Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Sustainable Focus

"In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." - Baba Dioum

On World Oceans Day 2017, Gili Lankanfushi opened its new Marine Biology Shack, ‘Gili Veshi’, which translated from the Dhivehi language means Gili’s Environment.

Marine Biologist and Intern Vici on opening
Gili Veshi is an educational centre open to hosts, guests, local communities and local schools so they can learn more about their environment and how to better protect it. One area of focus within the shack is our Sustainability Shelf which guides viewers along the processes used to keep our food and waste systems sustainable. It features one member of our Green Team who has made it his mission to turn our kitchen and garden into a center for sustainability:

John Bakker is Gili’s Executive Chef and he has been working on developing and expanding the Organic Garden since his arrival on the island in 2012.   From humble beginnings as cluttered ornamental herb garden, the Chef has built a team of traditional method farmers from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to help bring historical practices and authenticity to the production. Through the hard work of the first two years the garden has grown to its present size with 105 individual beds growing a consistent supply of the islands lettuces and soft herbs for guests and staff alike.  

Garden Plots
Chef John Bakker
Chef John comes from generations of Dutch Canadian farmers who lived within a larger community of agriculturists. He was influenced by the farming and market garden lifestyle of Southwestern Ontario in the 80’s being encouraged to respect those that work with and live off the land. As he rose through the ranks at international culinary destinations he continued to incorporate the freshest ingredients into his work, often from the classical kitchen gardens of Europe. Today, Chef John is the leading edge of the Gili Lankanfushi home grown, sustainable and organic culinary concept, environment and waste management.

To ensure steady growth of the garden, the team initially began using a time tested method of composting organic waste by burying plies of garden waste under the normal garden topsoil to return some of the captured carbon and nutrition to the beds.  Although this was an effective method it was time consuming and inefficient and only allowed then to utilize a small portion of the total waste available. In an effort to find a more efficient and sustainable solution Chef John happened upon a contact with British waste management company “Tidy Planet.”  Through a consultation with them and following an extensive waste audit Gili Lankanfushi decided to purchase the Maldives first and only Mechanical Biological Composter aka “The Rocket.”  Basically a large self-contained composting chamber, The Rocket allows Gili Lankanfushi to process and compost 100% of the organic waste produced in all the kitchens and return it to the garden a fertile organic compost.

The Rocket Composter
Since The Rocket has been in service for a year Chef John has also started a barrel composting system for jungle/island waste as well as a very exciting new project called Vermiculture or worm composting. 

The waste management system at Gili Lankanfushi starts in the kitchens by aggressively separating all kitchen waste into specific bins for wet and dry waste.  The collected food waste is processed through a dewatering machine which reduces the total volume of waste by chopping it into small pieces and extracting any excess moisture/water/juice. This finished dried product it the food that powers The Rocket and eventually becomes compost. 

To create compost, the dried food waste is mixed together with some chopped jungle waste (mulch) and added to the Rocket Composter. The rocket composter revolves 8 times every two hours and slowly develops the heat and bacterial activity required for decomposition.  After 18 days of mechanical processing the active material falls from the hopper and is collected by the gardeners.  This active compost is placed into a holding bed to mature for a minimum one month by which time it is ready to be used throughout the garden as organic fertilizer.   

The development and production of the organic garden has allowed Gili Lankanfushi to tailor its food offering throughout the resort and given us an opportunity to choose the freshest as well as the most sustainable options when developing the menus.  This concept is not more readily apparent then within the Lunch salad bar concept in the Over Water Bar which utilizes 15 different types of organically grown salads and herbs daily.

Lunch Leaves
Gili Lankanfushi is committed to continuing the sustainable ecological philosophy throughout the resort.  We are so proud of our new Marine Biology Shack that will continue to teach others about the developing suitability process coming out of Chef Johns Kitchen and Garden. If you would like to learn more, please join us for an eco-tour of the resorts processes and visit us in Gili Veshi. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Coral Colonies of Hope

Preserving coral reefs is a growing concern in the Maldives. 

At Gili Lankanfushi, we are recovering our coral reefs through the Coral lines Project. By growing small fragments of coral on hanging ropes (lines) and then transplanting them to our house reef near One Palm Island, we hope to see regeneration and aim to kick start the health of our house reef.

Our Coral Lines Project started three years ago and currently holds around 7484 coral colonies. We are consistently adding small fragments of coral to the already growing population on 153 lines.

Josie monitoring our 153 coral lines
The vulnerable nature of coral populations mean that they undergo cycles of disturbance and recovery. Our house reef was affected by warmer waters created by the El Nino event in 2016 which bleached much of the corals. Yet against all odds, most fragments in our coral lines nursery survived.  They have also been faced with a Crown of Thorns (coral predators) outbreak this year and have still remained intact.  In some cases, the corals in our lines are no longer present on shallow reefs in the area.

Now, is the perfect time to begin stage two of our coral restoration project by moving coral from our nursery to our house reef.  Transplanting coral is a delicate procedure with a lot of trial and error. We began slowly by creating a test site with a small number of coral colonies to ensure we would not lose healthy coral unnecessarily.

Josie beginning the process

We found a site with conditions not too dissimilar to the nursery. The area had to be flat and solid, with no loose material and space for growth.  It also had to be an area that is easily accessible for monitoring, but nowhere in danger of tampering or accidental damage.  We chose a depth of 8 metres in the middle of house reef drop off where we regularly snorkel. Another major concern was the Crown of Thorns Starfish, so we placed the coral in an area visited regularly by Harvey Edwards, Ocean Paradise Dive Centre manager, who has been removing these starfish from the reef for months.

Clare cutting the coral from the line

The next step was to cut the colonies from the lines in the nursery, and transport them in mesh bags in the water. We decided to use three different Acropora species to begin with as they are fast growing and like a lot of light and a moderate current. Once at the site, we cleaned the area of algae and attached the coral to ensure protection from extreme water movement. We placed them an equal distance apart to allow quick growth and attached the coral using epoxy, which is a clay like cement. We were aware from previous studies that Miliput (epoxy clay) has been seen to kill the part of the coral it is attaching, so we placed small amounts of putty at the base of the coral.

Once a week, for a total of six weeks, we will measure growth and survivorship of the coral.  We hope to replicate the test at different depths and locations to find a suitable site to start a larger restoration project. However, we will hold off on most of the major transplantation until after the monsoon season.
Attaching the colonies using epoxy
Due to the fragility of coral species, our rehabilitation plans are very flexible, and subject to a long monitoring period.  We expect to adapt our approach and long term management to ensure we keep up with the changing environment of the reef. Previous restoration plans have been hindered by external threats, so we are so excited to finally begin this project. We will be producing scientific data along the way which we hope will contribute to current coral reef rehabilitation knowledge.

Although our transplants are working well so far, we will still have many question to answer in the future such as: are the corals on the house reef still reproducing? As these corals survived the last bleaching, will they be more genetically suited to future hostile conditions? The answers to these questions are all just a work in progress and we will have to keep on watching and learning as we replant and monitor these corals over the next few years. As our house reef sustained a lot of mortality and the coral cover is low, we hope that this new project will help to rejuvenate the reef and raise awareness.

Marine Team
Photo Credit to Harvey Edwards

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Turning Tides at Gili Lankanfushi

The tides are changing here at Gili, as we say goodbye to well-loved faces and welcome new ones.

Deborah Burn hard at work
After three years of dedicated work as the resident Marine Biologist and Environmental Officer, Deborah Burn is moving onto live and work in New Zealand. She has set a fantastic example of how to run a marine program by combining her passion and knowledge of marine conservation to create lasting connections with local and global marine organizations.  She also raised the bar on the guest excursions and the experimental science carried out at the resort. Thank you for doing such a fantastic job Debs. 

Next week, we also say goodbye to our other resident biologist, Assistant Marine Biologist, Josie Chandler.  Josie has worked at Gili for two years and was responsible for creating and delivering the sustainability training to almost the entire 300 hosts and also co-managed the coral lines project. Josie is leaving in search of her next piece of paradise and currently plans to spend the end of the year underwater in a remote, tropical location. 

Josie Chandler completing her Rescue Diver qualification
The hard work put in by these marine biologists and sustainability educators has ensured that everyone at the resort knows more about how their day to day habits affect the environment around them.  Since receiving proper training, the energy consumption, water use and waste management has been considerably reduced in host areas. You will both be missed.

The successful projects instigated by Debs and Josie will now be passed down to our new Marine Biologist and Environmental Officer, Clare Baranowski. 

Clare in her new role
Clare is extremely excited to be here: She aims to build the marine biology team to include both an international and Maldivian marine biologist. “I am looking forward to continuing the great work of Debs, Josie and Vaidas. I am hoping to incorporate some long term goals of my own working with hosts and local communities.”

Clare will start her term by opening the long awaited Marine Biology Centre on World Oceans Day 8th June 2017.  The name of this beautiful building is yet to be confirmed. We have put it to the hosts to come up with ideas and we received over 100 suggestions. Stay tuned to find out which name is chosen.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Majestic Mantas of North Male Atoll

Of course we were devastated as our incredible 2016 Manta season came to a close, with the last spectacular gathering on our cleaning station coming in on November 23rd, followed by the odd sighting through until December 20th.

However, best not to dwell, as the Mantas have already re-appeared on the Western side of our atoll! This is only a 35 minute boat ride away, and this time they're on a cleaning station that is only 2m deep: Rasfari! One of my favourite places to see Mantas in the Maldives, this station allows snorkelers of all abilities the amazing experience of swimming with a gentle giant!! 
Because this special area is so shallow, it is more important than ever for us to abide by the Manta interaction guidelines set forward by the Manta Trust. Guide "Divey" was more than happy to head out on today's training session (Right). If only all work-related training included Manta snorkeling... 

The Mantas are here because the seasonal winds have changed direction, pulling all their planktonic food to the West. This means we get to see the exact same individuals, but in a totally different setting. We couldn't be happier to see our favourite male Manta "Simple" over at Rasfari last week. Simple is one of the smaller males, last seen by us at the back of the pack of males courting big female "Pickle" in October. This time we saw him cruising over the shallow reef alone, getting a good scrub from those all important cleaner fish, whilst Pickle was seen feeding with 7 friends in Bodu Hithi Channel a few days later. With his missing tail, single clasper, and distinctive 3 spot pattern, Simple is easy to tell apart from his fellow Mantas. He also wins the prize for 'most photographed Manta belly' at Gili Lankanfushi due to his super friendly nature! 

If anyone is heading to Maldives in the next few months, make snorkeling with mantas your must-do activity, and check out the Manta Interaction Guidelines to maximise your experience!