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Press Release

Banyan Tree Marine Lab in Maldives welcomes new Manager and initiatives in 2010

Category: Corporate Social Responsibility

25 Feb 2010

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Singapore- After celebrating its fifth anniversary milestone in January 2009, Banyan Tree’s flagship Maldives Marine Lab looks forward to its sixth year of operations in 2010, with continuing research on Maldives’ marine life and specific attention on turtles, sharks and corals. Located at Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru in the North Malé atoll, and shared by sister island resort Angsana Ihuru, this is the Group’s first and flagship Marine Lab in Maldives, and also the longest running resort-based marine research facility in the Maldives.

Dr. Steven Newman is the newly appointed Marine Lab Manager, joining the Banyan Tree Group in late 2009. He is responsible for managing the operations of the Marine Lab, including the design and implementation of research projects. He brings with him a wealth of experience working with marine life, including 15 years of studies on sharks, having personally tagged and released close to 3000 individuals.

Armed with a PhD in Marine Ecology from Plymouth University, England, Dr. Newman is more than eager to test the new waters.

He remarks, “Coming from an academic research and teaching background, joining a corporate environment was entering unknown territory. In this global market it is all too common for organisations to give the appearance of being “green” rather than acting green. However, I came into this environment with an open mind, and high expectations. I have not been disappointed. The level of social and environmental stewardship exhibited by Banyan Tree is rare, and is evident since its foundation, which has subsequently influenced the development and management of the company. The award-winning and long-serving Marine Lab on Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru is the product of this philosophy that I am proud to be guiding into the future.”

Since his arrival in the Maldives, Dr. Newman has been occupied with his new duties as well as the opportunity for novel events, such as filming underwater during the century’s longest solar eclipse on 15 January 2010 to analyse the eclipse’s effect on fish behaviour.

Continuing Stewardship Role 
The Marine Lab was established in 2004 to spearhead Banyan Tree’s Corporate Social Responsibility activities in the Maldives. Since its inception, the mission of the Marine Lab has been to conduct conservation, restoration, education and research projects to benefit the Maldives, the resort and its guests, as well as the local environment. The Lab’s challenge this year is to further its work in the following areas:

* Potential return of El Niño
Much of the Marine Lab’s mission has been influenced by the severe El Niño event of 1998, which resulted in mass bleaching and mortality of corals worldwide. To bring about coral recovery, which in turn helps protect the islands of the Maldives from tidal damage and erosion, the Marine Lab embarked on projects such as construction of electric reefs, as well as systemic monitoring of the marine environment, complemented by shark and turtle conservation and education programmes. As of 2009, the resort reefs surrounding Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru and Angsana Ihuru in the North Malé Atoll have reached a 45% overall coral cover in the recovery after the 1998 El Niño bleaching, a rate that is two to five times higher than other surveyed reefs in the central and northern Maldives.

The Lab’s hard work will be tested in the years to come, as the UK Met Office has forecast a severe El Niño event to occur in 2010, reaching temperatures that could exceed that of 1998, making it the warmest year on record since the beginning of instrumental records in 1850. The Marine Lab team are currently deploying in-water temperature loggers and developing baseline levels of coral coverage and diversity in order to monitor and quantify the effects of any potential change in reef and associated faunal communities.

* Supporting education and research 
The lack of formal tertiary education institutes in the Maldives means the Marine Lab plays a de facto, important role in creating educational opportunities and conducting research for the benefit of the Maldives. In February 2010, the Lab hosted its first two visitors of the year – Mr. Zambe Zubair, an intern from the National Disaster Management Centre on Malé, at the request of the Minister of State for Housing Transport and Environment; as well as Mr. Kyle Morgan, a visiting scientist from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, who is studying island erosion.

* Green sea turtle research
Green sea turtles regularly nest on the beaches of Vabbinfaru and Ihuru, and the Marine Lab has been conducting a research programme focusing on these endangered and overfished animals. Turtles suffer from high mortalities as juveniles – with approximately only one in 600 reaching adulthood. Part of the Turtle Head Start project is to help stocks recover by increasing the survival rates of juveniles by keeping 10% of the hatchlings and caring for them during the first 12-18 months of life, prior to tagging and release. In 2009, the Marine Lab successfully released six grown turtles back into the wild.

In previous years, the post-release movements of six selected green turtles were tracked using satellite transmitters, furthering the knowledge of their habits as they roamed the oceans. Other selected visiting turtles were tagged with titanium tags, and encouragingly, one such rare turtle from December 2008 estimated to be between 50 to 70 years old, returned in February 2009 to Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru to lay a total of six nests. Turtles typically return to the same beach where they hatched to lay their own eggs, and the Marine Lab ensures as much as possible that the island’s beaches remain conducive for returning turtles to propagate in the face of their declining numbers.

* Blacktip shark research
Research projects focusing on ecologically important species that are also threatened have the potential for substantial local and scientific benefit, as well as holding great interest for visitors to the region. Sharks are one such group of animals, which have long been a source of fear and/or fascination for mankind. However, these predators are becoming increasingly rare on Maldivian reefs, and as a consequence the Government of the Maldives implemented a ban on all shark fishing within 12 nautical miles in March 2009. In March 2010, this ban will be extended to include the export of any shark product.

The Marine Lab lauds this initiative, and with Dr. Newman on board, intends to develop a research project to observe and learn more about the blacktip reef sharks. Commonly observed around Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru and Angsana Ihuru, juveniles utilise the shallow lagoons encircled by the reef though little is known about the early life history of these animals. To increase the awareness and literature on these elegant marine creatures, Dr. Newman is exploring methods to conduct non-lethal dietary analysis, as well as tracking to assess habitat use and movements. Such information will provide useful information for monitoring growth, survival and stock replacement, enabling the Marine Lab to expand the shark work beyond this species, assisting the Government to assess the recovery of shark stocks throughout the Maldives, and eventually supporting this with an education program similar to the turtle project.

Further information on Marine Lab initiatives can be found in the Banyan Tree Corporate Social Responsibility website at banyantree.com/csr.

About Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru
Launched in 1995, Vabbinfaru in Divehi means “round island circled by a round coral reef”. This paradise island of North Malé Atoll is just 20 minutes by speedboat from the airport. It is on this island of white coral sand, surrounded by what must be the bluest water in the world, that sit 48 captivating villas cooled by the natural sea breeze of the Indian Ocean. The resort’s house reef is ideal for snorkelling straight off the beach; while stingrays are fed along the beach every day at 5pm.

For hotel reservations, please contact Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru at +960 664 3147, or Banyan Tree Main Reservations at +65 6849 5800. One–stop reservations at the best rates can be made on the award-winning website, banyantree.com.