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Luxury resorts join the fight to save our oceans

Around the world, more and more luxury resorts and tour operators are leading the way to save our oceans.

At a time when our oceans are under threat more than ever, Diveplanit’s Deborah Dickson-Smith looks at some of the leading resorts fighting to conserve the marine environment, with a little help from guests.

The ocean is something we have always taken for granted.

It seems so vast that many of us think of it as indestructible, a never-ending source of seafood, as well as snorkelling and diving adventures.

But the ocean is under threat, along with the coral reefs and diverse marine life it provides habitat for.

Climate change has seen ocean temperatures rise, causing increased cyclones and coral bleaching events, including several significant events on our own beloved Great Barrier Reef.

Coastal development and agriculture have reduced water quality, removed vital habitat for juvenile marine life and increased pollutants entering the sea.

According to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) 2015 study, overfishing devastated at least 50 per cent of the world’s marine life in the past 40 years, not to mention the damage done by discarded fishing line and ‘ghost nets’ to sea turtles and other large pelagic creatures such as manta rays.

Kokomo Island Resort - House Reef.
© Four Seasons Los Cabos at Costa Palmas

As if that wasn’t enough, plastic pollution has become such a serious issue in the last decade, endangering marine life from the top to the bottom of the food chain, it is estimated that there is now more microplastic in the ocean than plankton.

But there is hope for our oceans yet, as more and more of us become aware of the issues, and many resorts and tour operators are leading the charge to save our oceans.

Here are just a few examples.

Conserving the Great Barrier Reef

The mass bleaching events and cyclones of 2016 and 2017 triggered a change in our approach to conservation on the Great Barrier Reef.

Since then, several tourism operators have assisted in the development of coral conservation programs.

Luxury reef tour company Sailaway Port Douglas is one of five marine tourism operators participating in the Coral Nurture Program. This partnership between tourism and science has introduced coral planting into these operators’ Reef stewardship.

The Eye on the Reef program is a citizen science monitoring program that enables anyone to contribute to the Reef’s protection by reporting what they see using a simple App.

The Crystalbrook Collection’s luxurious Flynn, Bailey and Riley Cairns hotels are founding ‘Citizens’ and ongoing partners with Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, a social movement designed to change consumer understanding of how everyday actions have an impact on the Great Barrier Reef and overall environment.

Guests can become a Citizen of the Great Barrier Reef and make a pledge to reduce your impact on the environment, whether that’s using a reusable drink bottle or saying no to plastic straws.

Sculptor Jason DeCaires Taylor has several underwater installations around the world, from Mexico to Indonesia. His latest off the coast of Townsville, the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA), aims to highlight the plight of coral reefs – especially the world’s most famous: The Great Barrier Reef.

In December 2020, MOUA started inviting divers to plant coral at the John Brewer Reef site, accompanied by a marine scientist.

Luxury Resort Orpheus Island Lodge offers day trips to MOUA, with a portion of the price going towards the research project.

South-East Asia and the Indian Ocean

In Thailand, Four Seasons Koh Samui established its Coral Conservation Project in 2017. The program combines education with coral rehabilitation which has so far seen 16,000 coral fragments replanted on the fringing reef, with a 70 per cent survival rate.

Guests can book a guided snorkel tour with the resort’s resident marine biologist to learn how to protect and conserve coral reefs.

In Sabah, Gaya Island Resort’s Turtle Rescue program rescues turtles, injured by ghost fishing nets, plastic pollution or boat strike, rehabilitates and releases sea turtles back into the ocean. Its Coral Reef Restoration program nurtures the fringing reef, collecting broken or non-viable coral fragments, monitoring them in a coral nursery before they are replanted.

The resort encourages guests to become involved in outreach programs as volunteers or sponsors.

Malaysia’s Tanjong Jara Resort manages a turtle hatchery in partnership with Lang Tengah Turtle Watch. The poaching of turtle eggs is another issue this species has to cope with, so protected hatcheries give these turtles a better chance for survival.

A nest adoption program allows guests to make a pledge to save a nest from poachers and receive regular email updates and an option to return to see them hatch.

Tanjong Jara Turtle - Baby Hatchling
Tanjong Jara Turtle - Baby Hatchling

Africa and the Indian Ocean

Luxury tour operator andBeyond has partnered with the Africa Foundation to form Oceans without Borders, an initiative aimed at addressing the threats to marine ecosystems, including overfishing, habitat loss, pollution, unregulated tourism and climate change.

andBeyond encourages guests to take the ‘Oceans without Borders Pledge’ to be more mindful of our oceans, tread lightly, monitor use of single-use plastics, consume sustainably and educate others.

Following a mass coral bleaching event in 1998, Anantara’s Dhigu and Veli resorts started looking at ways to better conserve their fringing reefs.

They have since partnered with Coral Reef CPR to create a new coral regeneration program called Holistic Approach to Reef Protection (HARP). The resorts now boast the healthiest corals in the Maldives which have bounced back to pre-bleaching health levels.

Guests can sponsor and transplant a ‘coral rope’ with help from the resident marine biologist, and perhaps make a return trip to see how much it has grown.

The South Pacific

The Conflict Islands Resort in Papua New Guinea, and the island group it is located on, is owned by Mr Ian Gowrie-Smith, who purchased the islands to preserve them for future generations.

The Conflict Island Conservation Initiative Trust (CICI) manages several marine initiatives, with three main research programs: sharks and rays, sea turtles and coral reef health.

CICI runs a volunteer abroad program, inviting interns to stay for a couple of weeks (for a fee) and contribute to the foundation’s research.

The Brando, a private island resort in French Polynesia, was developed by the late Marlon Brando who sought to preserve this little slice of paradise by not only protecting the land but also creating a research station and an eco-resort.

Guests staying in the resort have the opportunity to participate in tours and excursions with the naturalists working at the station.

Stay on any of the luxurious resorts on Moorea and you can contribute to the Coral Gardeners initiative. A team of surfers, free divers, and fishermen are actively working to restore coral cover and they are inviting eco-warriors from across the globe to get involved.

For €25 you can adopt and name your own piece of coral which will be cultivated then planted on a reef in Tahiti.

Coral Gardeners

Fiji’s Kokomo Private Island Resort has established the Kokomo Coral Restoration project to ensure the surrounding reef continues to thrive. To date, the resort, with help from guests, has transplanted over 300 corals back onto the House Reef and currently houses over 1,300 corals in their nursery.

With help from the Marine Biology team, guests can learn how to identify heat resilient corals, before planting them into a nursery and transplanting them back onto the Kokomo House Reef. The resort has also introduced an Adopt a Manta Ray program with funds contributing to the protection of mantas in surrounding waters.

Coral Gardeners
Tahiti Coral Gardeners Moorea coral nursery credit Uli Kunz

The Americas

From August-October staff at Four Seasons Resort and Residences Los Cabos, conducts its Sea Turtles Program.

With assistance from the local government, resort staff help protect the vulnerable Olive Ridley sea turtles that nest on the Baja Mexico coast, patrolling around 30km of East Cape coastline.

Each year more than 300 turtle nests are relocated in safe areas within the Costa Palmas property where they are protected and tracked.

Guests are invited to learn about turtle population and help release hatchlings using a hollowed-out coconut shell, so as not to affect their microbiome by touching them with their hands.

Kokomo Island Resort - House Reef.
Kokomo Coral Restoration

Zadun, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve

Created to carry on his family’s tradition of ocean conservation and education, Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment inspires Zadun guests to connect with the world around them in hopes that they will help preserve it for future generations.

The resort has developed a range of excursions that allow guests to explore and appreciate the surrounding land and seascapes.

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