Underwater Gardening in the Maldives

Underwater Gardening in the Maldives

Bauer isn’t your average gardener. She tends her plants
bowed on her knees, delicately snipping and zip-tying branches to
nursery frames made from upcycled baskets. But look closer and
you’ll see there’s definitely a hint of magic at work. Lisa does
all this while breathing through a scuba tank and regulator,
floating six metres underwater.

This is how they do the gardening, Maldives-style. While most
travellers visit the Indian Ocean islands for holiday overkill
over-water villas
, saintly-white sandbanks, brilliant blue
waters), it is the iridescent,
reefs winking back from below the surface that
are the country’s real stand-out luxury. Before you know it, they
ambush you and you’ll have donned your snorkel or scuba gear for a
closer look.

“People are still surprised when they learn that corals and reef
systems are alive, but you’d be surprised by how fast some of the
corals grow,” says Lisa, lead marine biologist at Huvafen
, a five-star resort located in North Malé Atoll. A
pioneer of coral adoption and reforestation programmes, the PER
AQUUM resort has replanted more than 100 miniature underwater
gardens to date, transplanting fractured branches and staghorn
corals onto sustainable frames. “Over time, the broken pieces of
coral grow onto these frames, creating artificial reef systems – it
gives them a fighting chance for long-term survival.”

Within years, Bauer hopes Huvafen Fushi’s coral reef garden will
be a frenzy of pufferfish. Given time, faster growing Acropora
corals (such as staghorn and table corals) can completely cover the
structures and run amok.

Understandably, coral adoption is a priceless form of
sustainable tourism that encourages visitors to invest in not only
their tan lines but in the country’s underwater future. Because of
rising water temperatures and the archipelago’s increasing
susceptibility to coral bleaching, the workshops offer a critical
lifeline for the country’s marine life.

For nature lovers, the good news doesn’t end there. Similar
programmes have been a success in Baa Atoll, a 35-minute seaplane
flight from Malé, at the Robinson Crusoe style resort of Anantara Kihavah Villas
and at Landaa Giraavaru’s Four Seasons Resort
, where Eden-like, coral-style shrubberies are now
tended by marine experts. Here, the hotel’s coral propagation
project has transplanted a humpback-sized 120,000 fragments of
coral – making it one of the most successful reforestation projects
of its kind in the world.

Even if diving isn’t your thing, online monitoring and social
media updates are available wherever you are in the world, so
there’s no excuse not to get involved. And as the saying goes,
ringing true: darling, it’s better down where it’s wetter.