Southeast Asia is full of spectacular tourist destinations, but few offer as many opportunities for oceanside bliss as the Maldives. Comprised of 26 low-lying atolls scattered across the Indian Ocean, this sprawling archipelago has earned worldwide fame for its abundant natural beauty and world-class accommodations. While the waters surrounding each Maldivian atoll teem with life, the nation is certainly home to its fair share of environmental problems.

Sea level rise is a pressing problem for the Maldives, but fortunately the resorts of the archipelago aim to combat this phenomenon. Just north of the capital Male, Gili Lankanfushi is one of many properties that have entered the ring. Along with lavish lagoon-adjacent villas and three on-site restaurants, this awe-inspiring resort is equipped with its own marine biology department dedicated to research and guest education. For staff, coral bleaching linked to climate change is a major concern.

“Linked to the El Niño weather phenomenon, seawater temperatures can rise to levels that have killed corals,” says Eline Postma, assistant marine biologist at Gili Lankanfushi. “The most serious was in 1998, an event that killed more than 90% of the corals in the Maldives. Another severe one happened in 2016 and killed 72% of our shallow water corals. Without a healthy reef, we see an increase in beach erosion. Given that the Maldives has less than 1% land mass, most of which is no more than a meter above sea level, this is quite problematic, especially with a growing population.

While Postma notes that coral populations have been steadily recovering in recent years, the Maldives can’t get by without a little help from their friends – and luckily Gili Lankanfushi has orchestrated the perfect program to boost numbers. of local corals. Launched in 2014, the Coral Lines project begins with tiny shards of coral that are then tied to strands of rope in the resort’s own coral nursery. Over time, these fragments turn into adults, after which they are moved to a natural reef to live out their life in the wild. This program has been a huge success over the years, and for any marine biology enthusiasts staying at the resort, there are plenty of opportunities to join in the fun.

“Before the start of the activity, the marine biologist will have selected a coral colony from our nursery to work with,” says Postma. “Guests begin by learning the basics of coral biology, the effect of climate change on our reefs, and how the Coral Lines project works. The lineage creation process is very similar to transplanting a plant. Branches of about 4 cm are taken from the “mother colony” and attached to the line in 15 cm increments. This gives the coral enough room to grow. Once we have a complete line, the fragments are measured so we can track their growth over time. Guests can then join the marine biologist in our easily accessible nursery and watch as the line is attached to the nursery frames.

After a successful trip to the nursery, customers then receive an online link updated every three months, allowing them to receive an update on the growth of their coral – and although the Coral Lines project is a great way to get up – up close and personal with nature, this is not the only expedition Gili Lankanfushi has to offer. Snorkeling and diving are both available to guests, providing plenty of opportunities to spot some of the region’s most iconic native aquatic species.

“We see green sea turtles almost every time we go to the house reef,” Postma says. “It’s amazing considering it’s an endangered species. Plus, you tend to see blacktip reef sharks just as often, which is a marker of an ecosystem. During the southwest monsoon (which runs from May to October), the manta rays return to our side of the atoll.They are most often seen while diving, but we have occasionally seen these gentle giants also feed along our reef.