Conservation leads the way at Banyan Tree resorts
Banyan Tree have hired a Group Director of Conservation to communicate sustainability and get guests and staff involved in making a difference. From resort based initiatives to group wide strategies, Banyan Tree are continuing their commitment to the environment by investing in marine conservation throughout their 30 hotels and resorts. Article published on Green Hotelier July 2015
In April the Banyan Tree owned resort, Angsana Ihuru in the Maldives held a 24 hour dive event, to showcase the beauty of the Indian Ocean on the 15th anniversary of when the ‘Rannamaari’ wreck was sunk off the resort’s house reef and to highlight the importance of protecting coral and marine life. The event also coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Banyan Tree Group. Guests got involved planting coral in the immaculately preserved house reef, the Marine Lab team from neighbouring Banyan Tree Vabbinafaru ran a couple of talks on the importance of coral conservation and staff and guests alike rallied behind divers’ efforts to keep teams under the sea for an impressive 24 hours.
This event in itself was an excellent example of one resort communicating the importance of marine conservation to guests, staff and the wider media. And there’s no place more poignant to do so. The Maldives is under constant threat when it comes to marine conservation issues. Climate change and human impact is not only effecting marine species in the Maldives, but is also a daily remainder of the physical fragility of this island nation.
When sea temperatures are raised for prolonged periods of time, coral mortality is inevitable and irreversible. The worst case of this was in 1998 when over two weeks of elevated temperatures caused extensive coral mortality across the Maldives. This years’ El Nino has caused bleaching on reefs in the Maldives but the early monsoon has caused water temperatures to drop and The Banyan Tree Marine Lab have noticed some recovery. However if predicted sea temperatures are realised, there will be devastating coral losses around the globe.
On top of this the Maldives is also under threat from shoreline erosion. The scarcity of land drives hard engineering projects such as land reclamation and harbour development. Where possible, soft engineering projects are encouraged (particularly in resorts) to minimise the environmental effect e.g. jetties are preferable to harbours because they don’t interfere with longshore transport.
Waste management is another vital conservation issue for the Maldives. The combination of an increasing population, increasing tourism and limited land makes transporting and disposing of non-biodegradable waste very challenging. In the next 7 years The Ministry of Environment and Energy aim to establish a waste management system to include energy and composting initiatives and find a financially viable export process for recyclables. Until then some resorts are much better than others at taking such initiatives into their own hands.
No one is aware of these issues more acutely than Steve Newman, Banyan Tree’s Director of Banyan Tree Marine Labs in the Maldives and Group Director of Conservation. A recent interview with Steve, helped shed light on what Banyan Tree and other resorts are doing to help and what his wider role involves.
How is the Marine Lab effective in communicating sustainability/ educating issues to guests?
Environmental protection and restoration is a vital aspect that is deeply developed in our resorts. Educating guests to the value of the environment, and the sustainability efforts of the company, is integrated throughout many of our guest experiences. The Marine Lab at Vabbinafaru is no exception. Resort conservation activities, opportunities for guest involvement, and environmental issues are disseminated through multiple avenues: through an information board, notices and in-villa turn-down services, as part of educational talks on different aspects of the local environment, during guided tours or snorkels, and through regular guest interaction. Hands on involvement includes sponsoring coral gardens, getting involved in 'citizen science' projects, helping to plant new corals and watching the sea turtle conservation programme in action.
Has the role of the Marine Lab changed over time? What about in the future?
Businesses create value for their stakeholders, be it the consumer, investor, employee or community in which it is based. The Marine Lab exists to add value to our stakeholders and to develop stewardship of the environment for everyone’s benefit. The lab was originally established to conduct work critical to conserving the local environment, and to educate guests, staff and local communities on the value and importance of the environment. While this principle function has not changed, the Marine Lab’s role is evolving. In order to conserve the environment we must better understand it: what we have, how it’s changing, how we can mitigate negative change and achieve successful conservation and restoration initiatives. Thus we are developing our capacity to conduct environmental work, incorporating citizen science and academic research locally and across the group.
What could other resorts learn from the Marine Lab?
The creation of a Marine Lab by Banyan Tree in 2003, following conservation work since 1996, was pioneering in the Maldives, and it is already possible to see the positive effect this has had.
Following the success of Banyan Tree Maldives Marine Labs, many resorts now employ marine biologists in the Maldives. All resorts in the Maldives now need to focus on ensuring that marine biologists are not there simply as symbols of eco-tourism but that they really make a difference to preserving these delicate ecosystems. The Banyan Tree Marine Lab is part of a vision which demonstrates that, with the right support, the contribution and expertise of marine biologists and their environmental efforts can be utilised for considerably greater benefit to the ecosystem of the Maldives as well as tourism in the Maldives.
Tourism in small island nations such as the Maldives is so intrinsically dependent on the environment, it is in the interests of every operation to conserve, protect, enhance and understand valuable natural resources which underpin most operations.
What does your new role within Banyan Tree involve?
My new role as Group Director of Conservation has two aspects: first to strengthen the environmental operations and map the future strategy for conservation and research delivered by Banyan Tree Maldives Marine Labs, and second to create modules to integrate active guest participation into resort conservation efforts across the group.
As a global business with management or ownership interest in 37 resorts in 28 countries, we have the opportunity to gather informative data on multiple ecosystems (coral reef, rainforest, mangrove, desert etc.) and organisms, providing valuable insight on their status, change, or biological processes, and how it varies across large spatial and temporal scales. This data can be collected at multiple levels of expertise, involving guests as citizen scientists, and the findings can be accessible and beneficial to the layperson, managers and scientists alike.
Your appointment is a first for the group and considered quite pioneering for a hotel group – why has Banyan Tree taken this step? What is their motivation?
As a socially responsible company, Banyan Tree was founded with the core value of sustainable development. Banyan Tree operates sustainably to the triple bottom line of society, environment and economics. Green activities within the hospitality industry are increasingly becoming a baseline requirement and sustainability is being incorporated in to business operations to create shared value for business and society.
However, consumers are increasingly aware of global social and environmental issues and millennials are helping to redefine what sustainability means: it’s not just about having a recycling program or minimising waste. My appointment has been driven not only by the company’s long standing acknowledgement of the value of the environment to the business, but also their concern for the future of the environment, and their desire to do more than just minimise their carbon footprint or reduce costs - but to maximise conservation and management efforts. While the Banyan Tree Maldives Marine Labs have had trained biologists on staff since opening in 2004, my role is part of the continuing formalization of the company’s approach to sustainability.
What projects are you most looking forward to working on?
I am excited about establishing our citizen science project, which provides the opportunity for guests to participate in the research being conducted on the health of the reefs and fish populations. Such projects benefit from the support and enthusiasm of visitors who spend so much time in the water, and they have the added benefit of requiring little to no training – just someone in the water and sometimes a camera.
There are many examples of citizen science in action, and there are programs that have been operating in coral reef regions for many years. They can provide valuable information on the status of the reefs, detecting changes such as bleaching, and counts of megafauna such as sharks or endangered fish species can reveal trends in populations over time.