Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sustainability training: Gili Lankanfushi says no to an ocean full of plastic

We at Gili Lankanfushi realise that being sustainable starts with us.

August marks the commencement of our biannual sustainability training at Gili Lankanfushi. The first training, conducted in 2016, increased hosts’ knowledge and awareness about sustainability issues and this led to a marked decrease in water and electricity consumption in the host village. Naturally, over time, we have noticed a slight increase in electricity, water and litter, so to address this we decided to raise awareness within our team once again.

The training program aims to increase host knowledge regarding sustainability, with particular focus on plastic pollution and reducing food waste, water and electricity use. The training will achieve this by educating the hosts on exactly what plastic is, how much plastic pollution is in the ocean and what the effects of plastics are. There will be heavy emphasis on what hosts can do to protect our oceans and our health. The second part of the training will explore methods that will make the resort more sustainable. This will be achieved through slides explaining how electricity and water on the island is generated and by activities which will allow hosts to understand how much electricity and water is required for certain activities. Information will also be provided regarding food waste and the easy everyday changes that hosts can put into place to conserve resources. In addition to the above there will also be brief mention of black-naped tern conservation.

Example of one of the slides in the sustainability training - what hosts can do

We are focusing primarily on plastic during the training as plastic in the oceans is a monumental problem. Currently we have a no plastic policy with guests. But plastic still arrives on the island via tide or from Malѐ. To address this, Gili Lankanfushi is currently in the process of launching a plastic recycling project with Parley an international NGO. Parley’s project is the first of its kind in the Maldives and we are training our hosts so that they can recycle their plastic and get involved too. We will collect clean plastic like water bottles; these will be put into recycled plastic bags, when full they will be emptied into a main jumbo bag which is sent to Malѐ. Parley collects this bag and recycles it. We currently have these plastic collection bags in the dive centre, with the gardeners and in the management accommodation. During training we will roll this out in the host area.

Plastic recycling in the dive centre
Plastics are polymers containing hydrocarbons. These polymers are made from natural gas, oil, coal, minerals or plants. In addition to natural plastics (rubber from rubber trees is an example of plastics produced by nature) there are synthetic plastics - polyethylene, polystyrene and polypropylene. The first synthetic plastics were derived from cellulose heated with chemicals.  In 1600BC, Mesoamericans used natural rubber for balls, bands, and figurines. In the 1800s plastic development boomed in order to protect scarce resources, for example turtle shell and ivory which was used to make billiard balls. Plastics are desirable materials due to their flexible properties which can be altered by chemists to suit the needs of the product. The plastics that we produce today can take up to 1000 years to degrade which is why our oceans are running into serious problems.

One of the activities is for hosts to guess how long it takes for certain materials to degrade
Currently, it is estimated that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of floating plastic debris in our oceans and it has been predicted that if we stay on this current path there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. A study in the North Pacific Central Gyre in 2001 found that the mass of plastic was approximately six times that of plankton. Plastic affects every living organism, from micro plastics being ingested by fish ultimately ending up on our plates, to oceanic dead zones, to marine life entanglement and to surfers, swimmers and divers involuntarily swallowing plastics. In addition, plastic can kill marine life in a variety of ways, for example by causing starvation as their stomachs are so full of plastic they can’t eat, or by entanglement and entrapment from plastic structures. We are also affected by plastics; plastic exposure can lead to reproductive problems, hormonal changes, birth defects, diarrhea, Parkinson’s disease, brain and nervous system damages, rashes and the list goes on. This is why training our hosts about plastic waste is so critical for the ocean to survive and also for the health of all life on earth.

Host training will highlight the negative impacts of plastic pollution; more importantly the training will focus on what hosts can do to further reduce plastic pollution on Gili Lankanfushi. Hosts will leave the training knowing everyday changes they can make to help the environment and themselves. Examples include: using cloth bags and diapers, changing what they buy so reusable items are selected over single use items, such as disposal razors, water bottles and straws. In addition to educating their friends and family about the impacts of plastic pollution, hosts can also get involved in reef and beach cleans.

Hosts getting involved in host village clean up
Although our battle with plastic is just beginning, we will assist Parley with the rolling out of the plastic recycling project on the local island of Himmafushi. We are constantly working to become more sustainable and training our hosts is such an important part of our progress.

Please read our next blog for updates on how the training went and information on electricity, water and food waste!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Crown of Thorns Eradication at Gili Lankanfushi

As the corals of the Maldives are already vulnerable our understanding and removal efforts of the crown of thorns starfish is paramount to the health of our reef.

Everyday Gili Lankanfushi has sightings of the voracious crown-of-thorns starfish (COT) Acanthaster planci. Native to coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region and the largest species of starfish (Asteroidea), they are generally seen at depths of up to 30 metres. However, they have also been known to travel between Atolls at great depths of around 200m. There are four species of COT, but it is A. planci which is responsible for coral mortality in the Northern Indian Ocean and the coral triangle. COTS are corallivores and during optimal conditions can grow to over half a meter in diameter and have more than 30 arms.

Crown of Thorns
Generally COTS can be considered a keystone species because they can maintain healthy coral reef diversity by primarily feeding on fast growing corals, such as staghorn and plate (Acropora sp.) and enable the slower massive corals to establish and develop. When coral coverage is low, often resulting from COT outbreaks, COTS will eat PoritesMontipora, sponges, algae and encrusting organisms. One COT can consume all the coral in a 6 to 10m square radius annually, so the impact on an already vulnerable reef is catastrophic. The feeding behaviour is dependent on population density, water motion and species composition. COTS are covered in venomous spines coated with saponin which causes irritation and pain at a puncture wound. The spines are long, sharp and lowered to avoid drag. 

Fossil evidence suggests that COTS developed millions of years ago. However, COT outbreaks have only occurred in the last 60 to 70 years and with increasing frequency and intensity. The first recorded outbreak occurred in the 1950s in the Ryukyu Islands off Japan. Combined with anthropogenic threats and other stresses outbreaks are greatly detrimental to coral reef survival and the fish associated with the reef. 

Crown of Thorns destruction: 1 - healthy coral, 2 - freshly killed coral, 3 - recently killed portion colonised by algae and bacteria, 4 - long dead coral
COT outbreaks in the Maldives are relatively recent; the first recorded outbreak was in the 1970’s, the second in the 1990’s. Currently we are experiencing an outbreak which started in 2013. It began in North Male Atoll and has spread through to Ari Atoll, Baa Atoll, Lhaviyani Atoll, South Male Atoll and large densities have recently been documented in Shaviyani Atoll. 

Outbreaks result for a variety of reasons. Firstly, when there is an excess of nutrients entering the water as a consequence of runoff from sewage, fertiliser and other island practices. The resulting eutrophication leads to increased plankton for the COT larvae and decreased juvenile mortality. Secondly, loss of COT predators; napoleon wrasse, lined worm, harlequin shrimp, starry puffer fish, titan and yellow margin triggerfish and triton’s trumpet (red and spangled emperor and parrotfish have been known to feed off young COTS before they have spines). 

COT being predated upon by Triton’s Trumpet.
Loss of predators occurs due to overfishing for the souvenir trade, bycatch and habitat destruction. This leads to a drop in already low predation pressure and results in a COT population surge. Finally, COTS have excellent adaptations as they are resilient organisms with an R selected life history (high growth rate, typically exploit less crowded ecological niches and produce many off spring). COT females can produce 65 million eggs annually between October to February. The eggs are released into the water column and are fertilized by clouds of sperm from nearby males. After fertilisation larvae are in their planktonic form and remain that way for weeks. After settling on the sea floor and developing into their adult form they develop their spines and start feeding off coral. This process can take around a year. COTS are most vulnerable before their spines are developed. Additionally, they can survive between 6 to 9 months without food, and body parts lost due to stress or predation can regenerate within 6 months. 

Short and long term methods are being established around the world to minimise the effects of current outbreaks and to help prevent future outbreaks. The marine biology team at Gili Lankanfushi is focused on the removal of COTS. Our primary aim is removing these creatures from the overwater villas and jetty’s. Guests and hosts report sightings of COTS, and our team of marine biologists will remove them by injecting them with vinegar. This method is labour intensive and is carried out as regularly as possible by both the Marine Biology team and the Dive Centre. For more information or to report a COT sighting, please follow this link.

Marine Biologist, Emma and Dive Team members Harvey and Layyan preparing to eradicate COTs on our House Reef
Written by Emma Bell

Saturday, July 8, 2017

To eat or not to eat - sustainable fisheries

As our understanding of the ocean grows, more people want to know where their food is coming from and how it landed on their plate. 

Global fisheries have been under pressure in recent decades due to the technological advancement of fishing fleets.  We are now able to catch more fish at a faster rate and for some fish populations, this has resulted in dire consequences. They are not able to repopulate at a fast enough rate to combat declining numbers.

International research projects allow us to identify which fish species need special attention and which we can eat within reason.  A movement has come about in recent years to help educate consumers and fishermen about which species should not or should be fished or consumed. With this knowledge, families and business are able to make sustainable choices when they buy their fish.  They can chose to only purchase sustainable fish species that have been sustainably caught.

So what are sustainable fish? They are fish that are caught in a way that the vitality of the species and the environment is not being harmed in the long term. 

There are two main factors which determine whether a fishery is sustainable: how healthy the population is and the method of catch. Some fishing methods such as bottom trawling, are very destructive as they plough up the ocean floor, others are indiscriminate and catch more than just the fish species they are targeting.

With fishing being the second largest industry in the Maldives after tourism, it is easy to see why overfishing has started to become a problem here. Fishing has always been a part of Maldivian culture, like President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said: “Fishing is the lifeblood of our nation”, the problem only started to become bigger, as export and tourism started growing.

The most unsustainable fish on the market in the Maldives today are Bluefin Tuna, Tropical prawns, Marlin, Sharks, Skates, Rays and Eels. To try to reduce the loss of species in the Maldives, certain laws surrounding catch and fishing techniques have been introduced to enable sustainable fishing. One is the pole and line method, which involves individuals catching tuna with a single line. Many young fishermen have taken up this technique as they have seen their stocks diminish and want to take sustainable action.  One of the most over fished species in the Maldives is Yellowfin Tuna, so by catching the tuna one-by-one, with a pole and line, the number of tuna caught is reduced and other marine life is not being harmed in the process.

The International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF) supports local communities in the Maldives. Due to the fisheries act of 1987, Maldivian tuna fisheries now follow the pole and line regulations. This fishery is hailed as the most successful MSC certified pole-and-line tuna fishery in the world. At Gili Lankanfushi, we also strive to eat only sustainably caught, sustainable species. We only accept Bonito Tuna, Dogtooth Tuna, White Tuna, Job Fish, Rainbow runner, Jack fish, Trevally, Mackerel, Emperor Fish, Wahoo, Red Snapper and Yellow Snapper from our local fishermen.
So how can you help? You can make a concerted effort to buy sustainable seafood which can be found on the Marine Stewardship Council certified products list, or simply ask for a certificate or proof of the fish you are buying’s origin. You can also spread the word about buying only sustainable fish to as many people as you can.

Just remember:  You have the right to ask your fish supplier or fish monger where your fish came from and how it was caught. If you are not completely satisfied with the answer, do not buy the fish!

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.