None of the 1,200 coral islands in the Maldives rises over six feet above sea level, making it the world’s lowest-lying country. It’s also one of the earth’s most visually stunning destinations, where aquamarine waters lap the sand-fringed islands dotted with verdant tropical foliage. The unique natural beauty is the main draw for visitors, meaning the nation must walk a fine line between environmentalism and tourism—one of its major industries.
Enter a growing number of eco-conscious resorts in the island nation that are dedicated to sustainability. From sea life rehabilitation to the planting of coral reefs, and solar panel installations to wastewater treatment plants, these forward thinking resorts are taking major steps to ensure that tourism and one of the world's most fragile ecosystems can both coexist and delight far into the future.
Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu
From paper straws in the bar to wooden toothbrushes in the thatched-roof villas, it’s clear that Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu has a care for sustainability practices. But beyond the organic gardens and the on-site glass bottling plant, what truly stands out is the resort’s dedication to marine conservation.
In partnership with the Olive Ridley Project, a U.K.-based charity dedicated to removing discarded fishing nets from the ocean, Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu is home to the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre, which rescues and rehabilitates sea turtles injured by the floating nets. A turtle veterinarian, along with a team of interns and volunteers, operates the laboratory, surgical facilities, and tanks, and the rescue center can care for up to eight turtle patients at a time.
Only 20 minutes away by speedboat from the international airport, Gili Lankanfushi is a popular Maldivian getaway for many reasons. Perhaps one is its unwavering commitment to environmental responsibility. The resort is constructed using sustainably sourced materials, including teak and palm woods, palm fronds and bamboo (much from the island itself, cutting down on CO2 from transporting building materials), as well as recycled telephone poles. Additionally, it’s a plastic-free island, with refillable organic toiletries in the bathrooms, and an on-site desalinization plant that bottles its own still and sparkling water.
Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru
On a picture-perfect island in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve lies the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru. The pristine natural location may be one of the driving factors behind the resort’s dedication to sustainability, leading to the recent installation of 3,105 solar panels on the rooftops of the island’s staff village—the largest solar installation of any resort in the country. The panels help power various aspects of the property, including the guest rooms and electric golf carts, and prevent 800 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year.
Six Senses Laamu
The Six Senses brand is well known for pioneering sustainability practices, and its resort in the Maldives’ Laamu Atoll is no exception. Six Senses Laamu is the only resort in this remote northern atoll, a place where you’re likely to see more manta rays and sea turtles than people. The resort works closely with the Manta Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the research and conservation of manta rays. Visiting guests can attend daily presentations by on-site marine biologists to learn more about the local underwater population and their importance to the biodiversity of the Maldives.
As one of the Maldives’ first beach resorts, Baros has always been at the forefront of protecting the natural environment that makes up the islands’ wonderland-like atmosphere. In addition to using biodegradable cleaning products, and recycled water for garden irrigation, Baros has one of the Maldives’ first Eco Dive Centers. This means that the center is dedicated first and foremost to the protection of the conservation of the coral reefs by enforcing environmentally friendly dive guidelines. What does this mean for divers? The resort offers specialty courses that teach about ecology and conservation, forbids the removal of anything that’s part of the natural environment, and does not anchor boats to avoid damaging coral, among many other earth-friendly practices.
There are stylish beachfront villas, a nature-inspired spa, an astronomical observatory, and even an overwater cinema at this castaway-chic 100 percent carbon-neutral resort, but the real heart of Soneva Fushi can be summed up in its mantra: SLOW LIFE. This easygoing slogan stands for Sustainable Local Organic Wellness and Learning Inspiring Fun Experiences. Aspects of this slow life ethos can be found in everything from the resort’s organic garden and mushroom house, to on-site recycling, drinking water, and wastewater treatment plants. There’s even a glass-making studio that produces upcycled tableware and artworks made from repurposed wine, beer, and liquor bottles from the resort’s bars.
This paradise island, complete with sugary sands, lush gardens, and virgin vegetation, is set in the pristine Rasdhoo Atoll. With an island this perfect, it makes sense that Kuramathi Maldives resort has its very own Environment Committee run by the on-site marine biologist. The committee oversees critical environmental practices, including sandbank cleanups, maintenance of the coral nursery, and collection of data for wildlife organizations such as the Manta Trust and Maldives Turtle ID, in addition to educational programs such as weekly environmental guest talks and training for new staff.
Soneva Jani is a eco-lover’s fantasyland, featuring highlights like ultra-chic, sustainably-built overwater villas with retractable roofs for stargazing, and even some villas with waterslides, plus the world’s first 100 percent sustainable surfing program.
Another sustainable first is the resort’s elegant boutique So Soneva, which solely stocks environmentally and socially sustainable brands. The airy, streamlined shop purveys international high-fashion brands such as Tens plant-based eyewear made from wood pulp and cotton fibers, and sophisticated swimwear by Talia Collins, which is created with recycled ocean plastic. All brands featured must meet strict standards, including a commitment to ethical values such as the use of organic materials, cruelty-free practices, conserving biodiversity, and empowering women, among others.
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
It may boast all the staples of a five-star luxury resort such as a chic overwater spa, upscale dining outlets, and even an exclusive underwater suite, but what really stands out about Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is the resort’s commitment to sustainability. In partnership with the environmental organization Parley for the Oceans, the resort has pledged to eliminate all single-use plastics, launched coral regeneration and adoption programs, and even commissioned an eye-catching art piece composed of 5,500 single-use plastic bottles, designed to raise guests’ awareness of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.
One&Only Reethi Rah
In the stunning North Malé Atoll amidst the lively biodiversity of coral reefs is One&Only Reethi Rah, a resort defined not only by exclusivity, white sand, and turquoise waters but by its all-encompassing commitment to the environment. In partnership with EarthCheck, a certification program utilized by the tourism industry, One&Only Reethi Rah is dedicated to treading as lightly on the earth as possible. Though guests may only see the luxury of the spa or the decadence of the resort’s six restaurants, behind the scenes are a water desalination plant, a sewage treatment plant, and a powerhouse all working away to keep the island both sustainable and self-sufficient.