Sun, sea and philanthropy? With an emphasis on travel that gives back, Carrier investigates how Six Senses is turning to science to pave the way to meaningful – and green – experiences.
Words: Lauren Romano
How to travel without costing the Earth: it’s a conundrum faced by many eco-conscious globetrotters. The answer, unfortunately, isn’t always straightforward. After all, sustainable jet-setting involves more than sleeping in a yurt and shunning single-use plastics.
It goes much deeper than that. When it comes to protecting our planet for future generations, an emphasis on reducing, reusing and recycling is undeniably crucial – but to be truly immersed in a destination involves a commitment to conserving cultural heritage and natural habitats.
Carrier believes that travel should be purposeful and enlightening – and create genuine experiences that enable you to engage in a deeper, more meaningful way by tuning in to your surroundings. As these sustainable (and sumptuous) initiatives at Six Senses affirm, giving back is more than token gestures and greenwashing – it’s about making connections that have a lasting legacy. Together, scientific research and long-term collaboration with local communities can have a positive impact for both people and the planet – here’s how.
With the Indian Ocean lapping at its feet, Six Senses Laamu could have come straight from the pages of a Robinson Crusoe castaway travelogue. The remote atoll setting is as idyllic as they come: a palm-fringed paradise of sugar-white sands, sapphire seas – and, if you look closely, five hectares of seagrass meadows swaying in the shallow waters.
This grassy haven might be a hotbed of reef fish and endangered green sea turtles, but sadly it’s not a common site across the Maldives. In a bid to create the crystal-clear waters that Instagram posts are made of, many resorts are choosing to deliberately remove the indigenous plants, which is why the 10-strong team of marine biologists at Six Senses Laamu has been spearheading a nationwide campaign to save them.
As well as re-introducing meadows to one side of the resort, the team are re-educating guests and the wider community as to how tourism and wildlife preservation can happily coexist. After all, what could be more mood-enhancing than the thrill of catching a glimpse of the atoll’s furtive rays and parrotfish as they glide through the reeds?
“Whether it’s watching green sea turtles feed metres from their villas or snorkelling alongside eagle rays, numerous guests have praised us for pledging to help protect our seagrass,” says general manager Marteyne van Well.
But the conservation crusade doesn’t end there. The resort has partnered with three NGOs (The Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation and Olive Ridley Project) to form award-winning marine conservation initiative, the Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI). The collective prioritises research, guest education and community outreach to promote greater awareness of the marine environment – and it’s working.
At the last count, 420 resident sea turtles and 125 resident manta rays have been identified and protected by the team, while 1,500 community members have pledged to support sea turtle conservation.
Taking an active role in conservation is undoubtedly cathartic as it presents an opportunity to reconnect with yourself as well as with your surroundings – and those who want to dive in headfirst can do so at the local coral reef. In 2016, the Maldives experienced three weeks of 32°C water which caused many of the corals to expel their algae and perish. Since then, the marine team has been inviting guests to take part in diving missions to collect broken pieces of coral and plant them in a nursery where, once they have reached a larger size, they will be returned to the reef to assist in its recovery.
The landlocked Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is the world’s only carbon-negative country, which is why Six Senses Bhutan (which is made up of five lodges: Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Gangtey and Bumthang) takes its role as custodian of the surrounding untouched mountain ranges so seriously – and now guests have the opportunity to get involved too.
With valleys covered by a thick carpet of greenery for as far as the eye can see, each Six Senses residence in Bhutan is in the most sensational of settings – but finding joy in nature here is more than stopping to listen to the rustle of leaves in the breeze, or marvel at the kaleidoscope of verdant hues on the horizon.
For its latest initiative, the Six Senses Bhutan collection has introduced organic farming to the valleys around its remote lodges. Together, the team of 90 staff grow and harvest 100 native varieties of vegetables, which you can sample from an array of authentic dishes (and experience in a range of heavenly spa treatments), with all surplus ingredients donated to local monasteries.
You will be encouraged to get green-fingered; plans are in the pipeline to develop a farm-to-plate concept that will enable participants to learn how to both handpick and prepare seasonal produce through a series of cookery masterclasses.
But it’s not just each resort’s kitchen that will benefit – Six Senses Bhutan is also investing in local farming by establishing an eco-village near to its Paro Lodge in Damchena. An education centre for the local community, created in partnership with local farmers and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, the eco-village offers training courses on best farming practices, nutrition, recycling and waste management.
Skirted by prehistoric-looking jungle foliage and craggy rock formations, Six Senses Zil Pasyon is a slice of Eden. As the sole occupant of the far-flung island of Félicité, the resort teems with flora and fauna that looks as though it has thrived there since the dawn of time – except that swathes of it have only recently been replanted.
For the island is on a mission to restore its indigenous and endemic plants, shrubs and trees, which for a time were driven to the brink of extinction due to a number of invasive species taking root on Félicité.
The landscaping team, led by the resort’s ecologist Steve Hill, have worked tirelessly for a decade to reinstate the island’s ecology. So far, three critically endangered plant species and counting (Wright’s gardenia, Vateriopsis seychellarum and Drypetes riseleyi) have been saved, which is good news for certain rare birds that had previously vanished from the island and avid ornithologists who want to become acquainted with the island’s inhabitants.
Today, you can spot species such as the Seychelles Magpie Robin, Paradise Flycatcher, White-eye, Warbler and Fody darting between the newly-reinstated undergrowth where once a tangled mass of invasive coco-plum had thrived. With coastal habitats also now much improved, it is hoped that seabirds will return to the island in numbers to nest, so have your binoculars at the ready for a chance to glimpse this memorable moment just as nature intended.
Six Senses Kaplankaya is steeped in history. With archaeological sites on its doorstep, including two of the Seven Wonders of the World, the cypress-covered domain has changed little over the centuries. In a bid to preserve this pristine natural idyll, the resort is combining timehonoured traditions with innovation at its Earth Lab – a concept that exists at all Six Senses properties.
As the moniker suggests, the Earth Lab takes a scientific approach to nurturing the landscape. From creating alternatives to plastic straws and distilling natural insecticides from plants to composting food waste, the dedicated eco area is where the resort’s sustainability initiatives are shared with guests who are encouraged to roll their sleeves up and get stuck in.
There are a range of activities to take part in: children can learn about foraging, farming and recycling during Grow with Six Senses workshops, while eco-warriors of all ages can benefit from some handy life hacks, such as extracting essential oils from herbs or making compost and chemical-free detergent. You can even continue the good work long after your visit as the Earth Lab’s seed bank enables you to choose and grow organic produce back home. Finally, local hosts and community members are on hand to share their experiences of how sustainable tourism can have a positive impact on the environment and the people who live there.
Ultimately, by showcasing the science behind some of its sustainability initiatives, the resort hopes to inspire others to follow in its footsteps, and make small changes that will stay with you forever.
THE POWER OF YOU
Six Senses is not only conscious about the planet but also about ‘self’ and wellbeing. From the food you eat to the way you sleep, wellness is integrated into your whole Six Senses experience. Personalised wellness programmes dive deeper to discover what your body really needs and with dedicated specialists in the fields of nutrition, sleep, neuroscience and cardiovascular health, doctors combine science and best practices to achieve optimum outcomes. These are the most rewarding of holidays, where you can take measurable action and have a positive impact not only on the planet and communities, but also on yourself.