Banyan Tree Maldives Marine Lab, Velavaru

In late 2006, a second research facility, the Banyan Tree Maldives Marine Lab, was established on the island of Velavaru in the South Nilandhe Atoll. The Banyan Tree Velavaru Marine Lab is a research facility which aims to further understand and safeguard the incredible diversity of the Maldivian reefs and ocean. Furthermore, it hopes to introduce and share with resort guests the joy and importance of marine conservation, by actively encouraging guests to get involved in the discovery, protection and conservation of local marine wildlife and corals.

In the period leading up to the Marine Lab’s opening, guests and the Marine Lab team have planted four coral gardens in the lagoon, improving the underwater environment surrounding Velavaru. The Marine Lab offers guests of Angsana Velavaru the opportunity to become involved in this vital undertaking even as they enjoy the exploration of marine life.

Complimentary marine biology classes are conducted twice a week by the resort's resident Marine Biologist. Short presentations of “Origins of Maldives and Corals” and “Maldivian Reef Fishes” also provide guests with a deeper understanding of these underwater wonders. Guided Snorkelling Safaris conducted twice a week are the highlight for guests, who are brought to two separate locations for an eye-opening session with the inhabitants of the sea.

Research and Education
Coral reefs are the heart of Velavaru Island, geologically and biologically. They support 25 per cent of all marine life and protect the coasts from wave erosion. Yet, they are poorly understood. Banyan Tree Velavaru Marine Lab has undertaken a variety of research projects regarding various aspects of reef ecology and inhabitant species, in an effort to expand existing knowledge of the ecosystem of the South Nilandhe Atoll.

Beginning in 2007, the Marine Lab will also focus on protecting sea turtles, a keystone species particularly vulnerable to a wide range of destructive human activities. Angsana Velavaru is a known turtle-nesting site, home to two critically endangered species – the Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtles. Conservation of nesting sites is not only vital to the continued survival of both species; it ensures that future generations will be able to share in the delight of these creatures just as many guests of Angsana Velavaru, young and old, have. The Marine Lab will thus begin surveying and safeguarding turtle nests this year. The surveys, to be conducted under consultation with the Banyan Tree Marine Lab team in Vabbinfaru, are important in ascertaining information about the breeding population.

Since its founding, the Maldives Marine Lab has hosted groups of school children from local communities for hands on marine conservation sessions. As children from the local schools are the future guardians of the local marine environment, it is vital to arouse awareness and interest in conservation. Holistic Conservation Extremely popular with recreational divers because of their exquisite beauty but generally uncommon in the Maldives, soft corals are among components of a reef community. In March 2007, the Marine Lab on Velavaru tested soft coral transplantation, a technique proven successful in Indonesia. This testing will help raise awareness for coral issues as well as testing new options to take coral regrowth to a new level in the Maldives.

Conservation of Specific Species
In response to an observed widespread mortality of reef fish thought to be caused by harmful microalgae, Banyan Tree Maldives Marine Lab partnered with the Marine Research Centre, to fly in Dr. Jacob Larsen, an expert from IOC Science and Communication Centre on Harmful Algae, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. The team established testing which revealed that while there were harmful algae, it was not abundant enough to cause the widespread fish deaths. While the project did rule out a harmful algal bloom, it unfortunately was unable to determine the exact cause. Dr. Larsen’s visit did however raise awareness and introduced a new set of data to monitor the overall health of the marine environment, helping to build the capacities or marine biologists throughout the Maldives.