Located about 58 kilometers west of Malé, the capital of the Maldives, in the central Alif Alif atoll lies the beautiful island of Rasdhoo. A small piece of locally inhabited island that is home to a population of no more than 1,500 according to the most recent consensus.
Ideally, it is also the first inhabited island that one would pass in Alif Alif Atoll if they travel to the west of Male Atoll, and is near Kuramathi Island Resort which is considered the l one of the largest tourist properties in the Maldives, employing over 800 industry professionals.
When I worked at Kuramathi Island Resort in 2012, I frequently visited Rasdhoo Island for necessary shopping and bank travel. It was a time when the island only had a handful of guesthouses when there were maybe one or two restaurants open.
Never in my wildest thoughts have I ever understood that an island like Rasdhoo is undergoing such a major transformation in recent years, which became evident on my last trip.
Where once only a handful of guesthouses hosted occasional backpackers, there are now over 20 different guesthouses of varying shapes and sizes; which is said without too much exaggeration. In 2012, there was only one option for us to grab a bite to eat when it came to dining in a restaurant, but today the island has several of these outlets catering to the needs of locals. and backpacking tourists.
I vaguely remember bustling souvenir shops almost a decade ago when visiting the island was a weekly thing for me, but during my recent visit I observed that most of these places were closed for a long time.
But my attention has not primarily focused on the great economic leap the island has made over the past nine years, but rather on the environmental degradation it has suffered during the same period.
There was a time when children played happily along a long, wide beach at the southern and western end of the island, which had practically eroded over the years. A local guide had claimed that this was mainly due to the irreparable damage to the reef surrounding Rasdhoo, either by dumping rubbish or by blowing up the corals for various purposes. This in turn accelerated the erosion process as the natural barrier between the strong waves and the shore slowly became depleted.
I remember running frantically on a long beach at the western end of the island that was home to beautiful white crabs overnight. I decided to visit the same place to revisit an old nostalgia, but to my chagrin I found that the west end had since been completely eroded while what was left now is mainly used by locals to tie up their ships ashore for maintenance and repair.
The thick “jungle” through which I ran with my old resort buddies, stretched around the northwestern tip of the island and I wanted to roam this area once again, in the hope of bring back old and good memories. But I was disappointed when I discovered that much of the trees had since been felled to make way for homes and guesthouses.
There was a sharp clearing just outside said jungle, which paved a path leading to the beach at the northwest end; I remember the ground coming to rest near the beach line, forming a sort of little “cliff” that descended towards a shore filled with rocks and pebbles. It is no longer a sight to be seen due to extensive erosion.
I asked the sympathetic local, who moonlighted as a guide whenever he was free from his official responsibilities as a public sector employee, about the significant damage to the environment in Rasdhoo.
His memories of the past nine years resembled a melancholy tale of anguish and loss both in terms of the beauty of nature and the loss of its appeal – which the local guide attributed to public ignorance or lack of knowledge. ‘responsible initiatives in favor of environmental sustainability.
Either way, Rasdhoo’s story is bittersweet. On the one hand, the island had grown in size while on the other, it was regressing alarmingly.