maldives

Following news that the island of Thamburudhoo in the Maldives is going to be privatized, Surf Travel Agent LUEX has been campaigning against exclusivity rights to waves in the region.

A Singapore-based American investor is reportedly planning to build a private luxury surf resort on the island and been granted privacy boundaries that include the famed waves of ‘Honkey’s’ and ‘Sultan’s’. In other words, only his hotel guests will be allowed to surf there.

Depending on how much you earn, this might or might not suit you. But for the majority it’s clearly bad news. Rates are estimated to range between US$500-1,000 per person per night.

As well as restricting access to two of the region’s best waves (for both foreigners and locals alike), it’s thought this new deal will have a negative impact on other surf breaks in the region, with risks of further over-crowding at non-restricted surf spots.

Sure enough, in another press release, it’s been revealed that ADS Resorts Pvt Ltd, the leaseholders of Lohifushi Island (Hudhuranfushi Resort) have also been granted private use of the house reef which includes ‘Lohis left’. Management at the resort have appointing World Surfaris as their official surf operations manager to put in place a new plan in which on-island surfer numbers will be limited to a maximum of 35 during March to October season.

After being reviewed for almost 2 years, this decision has been taken to maintain discipline among surfers as many guests often left the resort feeling frustrated by the bad atmosphere in and out the water due to the recent influx of tourists spiralling out of control.

So what can you do to stop all this? Tim Heising, founder of LUEX Surf Travel, encourages surfers to ‘Like’ the ‘Save Thamburudhoo’ protest page on Facebook and further spread the word via social networks.

Meanwhile, it’s hard not to feel like this problem isn’t going to go away any time soon. Could exclusivity rights to surf spots in fact be a symptom of a much bigger problem?

With three-quarters of a million tourists visiting its tropical island chain every year, the Maldives' struggle with severe waste disposal problems has been well documented. Management of the environment (on which islanders depend) is becoming a bigger challenge every year. Sustainable it ain't.

Imposing quotas on the number of visitors a year (each visitor generates 3.5kg of waste every day) would be a complicated route to take for the government – how do you decide who gets to go and who doesn’t? That's where big bucks comes in, exclusivity deals and privatisation offering an easier and more workable solution.

What might appear confusing to some is that Fiji recently moved the goal posts the other way. In a bid to open up the surf industry to all locals and further develop tourism throughout the islands, Fiji’s Ministry of Tourism decided the lift all restrictions on access to Tavarua’s world-class Cloudbreak and Restaurants. Since July 2010, anyone with a boat is now able to surf these spots for free.

At the time the decree passed into law, the government wrote, "The Decree paves the way forward for all Fijians to now engage more profitably in the surfing industry as surf-tour operators, lifesavers, surfing-specialized hotels, backpacker resorts and homestays. This will be particularly so in rural and outer islands such as Lau and Kadavu where additional employment can now be generated."

With the Lau islands being opened up to coastal cruising charter boats for the first time, government officials claimed they hoped to see 20,000 more surfers a year coming to Fiji.

Now that’s 20,000 more visitors who will all be bringing with them 3.5kg of waste per day to what was previously a pristine part of the world. You have to hope the government has had the foresight to anticipate durable solutions so that 20 years down the line Fiji doesn’t find itself in the same position as the Maldives today. Tourism brings with it plenty benefits but, like with anything, too much of a good thing can quickly turn bad.