Studies are currently being carried out. Annually four to six thousand tonnes of these chemicals enter our ocean through wastewater effluent, and by swimmers slathered up with sunscreen. Acting like an oil slick, the chemicals settle on marine life and the reefs become suffocated.

Reef safe sun screen with no oxybenzone

Corals are animals called polyps that share their home with algae called zooxanthellae. They work together in a symbiotic relationship which means both parties benefit. The coral animal produces a skeleton to shelter the algae whilst building the reef and the algae through photosynthesis provide the coral animal with 95% of its food. In the Maldives, the reefs are under severe external pressure. Sun screen is an added significant hazard which threatens the resiliency of the coral to climate change.

Healthy coral with blue-green chromis population

Bleaching is the term used when coral loses its symbiotic algae; this can happen for a variety of reasons. A study by R. Danovaro and a team of scientists showed that oxybenzone promotes latent viral growth in the symbiotic algae. In the study, fragments of coral were taken throughout the tropics and incubated with seawater containing small quantities of sunscreen (10 microlitres). Bleaching occurred within four days, whereas in the control group which had no sunscreen there was no bleaching. Water samples taken 18 – 48 hours after sunscreen exposure showed that the symbiotic algae, instead of being a healthy brown colour were pale/transparent and full of holes. Additionally viral particles were abundant; 15 times more viral particles where found in water samples exposed to sunscreen than in the control group. This suggests that the coral animal or algae contain a latent virus activated by chemicals in sunscreen. This latent infection is found globally. Oxybenzone is a photo-toxicant, which means that its negative effects are accelerated by light – something which the Maldives does not lack. In other studies, oxybenzone has been found to alter the larval stage of the coral from a healthy swimming state to a deformed motionless condition. It has also been found to cause DNA lesions and endocrine disruption, resulting in coral larvae encasing themselves in their skeletons and dying. The severity of this is proportional to chemical concentration.

Bleaching experiment by R. Danovaro and his team. They tested the effects of 100-μL sunscreens on Acropora divaricata nubbins after 24-hr incubation at various temperatures. (A) control; (B) nubbins incubated at 28°C; and (C) nubbins incubated (photo credit to R. Danovaro and his team)

In some parts of the world oxybenzone found on the surface has reached concentrations that indicate the potential for bioaccumulation of this chemical within reef organisms. Since oxybenzone mimics oestrogen it is causing male fish to change into females. This has been particularly noticed in turbot and sole feeding near sewage outlets. Since a healthy fish population is vital for reef survival this feminisation of fish will have a devastating long term impact.

As the effects of sunscreen are becoming more apparent positive action is being taken. In Mexico, several marine reserves have banned the use of none marine safe sun protection products after high mortality was noted in reef organisms and currently Hawaii is trying to ban the sale of harmful sunscreen. In addition, the development of eco-friendly sunscreens is now booming.

We at Gili Lankanfushi want to become part of this movement and understand that we need to protect our delicate marine environment, which is why the boutique is now selling a range of marine safe products, so next time you are here please help us protect our reef!

Reef safe sun screen with no oxybenzone

Please refer to this link for reef safe sunscreen: http://scubadiverlife.com/top-four-reef-safe-sunscreens/

PADI’s guest blogger Emma Bell introduces herself:

I am a marine biologist and scuba diver from England. I have had the privilege of working in Greece, Seychelles and Maldives. I have worked in an aquaculture research centre where I focused on hormonal manipulation of a pelagic fish species. In addition, I have experience with coral restoration projects including frames and ropes; habitat restoration – crown of thorns, drupella and invasive plant species removal; educational activities and social media updates including blogs. I have also monitored population dynamics of bird, turtle, shark and cetacean species to aid in their conservation. I started my career working in the Maldives and I have done a round trip via Greece, England and Seychelles, I hope to increase my skills set and knowledge further whilst I am at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives.

Support Sea grass

We all could do with reducing our carbon footprint and one easy way is to support local and global sea grass conservation initiatives.

Known as the lungs of the ocean, sea grass can produce 10 litres of oxygen per 1m2 everyday! Sea grass meadows are also a fantastic carbon sink as they sequester carbon dioxide from the water and this can slow the effects of ocean acidification created by global warming. This beautiful plant could be the key to stabilising the negative effects of climate change.

Yet despite this, 29% of global sea grass beds have already disappeared with 7% more being lost per year. In an attempt to address this issue, the Marine Biology team at Gili Lankanfushi is conducting a sea grass regrowth experiment. At the resort we have sea grass growing in shallow lagoons around the island and in a 10m2 area on the south east side of the island, we have been collecting data on how fast sea grass regrows after it has been removed.

The experiment has currently been running for six months, so it is too early to be accurate, but results currently show that 10% of the area has signs of regrowth. To date, we are only seeing shoots of a robust species of sea grass called E.acoroides. This is a species found in the tropics in water depth of one to three metres with light wave action.

Aerial view of Lankanfushi Island and sea grass beds

In the beds we find nursery fish, crustaceans, worms and sea cucumbers using the leaves as a nursery and haven against the current. We also often see resident green sea turtles feeding on sea grass as it is their primary diet and they consume 2kg per day!

Marine Biologists are very pro sea grass because sea grass beds stabilise sediment and reduce erosion by creating a network of roots. They also increase the water clarity and quality by soaking up nutrients or chemicals that run into the water. If given the choice, we would regenerate the meadows surrounding the island as with an increased meadow size, the resort would benefit from cleaner and clearer water and an increased population of nursery fish species and green sea turtles. By regenerating the full size of our sea grass meadows we would also offset some of our carbon footprint.

We have been in touch with sea grass specialists from Seagrass Watch and SeagrassSpotter and hope to work with these global conservation projects in the future. We have learnt from their wealth of experience that it takes around 3-4 years to naturally replenish a small sized, single species sea grass meadow and around 10 years to replenish a large sized multi-species meadow. If we helped regrowth by planting sea grass seeds, the areas would be replenished in around 2 years.

This brilliant plant could be the key to stabilising the negative effects of climate change. We hope resorts in the Maldives consider regenerating their sea grass beds to help offset their carbon footprint.

PADI’s guest blogger Clare Baranowski introduces herself:

I am a marine zoologist from the UK who has worked throughout the tropics researching mega fauna and reef ecosystems in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. I have experience monitoring and restoring coral and surveying manta, turtle and dolphin populations. I began my career as a science communicator before moving into research and management roles, this is why I incorporate outreach and education into every project I work on and I hope to continue this at Gili Lankanfushi.