These days there are a few new boxes to tick when choosing a luxury vacation. Previously it was bed size, and if my suite had a plunge pool; now it’s how green the resort is and what conservation projects they’re involved in. Sounds like a headache? It is not obligated. Choose wisely and you can still have your plunge pool and enjoy a clear conscience – one doesn’t have to be sacrificed for the benefit of the other. Island hopping between the two Four Seasons hotels in the Maldives taught me that. Both are wonderfully luxurious. Check. Both have impressive marine discovery centers. Check. Both offer guests the opportunity to learn more about the environment during interesting and fun activities. Massive tick.
How much you want to get involved is up to you, from helping with reef restoration to participating in manta ray monitoring, the first such project in this destination. By the way, there’s no judgment on those of you who’d rather paddleboard then sip cocktails by the pool. Although after introducing you to Ari, who resides in Kuda Huraa, the first station I visit, you might change your mind.
Ari is a female olive ridley sea turtle. She was rescued after being caught in a ‘ghost’ net (lost nets that float from countries where trawling is not banned) and lost her two front flippers and can no longer dive. I watch Ari swim only to receive a light scratch on his shell from Bethany, a turtle specialist and one of the three resident marine biologists.
“Ah, she loves a little attention. She has the sweetest nature,” she tells me, just as Ari sticks his head out of the water to look at me. Maldives Sea Turtles (established in conjunction with Four Seasons) has cared for over 250 turtles, most of which have been released back into the wild, and those in need of ongoing specialist care have been transferred to aquariums through the Flying Turtle Program. .
The ocean, with its vivid hues of blues and greens, proves impossible to take my eyes off, which is just as well that otherwise I might have missed a stingray gliding under my villa deck. Also living under my stilt house is a Picasso fish, which flexes territorially whenever I appear and is easily spied thanks to the clever design of the partially meshed deck – perfect for lounging while spotting marine life. As the sun sets, I paddle through shallow ocean waters toward a rapidly sinking sun, while above me fruit bats circle the globe on their regular nighttime patrol. Never have I felt more in touch with nature.
On my second day I broke the rule that while traveling leave only footprints behind as I drop a 32 inch diameter metal frame into the Indian Ocean (be patient, I will explain to you). The frame is full of shards of salvaged coral that I’ve spent the past few hours carefully attaching. It’s part of a pioneering project by Reefscapers that began in 2001, designed to regenerate diseased reefs. The sad reality is that much of the coral in these waters suffered severe bleaching during the last El Niño event in 2016, when water temperatures exceeded 89.5 degrees.
It feels good to know that mine will join over four thousand others who are now….