While Sri Lanka is benefitting from a rising tide of tourism, the Maldives (www.visitmaldives.com), an archipelago nation of nearly 1,200 tiny islands scattered 642 miles to its southwest in the Arabian sea, has been sounding the alarm about literal rising tides.
The award-winning 2011 documentary, The Island President, is a compelling, well-worth-watching account of the efforts of Maldives’ then-president Mohamed Nasheed to help generate international awareness and action around climate change.
As one of the world’s lowest-altitude countries, with an average height of less than five feet above sea level, the Maldives would be one of the first nations in the world to be completely submerged if the oceans continue to rise with global warming.
Some calculations, which don’t necessarily take into account coral growth and the degrees to which islands can rise with sea level, not strictly be overtaken, suggest that this holiday paradise could become a real-life Atlantis in less than 50 years. But the film’s hook is really more a conceptual stroke of genius than an imminent death knell.
Nasheed and filmmaker Jon Shenk deserve great praise for developing such a dramatic way of educating people about the dangers of unchecked climate change. Their serious, thoughtful film unforgettably juxtaposes the stunning natural beauty of the Maldives with the science of its potential demise.
While The Island President was meant to inspire environmentalism, it’s a little-kept secret that its message has been amplified, simplified, and exaggerated by some bottom-feeding, bottom-line-oriented travel promoters.
In two and a half quick days on the islands, several different natives who work in tourism told me that “Come see the Maldives before they don’t exist” has become a cynical subtext of high end resort marketing. It’s an approach that’s gives a sneaky sidelong glance to environmentalism while leveraging consumers’ desire to have “exclusive” experiences.
If you were deeply concerned about reducing your carbon foot-print, would you make a special point of flying to a far-flung corner of the earth for a luxury vacation?
While climate change is a scientific reality that individuals, businesses, and governments absolutely must help address, the Maldives islands are highly unlikely to disappear any year soon.
Take public transportation to work every day, install solar panels at home, and go for that deluxe vacation in the Maldives if it is something you really want to do, not because you’ve been led to believe it’s your last chance.
Whether the Maldives suits your fancy, largely depends on how fanciness suits you. It’s a high-end destination, with many of the major resorts accessible only by seaplane, at a price of $500-$600 per person round trip. That’s in addition to multi- legged international airfare to the capital island of Malé and room rates with lows of around $400 per night.
My partner and I were extraordinarily fortunate to be invited guests of the W Maldives Resort (Fesdu Island, North Ari Atoll. Tel: 877-946-8357. www.wmaldives.com), a spectacular array of free-standing beachside and over-water bungalows, each with its own private soaking pool. The off-season low exceeds $900 nightly.
While that’s far beyond our vacation budget range, the appeal is easy to understand for a once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon, milestone anniversary, or truly massive loyalty point redemption.
Located, as are virtually all Maldives resorts, on its own private island, it offered the opportunity to socialize with other guests or to have almost complete privacy (a requirement of many wealthy Muslim guests who want to enjoy romance and a seaside environment without any chance of public immodesty).
Over-water suites have cleverly angled decks that make them invisible to neighboring vacationers, allowing for no-stress al fresco friskiness. Bedroom floors incorporate a transparent panel that lets you look into the ocean from indoors as well.
A young, attractive international staff seems as happy to be at the property as the guests do, ready not only to mix a cocktail or schedule a spa appointment, but to join in a friendly game of table tennis or a dance in the night club.
Throughout the Maldives, scuba and snorkeling are spectacular (a bucket-list adventure for many travelers who travel great distances to get here). W offers equipment and instruction for both (along with a full complement of water sports options). We enjoyed the snorkel equivalent of a guided hike, swimming alongside a staff expert who guided us through coral-free channels to deep basins aswim with kalei-doscopic sea life.
But the most astounding experience we had at W Maldives was only available by lucky coincidence. On arrival, a group staff members met us on the dock, and guided us to a sleek small yacht. For 20 minutes, about a dozen of us stood on the deck as we cut through the sapphire sea, the resort drifting out of sight behind us and nothing but water in every direction.
We arrived at an a circular patch of sand about 30 feet in diameter a single beige polka dot on an infinite field of blue. We disembarked and sat quietly as the sun dipped lower, pouring crazy shades of orange, pink, and purple across the endless sky, no humans and no land in the visible distance. Champagne corks were popped, and we drank like gilded Gilligans.
Back on the boat, we learned that the sandbar we’d visited had formed less than a week prior. In a few days more, it would disappear, taken under by the sea.