Play the HARP, save the corals

Conservation is key for resorts that dwell on the beauty of its natural surroundings. We recently reported the coral reef conservation work undertaken by The Andaman in Langkawi and following suit is Anantara Maldives.

Beneath the clear waters that surround the island archipelago of the Maldives’ South Malé Atoll, a fragile world is quietly rebuilding itself. Reef conservation charity, Coral Reef CPR’s pioneering Holistic Approach to Reef Protection (HARP) programme, funded by Anantara guests, has been fundamental in creating significant improvements to coral health and size in the past three years, with some corals growing over 15cm in the past 12 months, an extraordinary improvement, given corals grow only 1cm a year sometimes.

Coral reefs protect the pristine beaches at Anantara Dhigu Maldives Resort, Anantara Veli Maldives Resort and Naladhu Private Island Maldives and guard the islands’ crystal-clear lagoon. They also support an astounding array of tropical fish, crustaceans and molluscs. However, for all its beauty and apparent resilience, coral is a sensitive organism, vulnerable to extreme weather, sudden environmental changes, the effects of global climate change, as well as outbreaks of coral predators.

HARP on it

Anantara’s philosophy is that environmental responsibility begins at home. So the Anantara team in the Maldives joined forces with marine biologists whose mission is to reduce threats and promote sustainable management and rehabilitation of reef ecosystems, in order to develop ways to protect the coral ahead of the anticipated environmental stresses of El Niño, a climate cycle that has a global impact on weather patterns.

Led by chief scientist, Dr Andrew Bruckner, the pioneering five-year programme, HARP, encompasses practical environmental protection and marine education with the goal of limiting potential damage to the reefs in the Maldives and ensuring the coral reefs continue to not only survive, but to thrive. Just as Anantara is taking its responsibility to the local environment very seriously, the programme is also ensuring that guests at each resort – as well as the local community – can continue to enjoy the spectacular world beneath the waterline for many years to come.

The programme focused on four aspects; nursery maintenance, expansion of coral nurseries through the addition of new fragments to coral ropes and coral tables, out-planting of nursery-grown corals onto degraded reefs, and maintenance and expansion of the Aqua Bar snorkel trail.

“A positive environmental impact on the overall ecosystem of the Maldives”

Director of Conservation for Minor Hotels, the umbrella brand overseeing Anantara, John Roberts, said: “The Maldives is a low-lying atoll nation in the Indian Ocean, and as such is a country at high risk from the impacts of climate change; including increasing sea surface temperatures that lead to coral bleaching, as it did in 2016.

“With the Maldives being highly dependent on its breathtaking and world-famous coral reefs, not just for tourism but for other industries such as fishing, the coral reef programmes such as HARP play a fundamental role in food provision, shoreline protection, tourism revenue and ultimately the enjoyment of guests visiting Anantara Maldives. Work to date conducted by Andy and the Coral Reef CPR team has helped to regenerate and sustain the reefs that surround the Anantara resorts, nurturing a positive environmental impact on the overall ecosystem of the Maldives.”

Dollar for deeds

Currently, all project work undertaken in the Maldives by Coral Reef CPR for HARP is funded by the Anantara initiative ‘Dollars For Deeds’, whereby Anantara guests are invited to donate one dollar for each night of their stay, which is then matched dollar for dollar by Minor Hotels. Dollars For Deeds funds raised in the Maldives are committed over the coming five years to three key focus areas: protection of marine and coastal environments; environmental education; and community welfare.

In April 2018, Coral Reef CPR, in partnership with Silver Sands, completed the next phase of coral nursery and coral restoration work at Anantara Dhigu and Anantara Veli as part of the HARP programme. All of the work was undertaken within the shallow lagoonal and reefal habitats surrounding Anantara, in South Malé Atoll, Maldives. Corals within the four nurseries (Aqua Bar, Advanced Snorkel Area, Veli lagoon and Dhigu House Reef) have all shown substantial growth, with over 97% survival since the establishment of the nurseries and a 500-1000 fold increase in biomass of corals. A total of 1,484 new corals were added to the nurseries at Dhigu and Veli, South Male Atoll.

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