MALDIVES TRAVEL DOCUMENTARY | The Pearls of the Indian Ocean
The Maldives From stunning beaches to crystal clear lagoons and underwater wonderlands the Maldives is well-known as a luxurious destination But there is so much more to discover Follow us on our journey as we explore the pearls of the Indian Ocean After we were picked up at the Malé airport we were immediately mesmerised by the turquoise water colour of the nearby harbour. A few minutes later we were picked up and embarked on our shortest road trip to date Looking out of the window we soon spotted the densely populated capital Malé in the distance Our destination, however, was the seaplane terminal, where we boarded the Soneva seaplane. Most travel on the Maldives is by boat or seaplane and so it didn't take long, until we made our way towards the water runway. Soon we caught our first glimpse of the islands of the North Male Atoll. spotting both inhabited and uninhabited islands below.
Situated southwest of India, the Maldives is a geographically dispersed island nation of about 1200 islands. Divided into 26 atolls, the country stretches for almost nine hundred kilometres. from north to south across the Indian Ocean.
The entire country is of volcanic origin, as the atolls are the remnants of sunken volcanoes. Today's remaining atolls are ring-shaped reefs surrounding by a lagoon at their middle. Fittingly, the word atoll is derived from Dhivehi, the language of the Maldives. Most Maldivian islands are similar in structure some form of tropical vegetation is surrounded by beautiful beaches and a shallow house reef. Looking back in history, the settlement of the Maldives is somewhat shrouded in mystery. No one knows yet knows, when the first humans arrived here, because they left nothing behind.
One thing is certain, though: These settlers arrived in one of the most magnificent places on earth. After gazing out of the window for about 45 minutes, the islands of Baa Atoll came into sight. Shortly afterward we landed northeast of Kunfunudhuu, the island where we would stay for the next few days. Seconds later we reached the floating airport, a small platform that gently swaying in the waves to which the plane was expertly attached. We disembarked the plane and immediately hopped on a boat. where we were asked to take off our shoes, as Soneva Fushi is a barefoot resort.
Sipping a fresh watermelon juice and made our way towards the island. When we left the boat, we could barely believe our eyes, as the beauty of this place is hard to grasp. Still wearing our masks for the safety of other guests, we took off in a beach buggy.
As we arrived early in the day, we first made our way to our temporary quarantine villa. What followed was the most important and most unpleasant part of our stay - a mandatory PCR test. A negative result would allow us to, to move freely around the island, without having to wear masks anymore.
Until the test results were back, we were under strict quarantine, but being quarantined with such a view, is one of the most pleasant problems to have. Our non-existent discomfort was further alleviated by the villa's waterslide. While dining healthily in the living room, we discovered a funny-looking needle fish, swimming underneath our feet.
And then we mostly waited. sunbathing on the deck, swimming back and forth in the pool, napping on the sofa or just enjoying the scenery. In the afternoon it was time to move again.
Leaving our quarantine villa behind and went on a short ride through the interior of the island. Arriving at our beach villa accommodation, it did not take long, until we had settled in. When we explored our backyard, we soon noticed, that the sun was already starting to set. While the daylight faded quickly, we spotted a swarm of small baitfish, which was chased by predators in the shallows. We just got the good news, that both of our PCR tests are negative and that means we can now move freely around the island without having to wear masks, as everyone on this island has been tested negative and that's great news for the morning.
We used our new-gained freedom, to get a proper introduction to the island. First, we visited the beautiful overwater restaurant "Out of the Blue", which is surrounded by the house reef of the island on all sides The defining characteristic of the Maldives is undoubtedly water. Alternating between different hues of blue the sea has always been a rich garden for the locals.
The almost translucent waters around the island are home to coral reefs and schools of fish. As soon as the ocean floor drops off, the colour changes to a darker blue, indicating the increasing depth. This dazzling display of nature is further complemented by the island's beautiful white sandy beaches. To properly explore the waters around the island, we needed to pick up some snorkelling gear though This is a map of the atoll We are right here, at the edge of the atoll Both sides are more or less a channel that's why there's a current on both sides which can sometimes be very strong Especially at certain times of the year, like at the moment There might be a stronger current going out of the atoll or into the atoll Most of our fish life is quite friendly sometimes we see sharks but they are not aggressive. If you have been following our travels before, then you will have noticed that we are really into road trips. But on an island nation, which is 99% water, this becomes rather a challenge This time, instead of going by car we are travelling barefoot, walking on the beautiful beaches or going by bike.
To escape the intense midday sun, we decided to first explore the interior of the island. When Soneva Fushi opened, the conscious decision was made to keep the environment intact. Aside from some little trails to walk and ride on the jungle is still lush and the tall trees provide a lot of shade during the heat of the day.
Exploring the forest, it didn't take long, until we heard the alarm of the jungle - the Asian Koel. This noisy bird belongs to the family of cuckoos and feeds mainly on fruits and insects. Its remarkably loud calls can be heard throughout the day. Near the ground, we also spotted a lizard in the undergrowth. In the afternoon we headed out on a boat in search of dolphins.
Initially the animals were very shy, as we looked out for them for close to an hour. But then, out of nowhere, we spotted a pod of spinner dolphins directly ahead of us. Spinner dolphins are the most common dolphins in the Maldives.
Their pod size can vary between a handful and hundreds of individuals. They are well-known for their playfulness, especially for riding the bow waves of boats. After accompanying us for a while, they simply vanished again. Upon heading back we passed the neighbouring island of Maalhos, which outside of a global pandemic can be explored as well.
After a lovely dinner we visited the resort's telescope, to learn more about the stars of the Maldivian night sky. The bright constellation we see here, is the Orion constellation. This is the easiest constelattion to recognise, because it looks like a line. And so it's very good for navigating. One side goes north the other to the south and here to the east and west So its easy for navigating? Yes, perfect for navigating Because we don't have a North Star in our sky, because it is so close to the horizon.
It is not always visible. That's why sailors followed this constellation. It guided them. You count the age of stars in billions of years. A year for a star is a billion years for us.
The age of our planet is just 3 seconds in space-time. It's tooo short. We are nothing. We can hardly be counted, because our sun is too young. It is simply too small.
Every single star, that we can see with our eyes is much bigger than our sun. The biggest we can see is Betelgeuse here More than 10 million of our suns fit inside the star. We can see its red colouring.
All the other stars in the constellation are rather white but Betelgeuse is reddish. Maybe it's not even there anymore. But the light remains for 600-700 years in the night sky Getting up early the next morning, we decided to try out our snorkelling gear.
Our first learning was, that walking in fins on the beach is both impractical and looks stupid. Once in the water, we immediately came upon the beautiful corals of the island's house reef. Corals are colonies of small creatures, called polyps. These polyps excrete an external skeleton of calcium carbonate, which is what we recognize as coral.
For the Maldives, these reefs play an important role, as they provide a habitat for countless marine species and protect the islands from storms and erosion. Leisurely swimming along the reef we soon encountered the local marine life. It is for good reason that many people say, the Maldives true wealth lies underwater. More than 2000 species of fish and 200 species of coral have been identified here so far.
Especially striking was the powder-blue surgeonfish whose colour intensity indicates its health. The Indian triggerfish, on the other hand surprised us with its extravagant swimming style. Undoubtedly the most memorable experience was following this Picasso triggerfish, as it was restlessly searching for food.
Picasso triggerfish are known to aggressively protect their territory against intruders, especially when guarding their eggs. Due to their small size of only 30 cm they do not pose a threat to humans though. Back on the firm land, we wandered around the white sand beach looking over to the neighbouring island of Eydafushi on the opposite side of the channel.
Home to more than 3,000 people, Eydafushi is the capital of Baa Atoll. Despite it being so close, we were not able to visit the island, because we would have faced ten days of quarantine upon our arrival. Before the introduction of paper money these cowrie shells were used as currency in the Maldives. And kauri shells were even from the Maldives to Africa and Southeast Asia. Nowadays, these cowrie shells are of course not used as money anymore but are very popular among hermit crabs, that use them as a dwelling.
That is why visitors are encouraged to leave the shells, where they found them. While everything, we had seen so far, were the perfectly pristine beaches and the beautifully clear water, that can be found in every travel magazine, we also wanted to learn more about some of the problems, that the Maldives is facing. There are already signs that there is trouble.
Let us acknowledge that. We have the real experience of climate change happening right here, in front of our reefs. Sea water temperatures are rising Rising sea water temperatures means that our corals are dying off.
One of the reasons why guests come here, Why tourists visit the Maldives, is our fascinating underwater world. which builds around coral If we lose the coral, we lose all the fish and all the life on the reef. If we lose the small fish, then the big ones will soon follow. And after that, we lose everything. And why would guests then come here? Following the catastrophy of climate change we are going to see a total collapse of biodiversity.
Once that happens we all have a problem living on this planet. This is a global issue. If we don't stay below the 1.5 degrees,
which we agreed to in the Paris Climate Agreement. We will have reefs dying off. To protect them, we need a global impetus. We need to do this together as a global community. However, we can also do things locally.
One of our next projects is a project where we start massive coral propagation We get coral that survives in the sea under more fluctuating temperature conditions We breed them on land and then we put them back into the ocean. We are replenishing our reefs with fresh corals. We need to do that on a large scale. A lot of resorts in the Maldives do that together with tourists but in order to really make an impact we need to have a very big scale coral propagation programme Aside from the often hard to grasp long-term consequences of global warming and rising sea levels the Maldives is also battling other urgent issues such as plastic pollution on a daily basis.
This area, we always clean it up we don't produce any plastic on the island but we still get all these little pieces of plastic from the ocean That was just 10 meters now We have just collected 3 minutes And this is the amount that we have Whilw what we found on the beach were small pieces of trash, the Maldives also struggles with much larger waste management problems. In the last decades. the lagoon of Thilafushi close by the capital Malé has developed into a trash island, where tons of trash are dumped and burnt every day. - with dire consequences for the environment.
You have extra 14-15 meters of layers of trash it is becomming literally a mountain, an island of trash. And they burn it. And it so smelly. It's so toxic. It's extremely harmful, because it's mixed waste. It is not being segregated properly. Here on Soneva Fushi, what we are trying to do we can we collect all of this trash, or waste material and we can treat it in a better way In a sense of not just collecting and then dump it in the trash island Thilafushi But we'll actually try to process it We have different partners, who pick up these bundles of trash so the paper the cans the plastic and then they recycle it.
Empowering locals is very important because when it comes to waste management it is dirty things Nobody wants anything to do with it. So what they do is let's just leave it in the ocean, because the wave will take it Or lets just burn it Because then it's gone, it disappears. It sounds like the easiest solution. But the issue with it is, the moment you burn waste, the dioxides the toxic chemicals and carcinogens substances which you inhale afterwards. It's damaging to your health.
And not only health, also for the soils. The area that is being burned, nothing can grow there anymore. That's why we have projects right now, in the end of 2021 we want to have the whole Baa Atoll stop open burning Luckily, there is light at the end of the tunnel, as creative inventors such as at Soneva implement sustainable practices, inspired by the principle of "waste to wealth". In terms of waste we segregate and recycle 92% of our waste The segregation happens in 14-15 categories from organic, to plastic, tin, metal, cardboard, paper and then they are segregated and recycled in in-house facilities as well as with partners outside the island This is basically the mother ship of Soneva where we test, trial and experiment all kind of waste to wealth initiative and look at how we can increase the life cycle of anything that is waste. If we have this bottle, what do we do with it? Or this can? We have white glass, let's recycle it in some way. The idea is always to do it on the island.
So we don't have the carbon footprint of sending it somewhere and someone else taking care of it. One of the waste items, experincing a second life at Soneva, is glass. At the resort's glass studio a team of talented glassblowers turns the remains of empty wine bottles into useful drinking cups and stunning art pieces Sometimes refered to as sculpting with light working glass is a very delicate task. The fragile material can break without much warning and requires constant attention, to be kept in its moldable state. One of the most striking techniques, is the pulling of cane, where a lump of glass is stretched, until it has the diameter of a pencil. We were especially lucky, to visit at a time when world-renowned glassblower Janusz Poźniak was residing at Soneva as a visiting artist.
Just next to the workshop, there is also a gallery where some of the glass art is presented, thus completing the circle from waste to wealth. One plant that always had a big importance for the Maldivians, is the coconut palm. Traditional Maldivian boats, called dhonis, were often made from coconut timber and the fibres of the coconut husk were used for making ropes and fishing nets.
You throw it like this and then you have the coconut in your arms And what do you do next? I don't want to lose the water. Enjoy! Thank you! Very sweet! So yummy. The coconut is one of the biggest resources we have, from waste to wealth. It is just falling off the trees. We have coconut hunters, who collect coconuts all over the island, and build this coconut mountain here.
Which is for our team to get rid off. We try to do as much as we can with it. We have already identified 13 different uses on the island. Coconuts are really a big resource. After so much learning, it was a given, that we had to raid the resort's chocolate room for some well-deserved treats. Due to the size of Kundfunudhu.
the main means of transport on the island is the bicycle. Riding slowly along the lush forest paths provided us with ample opportunity for chance findings. I spotted a group of Indian flying foxes in the trees here. With a wingspan of up to 1.5m Indian flying foxes are among the largest bats. During the day, they come to these tall trees and rest upside down often flapping themselves with their wings But in the evening, during dusk they venture out and search for fruits.
Fairly well hidden in the tall trees during the day. A good chance to find these bats, is by listening for their raucous chatter. While they wreak havoc on fruit farms, Indian flying foxes play a pivotal role in pollination and seed propagation. With the day drawing to an end we dangled our feet from the main jetty and spotted some juvenile blacktip reef sharks underneath. The shallow waters around the island act as nurseries for these young sharks, which can grow to a size of 1.8 m. Sharks are indispensable for the survival of a reef ecosystem, as they take on the role of health police.
However, their numbers are in sharp decline globally, because of the insanely cruel practice of finning, in which sharks are caught and their fins are cut off, to make soup. In most cases, the sharks are simply tossed back into the sea, resulting in their slow, torturous death by drowning. The next morning we set out on our bikes again. Soon we arrived at the gardens of the resort, where a lot of fruits, vegetables and herbs are grown. The tropical climate lends itself perfectly, for growing everything from basil to bananas on site.
Embedded in this scenery is the "Fresh in the Garden" restaurant, which can be accessed by walking over a hanging bridge. Riding through the jungle we also noticed buckets in the undergrowth at several points. As it turns out, these are mosquito traps. Instead of fogging the island with environmentally harmful pesticides, Soneva uses sustainable technology, that mimics human sweat, to trap mosquitoes. Keen to get another perspective on the house reef, we picked up a standup paddle board and a canoe. Despite the calm sea it was quite a challenge, to balance on the board.
The glass bottom had the added advantage, of seeing the reef below at all times. Later that day we hopped on a boat and soon found ourselves being tossed around. Our destination was the reef, surrounding the uninhabited island of Hibalhidhoo. Wearing a shirt for protection against the sun we eagerly jumped into the water. As soon as we dipped our heads beneath the surface, our excitement knew no bounds.
Everywhere around us, scores of fish were going about their fish business. For a total of one hour, we snorkelled along the reef edge mesmerized by the beauty of the underwater landscape. Although we never wanted to leave again, at some point it was time to return to the boat. Heading back to our villa we were welcomed by one of the most common animals on the island - the Soneva hedgehog, which barefoot travellers use, to clean the sand off their feet. To round off our day we enjoyed a romantic candlelight dinner right on the beach. After four very exciting days on Soneva Fushi it was time to say goodbye.
Luckily our trip was not yet over and so we took a boat to the floating airport. Wearing masks for the flight again, we boarded the plane and were speeding across the water in no time. Seeing the Baa Atoll pass below we had the chance to once more marvel at the vivid colours of the lagoons. After only 20 minutes of flight time we touched down again. A windy boat ride brought us to the destination of the second part of our trip - Soneva Jani in Noonu Atoll.
The resort is known for its luxurious overwater villas, that are surrounded by a beautiful lagoon. Equipped with a fresh coconut we first went on a tour around the island, whose local name is Medhafaruu. Driving on the inland trails we immediately noticed that the vegetation was very different from that on Kunfunudhuu. One tree in particular caught our attention.
The seashore screw pine is very striking because of its many prop roots, which firmly anchor the tree in the loose sand. It started from there and then roots came down like a leg it grows here and moves and then the next root grows down. And this tree has many roots. This is where it started, no, the one in the back is the main tree and then it grew further like a walking tree. Next to its funny appearance the screw pine has also proven extremely useful for Maldivians.
The tree's fruits are turned into a popular juice drink and the leaves are frequently used for mat weaving. And then it was time, to get to know our villa. This mind-blowing one-bedroom overwater villa leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. Needles to say it even comes with a retractable roof for stargazing. I thought that was a bowl full of lychees.
and just took a spoon to scoop them up Turns out they are not. We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the villa simply enyoing ourselves. Waking up to a beautifully calm day, we went for an early morning swim. Soon the sun came out too, illuminated the water and creating striking colours.
Setting out on our bikes, we decided to explore the island a little more. Arriving at the nest, we found the turtles resting, as they had miscalculated the right time to hatch. The mother turtle once she has mated she will make her way up the beach she will actually come back to the same stretch or same area, where she was born. She will dig an egg chamber she uses her flippers kind of like a shovel.
She lays about 100 eggs at a time and then will cover it back up again with sand. The eggs take about 60 days to incubate After 60 days, maybe one will hatch. They have something called an egg tooth with they use to break through the shell Once one has started to hatch it triggers all the other ones around it to hatch And they will start making their way to the surface of the sand If the top 30cm of sand is too hot they take a power nap until the sand cools down and then they wake up, which indicated it is evening time And then they will make their way to the sea. They will run down the beach imprinting on the beach as they run which is very important. And then they will make their way out to the deep ocean where they will spend about ten years of their life before coming back to the reef again We had giant smiles on our faces, as we watched, these green turtles make their way towards the ocean Having crossed the beach, these young turtles already passed one of the toughest challenges of their lives. There was no time to rest, however.
Their next task was to, to cross the shallow reef, in search of deeper water, where they would be safe from predators. Despite their small size, these hatchlings swam with an incredible speed, that I could barely keep up with. Heading back to our villa we were extremely grateful, to have witnessed such a magical moment, wishing these hatchlings the best of luck on their journey. In the evening I finally tried out our water slide full of excitement. The first attempt ended a little anticlimactic though.
After dangling my feet for a while, I gave it a second shot which soon was followed up by many more enthusiastic tries Looking at the evening sky the dark clouds already hinted at what was to come. The next morning, however, started pacefully, with the clouds passing over our villa. Looking down from our deck, we noticed that we had a visitor.
While cow-tailed stingrays are seen fairly regularly, the giant guitar fish is a rare sight. Before long we started to receive mixed messages from the weather though - while at first it had seemed to be yet another day in paradise, the scenery soon completely changed. It didn't take long, until it was bucketing down. As a tropical country rainstorms are nothing unusual in the Maldives. Even though most of the pictures just show the sunny days, the rain plays an important role in replenishing the groundwater resources, which enables the plant growth on the islands.
With the storm passing directly overhead, we felt the deep rumble of thunder vibrating throughout the villa. But just as quickly as the storm had arrived, it also passed by again. Seizing the chance to go snorkelling once more, I hopped into the water and soon came upon a spotted eagle ray. Not long after, a spotted puffer fish appeared in front of me and I decided to follow it for a while.
The shallow waters of the reef are home to countless more species of fish. Especially fascinating to see was how many small fish congregate around the corals, which emphasizes their importance for the reef habitat. The least shy of all was this white-spotted puffer, who seemed to be eyeing me just as much as I was it.
In the late afternoon we ventured out with a boat once more trying to find dolphins. It didn't take long, until we spotted a pod of bottlenose dolphins. feeding in the shallow water of the lagoon. Bottlenose dolphins are the most common dolphins globally and are also regularly seen in the Maldives. They often feed on fish, squid and crabs along the reef. With the day drawing to an end, we headed back to the island.
To round off our last evening, we went for a night out at the Overwater 'Cinema Paradiso' The next morning the clouds provided us with a spectacular final sunrise, before it was time for us, to make our way to the floating airport. And then, in the blink of an eye, we were airborne Seeing the islands of the Noonu Atoll pass below, as we bade farewell to the Maldives. One week was not enough to fully appreciate the beauty of the Maldives. Bewitched by the multicolored marine life and the picture-perfect beaches we have sworn ourselves to return some day. Until then, we hope, that many more islands will implement sustainable practices, to protect paradise, that their inhabitants call home.