Eco-friendly resort holds 24-hour scuba diving event

Eco-friendly resort Angsana Ihuru hosted a 24 hour scuba diving event to mark the 14th anniversary of its Rannamaari shipwreck and highlight the importance of protecting coral and marine life in the Maldives.

Seventy people representing 12 nationalities – including scuba divers representing all levels of experience, underwater photo journalists, and guests – participated in the “10 to 10 Rannamaari wreck” event, kicked off April 25.

A total of 138 dives and a 24-hour live webcast broadcast worldwide showcased the extraordinary marine diversity and beauty of the Maldives as well as the unique ecosystem that has developed on the shipwreck.

“The Maldives is well known for its natural beauty and among the island resorts Ansana Ihuru in particular is known for its beautiful house reef. The resort was renovated last year and attention was focused on the Marine Centre, because it is the underwater beauty we’d like to share,” said Executive Assistant Manager Henar Rios at the event’s opening ceremony.

The resort boasts of having one of the best ‘house reefs’ in the Maldives. “Seventy-five percent of Angsana Ihuru’s beauty is underwater,” Rios told Minivan News. She further explained that the resort has a 30 percent guest return rate, whereas most resorts average only five percent, even with special incentive programs in place.

“The Rannamaari wreck is now a living structure and symbol which is an extension of our reef that we will protect and share with pride,” Rios added.

The Rannamaari wreck was previously used as a dredging ship on a nearby island and was towed to Angsana Ihuru in 1999 to be used as an artificial reef. However, the ship sank “mysteriously” several days before the planned event and has since become a home for thousands of sea creatures and corals at a depth of 28 metres.

Scuba divers immediately took to the water to explore the reef following the open ceremony, which included a traditional bodu beru (drumming) performance and kurumba (tender coconut) refreshments.

Throughout the day divers and snorkelers were rotating in and out the water, exploring the Rannamaari wreck just off-shore from both the Marine Centre and Velaavani (shallow bay) Bar.

In addition to the daytime dives, a variety of unique scuba experiences took place to highlight the marine environment’s astounding changes which occur daily, including the “before dusk”, “fluorescent” underwater life, midnight, and “before dawn” dives.

A “try scuba” opportunity catered to non-certified divers, with Angsana Ihuru’s professional dive instructors carefully facilitating participants’ first underwater breathing experience in the island’s shallow lagoon.

The Rannamaari Play was a highlight of the anniversary celebration events. Resort staff creatively recounted the historical Maldivian folklore tale through a shadow-theatre performance accompanied by music and narration.

The sea demon Rannamaari previously terrorized the Maldivian people by demanding the sacrifice of a virgin girl each full moon. However, the Maldivians were saved by a Muslim traveler, who disguised himself as a women and stayed overnight in the temple reading verses of the Quran, causing Rannamaari to disappear forever. Following the traveler’s victory over the demon, the Maldives embraced Islam as a nation in 1153 AD.

Immediately following the play, the Male’-based band Flower Rain provided guests with live music at the bar.

Throughout the day’s events resort’s staff provided an assortment of delicious refreshments – including traditional Maldivian ‘short eats’ – to guests and participants, demonstrating the resort’s genuine hospitality.

In line with Angsana Ihuru’s environmental conservation focus, five percent of earnings generated from the anniversary events dives will be donated to sister-company Banyan Tree’s Green Imperative Fund, which supports community and environmental projects around the world.

The Maldivian telecommunications company Wataniya sponsored the “10 to 10 Rannamaari wreck” event.

“Unique, dive centric resort”

“The highlight of the event was the spirit that was shown by the staff of the island and the in house guests. Plus the online users who kept the momentum going,” the Marine Centre Manager and dive base leader for both Angsana Ihuru and Banyantree Maldives Vabbinfaru Adam Rasheed told Minivan News.

“The Rannamaari wreck is unique because you can swim in simply. It is very close to the reef, which means more or less all levels of divers, even a person who is in the water for the first time, will have a chance to see this.

“Now the wreck is like an artificial reef. The fish life is very, very good and very special, not to mention so easy to access,” Rasheed said.

Average underwater visibility peaks at 30 meters, while the reef drops away gradually from the powder-white sandy shoreline.

Rasheed explained that the initial idea for the “10 to 10 Rannamaari wreck” event came to him during a night dive.

“The dive was really, really good and I wondered when will two of the most important people in my life – my mom and aunt – get the chance to see something like this? So we started to build on that idea to also reflect the reopening of the resort following last year’s renovations, as well as commemorate the 14th anniversary of the wreck,” Rasheed said.

“Angsana Ihuru is trying to do something unique with more of a focus on the water and divers, to position ourselves as a dive centric resort.

“Over the years Ihuru has had an environmental focus and so we wanted to complement this and take the concept to a new level,” he added.

Rasheed further explained that during the recent renovations, the entire dive center structure was changed to reflect the resort’s focus on the underwater environment, diving, and snorkeling.

Angsana Ihuru claims to be the first resort in the Maldives to offer SNUBA, where breathing air is supplied from a long hose that is connected to a floating raft on the surface, allowing guests to dive up to six metres.

“For those who prefer snorkelling or are new to scuba diving, this gives a feel for diving without the need for deep underwater submersion.”

A plethora of marine life frequents the vibrant coral reef surrounding the resort island, including giant moray eels, scorpion fish, stingrays, eagle rays, manta rays, batfish, nurse sharks, big jack fish, and sea turtles.

Pictures and videos from the “10 to 10 Rannamaari wreck” event can be found on the Ihuru Funa Facebook or Twitter pages.

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Transport vehicles need renewable energy plan: Blue Peace

“Solar power is not the only source, and it is not enough. We have to pursue other sources as well,” said BluePeace founder Ali Rilwan about the Maldives’ recently proposed mission to cut emissions by 60 percent, using solar energy primarily.

The government’s plan was approved by the Cabinet last month, and a recent proposal from the Renewable Energy Investment Office (REIO) was submitted for crowdsourcing on the internet last week.

Rilwan called the mission admirable but incomplete. “Proposals have been made, but we haven’t seen anything in the Maldives in years,” he said. According to Rilwan, the Maldives is overlooking one of the most significant energy-consuming functions in the country: water transport.

Over 25 percent of the Maldives’ GDP is spent on diesel used for boats.

“Wetlands and vegetation absorb carbon dioxide, and the oceans are being affected by boats’ daily diesel use. But nobody has studied the specifics of carbon sinking, to calculate that 60 percent emissions reduction we need to evaluate how much needs to be done,” he elaborated. “We don’t know, we might be carbon neutral already.”

When diesel was first introduced to boats in the Maldives in the 1970s, law required that sails be kept on boats, said Rilwan. Not only was this method energy efficient, it also had cultural value.

“The sail wasn’t just carbon-neutral, it was a cultural tradition. We also used to have sailing competitions as part of our tradition. But now the sails are no longer required, although you’d think they would be a good idea for a tourist destination like the Maldives.”

Rilwan said the Ministry for Human Resources and Sports last year supported a “not so carbon friendly” motorcycle competition last year, allegedly on Hulhumale.

In January 2010, the Maldives joined 137 countries in signing the Copenhagen Accord declaring their intention to go carbon neutral by 2020. The document is not legally binding but it recognises climate change as a leading issue worldwide.

A government official said the Maldives has since focused on decarbonising the electricity sector, which accounts for over 31 percent of industrial project expenses.

Decarbonising the Maldives over the next 10 years is expected to cost the Maldives US$3-5 million.

Earlier this week, the Maldives signed the Renewable Energy through Feed-In Tariff.

The tariff is expected to reduce electricity costs by promoting a shift from oil fuel to renewable energy sources.

Rilwan praised the government’s “political will and efforts to negotiate” renewable energy in the Maldives. But he said investment in renewable energy was expensive, and that the Maldives lacks expertise.

REIO’s crowdsourcing initiative aims to improve that shortfall.

“While we are working now on the initial production planning and development we will also be looking to use local and international expertise to develop storage capacity,” said Minister for Economic Development Mahmoud Razee.

The initial plan, which is up for debate on an on-line forum, does not account for night time energy and energy storage due to its high cost. A government official said today that limiting use of solar energy to the daytime would still reduce costs significantly. Meanwhile, storage costs are expected to drop to an affordable rate in the next five to ten years.

The official added that plans addressing land transport vehicles’ energy emissions will be announced in the coming months. He noted that not only are electricity-based motorcycles and cars affordable, but Male’s small size negates the concern of going too far from a recharge station.

Although water transport energy reductions have not yet been addressed at the government level, Renewable Energy Maldives (REM) Director Hudah Ahmed said today that the company will soon be testing one of the first hybrid dhonis.

“Solar power is a viable option for the Maldives,” said Ahmed. “But we always say that energy efficiency comes before renewable energy. Consider how to do the best with what you have and what you need before you try to reinvent the system with a whole new resource.”

The REM hybrid dhoni uses a converter, and could reduce diesel consumption by 30 percent. Ahmed said the big idea is to replace current ferries and fishing boats with hybrid dhonis.

Ahmed suggested the Maldives investigate ocean thermal energy conversation (OTEC), a method of generating energy from the temperature differences between deep and shallow waters. “It isn’t commercial yet, but REM says it shouldn’t be ruled out. I think there are some areas in this country where OTEC could be useful,” said Ahmed.

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Scottish scientists optimistic that Maldives can achieve carbon-neutral status

The Maldives could use marine energy to reach its goal of becoming the first carbon neutral nation by 2020, the Scottish Government has announced.

A report produced by the Centre for Understanding Sustainable Practice (CUSP) at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, and supported by the Scottish government, explored the use of marine energy to combat trends in global warming.

Scotland’s Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Stewart Stevenson, said CUSP looks forward to further cooperative efforts with the Maldives.

“This report furthers the understanding of the challenges and opportunities for marine energy in the Maldives, and its findings will be incorporated into the developing Maldives Renewable Energy Investment Framework.”

The CUSP report analysed the technological and socio-economic possibilities for using marine energy in the Maldives, and considered the natural resources and geographic conditions.

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