The lighthouse stands guard over the wetlands. Perched at one end of Koattey, it was built by the British who had a military base on the nearby island of Gan during World War II. Scattered across this area are other points of historical interest including the remains of an old fort. However, while tourists may pause to appreciate the ruins, it’s not what they’ve come to see.
Hithadhoo, the capital of Addu city in the Maldives is home not only to the Koattey Protected Area, but also to Eydhigali Kilhi, one of the largest wetlands in the country. This area, lush and beautiful, is famous for its birds. The eastern grey Heron, the Maldivian pond heron, little egret and white tern can be spotted throughout the year. The white tern or dhondheeni, also seen here, is considered a symbol of Addu. This is just one of an estimated 41 islands in the Maldives that boast wetlands.The lighthouse stands guard over the wetlands. Perched at one end of Koattey, it was built by the British who had a military base on the nearby island of Gan during World War II. Scattered across this area are other points of historical interest including the remains of an old fort. However, while tourists may pause to appreciate the ruins, it’s not what they’ve come to see.
Wetlands are the new tourist attractions in the Maldives
33-year-old Aishath Farhath Ali has been working in conservation for 11 years. The Wetlands Component Coordinator for Climate Change Adaptation Project (CCAP) at the Maldivian Ministry of Environment and Energy, Aishath is passionate about preserving the island nation’s wetlands.
“Maldives is a developing country,” she says, explaining that that can mean the budget tends to prioritise infrastructure and utility services. “However, due to our fragile nature, biodiversity conservation is a priority for our government…Through this project we will establish the first terrestrial park in this country,” she says. She hopes it will give tourists another reason to visit a country famous for its beaches and coral reefs.
Nature-based tourism is the engine of economic growth in this island nation, accounting directly for about 28 percent of the country’s GDP. About 800,000 tourists visit the country annually, but as coral reefs are degraded, the Maldives has to look for ways to support the tourism sector.
To make the wetlands more attractive to visitors, new facilities including visitor centres, bird observatories, interpretive signage and changing rooms are being built under CCAP in Hithadhoo. Visitors can hire boats and canoes to explore, go bird-watching or hiking, or simply wander along scenic boardwalks in both wetlands. While foreigners are expected to turn up in numbers, it is the locals that are likely to really enjoy these facilities.
CCAP is funded by the European Union and the Government of Australia. It is administered by the World Bank and implemented by Ministry of Environment and Energy. Through interventions in wetland management and solid waste management in the Addu and Gnaviyani atolls, the project will benefit more than 4,800 households.
A ‘primary defense’ against climate change
Tourists aside, for an island nation like the Maldives, which is grappling with climate-change related risks — including sea-level rise, ocean acidification, increasing air and sea surface temperatures, and changing rainfall patterns — wetlands offer essential protection.
Fuvahmulah city on the Gnaviyani atoll – another designated protected area falling under CCAP – sees heavy rainfall. Its wetland catchments play an indispensable role in flood management explains Mohammed Hamdhaan, an environment and social safeguards officer for the CCAP.
The Maldives comprises some 26 atolls and 1,190 islands – all of which are low lying with an average elevation of only 1.5m. Wetlands, which can store several tens of million cubic meters of water, act as barriers against rising sea levels and flooding caused by extreme weather events.
Wetlands contribute to waste water management, groundwater recharge, freshwater storage, and purify water that flows through their systems. Plants found here are critical in controlling erosion – erosion of the shoreline is already a severe issue in 64 percent of the Maldivian islands.
As their importance to climate change adaptation efforts has become better known, steps are being taken to preserve these ecologically sensitive areas. Introducing solid waste management programs has been key to protecting wetlands from illegal dumping, says Mohammed. Mainstreaming climate change adaptation into island development planning has also been promoted through other components of the CCAP project, for instance through a program on strengthening local government capacity.
“All these components are linked,” says Mohammed. “Wetlands and coral reefs are the primary defence that a small island nation like the Maldives has against climate change.”
Promoting community participation by boosting eco-tourism
Recruiting community support is integral to ensuring these conservation efforts are sustainable. Outsiders have entered the wetlands to find firewood but illegal cutting down of trees is being curtailed with the community’s intervention.
The wetlands remain a source of food and livelihoods for these people. Aishath explains that taro reeds growing in and around the wetlands are used to weave mats and baskets but that with the advent of plastic this craft is now threatened. However, training is now being given to locals to help revive this lost art. These and other traditional Maldivian handicrafts, including embroidery work, will be sold in small store attached to eco-tourism facilities in the wetland parks.
Beyond livelihoods, taro also has a role to play in food security. Islanders remember how during World War II a famine gripped these parts, and this humble reed was the only source of nourishment. It is still a staple food today. The wetlands are a rich source of not only taro and other foods, they can support subsistence fishing and are a source of medicinal herbs.
“The community around these wetlands are very much dependent on them,” explains Aishath, adding that over time villagers living on the fringes of the wetlands have become protective of these wild spaces. “There is an awareness now that wasn’t there before.”
Beyond the Liberty Bell: Exploring Western Philly
A visit to Philadelphia is sure to be steeped in American history and culture. It doesn’t get more American than the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. And it doesn’t get more authentically Philly than cheesesteaks at competing Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King Of Steaks, and the oldest farmers market in the country, Reading Terminal Market. But, when you’ve been there, done that, what else can you explore?
Philadelphia neighborhoods beckon the savvy traveler who can, by slowing down, get a glimpse of what it’s like to live here, to exhale and experience the heart and soul of a great American city. One neighborhood that’s not on the radar of many travelers, but should be, is West Philadelphia, or West Philly as it is commonly known, with University City as its bustling heartbeat. Aptly named — the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University are located here — the area buzzes with youthful exuberance. The diverse, worldwide student population brings the magic of different languages, dialects and customs to the area.
Strolling along the bustling sidewalks, visitors will find a foodie’s dream with a vibrant street-food scene, high-end, locally owned restaurants and everything in between. Historic sites and museums are everywhere, with some pop culture icons as well, and the parks add a touch of green to the cobblestone and brick.
Here are some gems of West Philly not to be missed:
* The Penn Museum will take you back to ancient times in faraway places and other lands. You’ll find jewelry from Ethiopia, Mayan sculptures, an Egyptian tomb, the Granite Sphinx of Ramses and new Middle East galleries. After you’ve seen the amazing American History of Philadelphia, the Penn Museum gives you the world.
* World Cafe Live is a multi-level venue devoted to music and good food. Take a seat upstairs at the chic Upstairs Live Cafe, where you can get late-night food and drinks along with an eclectic array of live music (they don’t call it World Cafe Live for nothing!). Downstairs Live is a larger concert venue, hosting nationally known artists. It’s also the home of WXPN radio, which broadcasts a show of the same name.
* The Study at University City is a local gem for guests who believe the right hotel can enhance and elevate an already wonderful trip into the stratosphere. This is not a cookie-cutter chain, but a boutique that features local artwork in an onsite gallery; hand-blown glass light fixtures (locally made); display cases with artifacts of the city’s past; and its lobby, dubbed the Living Room, a vibrant and dynamic core of the hotel, a gathering place for guests to feel at home.
* Schuylkill River Trail meanders along some 30 miles of the Schuylkill river, and is a favorite of bicyclists, walkers, runners and families. Enjoy the green space along the riverfront, or use it as your way to and from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and other area attractions. If you really want to get your exercise and American history on, you can pick up the trail in West Philly and take it all the way to Valley Forge National Historical Park.
* The multitude of cuisines in the West Philly neighborhood is reflective of the diversity of the student population. A true foodie destination that’s a bit off the beaten path, you’ll find African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian spots with daring fusions of flavors; upscale, chef-driven restaurants; and down-home Philly goodness. Highly recommended from the city’s foodie community: Marigold Kitchen (its gin-marinated venison gets rave reviews), Aksum, which blends Mediterranean and North African cuisine; and Dock Street Brewing (Philly’s first microbrewery) for all-American bar food, burgers and of course, beer.
For other insider tips on exploring West Philly, contact the knowledgeable staff at The Study at University City. They’ll make sure you get the most out of your visit to the neighborhood.
The Bern Old Town: Shopping and cultural experiences of a special kind
The Bernese love laid-back, hour-long shopping trips – and will do so in any weather. Thanks to the longest weather-protected stretch of shopping promenade in Europe, this is in fact quite feasible. The arcades are admirably suited for a jaunty stroll among the historic city scenery.
It is in the Bernese Old Town in particular where one can be witness to the unique historical ambiance and combine shopping with a journey through time into the past.
The Kramgasse forms the centerpiece of the Bern Old Town. This alley was once Bern’s busiest trade route for marketers and shopkeepers who loudly advertised and sold their goods here, and swapped the latest news. The six kilometer long series of arcades form a distinctive feature of the Old Town. The history of this arcade passage reaches back to the earliest city development (1191), and even then served to accommodate market stalls and businesses. Traders could thus trade and earn their living in any weather.
The Bernese also demonstrated their practical sense in putting the nether regions to good use. They built vaulted cellars under every house in order to be able to store their goods. Nowadays, entirely different treasures are hidden in these cellars. Descend the steep stone steps, and find yourself in a different world. The underground reveals trendy and traditional bars, clubs, theatres, cellar cinemas and special fashion shops. There’s no other place that offers such historic settings for a shopping excursion!
Destination Langkawi: Beyond the Beaches
With 550-million years of geological history and generations of mythical folklore, there is always something new for guests of Four Seasons Resort Langkawi to uncover on the island.
A paradise of panoramas, the Langkawi archipelago is an amalgam of mangroves and mountains, rainforests and rivers, wildlife and waterfalls, legends and local charm, tidal flats and coral reefs, cliffs and caves. Whether appreciated from the vantage point of a bike, kayak, boat, cable car, sky-bridge or simply on foot, the islands’ thrilling topography ensures a truly breathtaking backdrop for myriad magical and memorable encounters.
Beyond the beaches, water sports and diving, Langkawi offers visitors rainforests, mangrove “sea forests,” cascading waterfalls, hidden lakes and glistening paddy fields to explore.
Outdoor enthusiasts will be spoiled for choice. The uninhabited islet of Pulau Langgun offers an exhilarating rainforest immersion and lush wilderness trek to the hidden sanctuary of Tasik Langgun, a large freshwater lake. Build an appetite biking through paddy fields to Durian Perangin Waterfall – 14-tiers of clear cascading water – perfect for a refreshing dip and picnic. Or visit the island’s tallest waterfall, Temurun (30 metres or 98 feet), for another scenic natural swimming pool.
A mangrove kayak get guests unobtrusively close to the magic and mystery of forests that straddle land and sea. Traverse small, dense tributaries and follow the natural ebb and flow of this fascinating ecosystem to uncover hidden delights behind each corner. Alternatively, take a coastal kayak along the emerald seascapes of Langkawi’s less explored eastern rim, and paddle through a 15 metre (49 foot) cave tunnel for an unforgettable swim in a salt-water lake.
Mineral and Mystical
Steeped in geological heritage, Langkawi has some of the world’s oldest and most intriguing naturally formed gems. Shaped by plate tectonics, volcanic activity, ocean submersion and erosion, Langkawi’s many rock formations have evolved over millennia into exciting natural habitats, many animated by fantastical folklores and legends.
Adrenalin seekers can heed the call of the ancient limestone cliffs for an afternoon of rock-climbing and abseiling within the Resort’s grounds. Just a short distance away, the Langkawi Sky Bridge – suspended 700 metres (2,300 feet) above sea level and accessed via the world’s steepest cable car – offers an up close experience of Malaysia’s oldest rocks (the Machinchang Formation), not to mention far-reaching views extending to southern Thailand.
Fuel for the imagination, Langkawi’s craggy coastline of hidden coves, sunken caves and majestic peaks is straight out of a fairytale and sets the scene for a magical adventure. The intriguing Gua Cerita (Cave of Legends) is the mythical home of a giant phoenix, a captive princess and a deadly giantess. Tasik Dayang Bunting (Lake of the Pregnant Lady) was formed when a huge limestone cave collapsed, resulting in a figure resembling a pregnant woman lying on her back. Locals believe that the lake, famed for the legend of celestial princess Mambang Sari, possesses mystical powers.
Back at the Resort, Spa devotees will be entranced by the element-based offerings at the Geo Spa, where the ancient healing energies of the Geopark meet bespoke natural treatments by ila.
Wildlife and Local Life
A bird watcher’s paradise – the open rainforest corridor, mist-covered Gunung Raya peak, and local village ponds provide the opportunity for ornithologists to tick a fair few flying friends off their must see list. Langkawi is home to approximately 200 species including: flower peckers, hills mynas, dollar birds, sun birds, eagles, woodpeckers, lesser whistling-ducks, little egrets, Chinese pond herons, striated swallows and the largest of them all, the great hornbill, measuring in at 1.3 metres (more than 4 feet).
Animal lovers will not want to miss the mangrove boat safari into the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park and its maze of meandering mangroves for exciting up-close encounters with majestic eagles and kites, mischievous macaques, fish that walk (mudskippers), colourful fiddler crabs, shy otters and sleeping bats.
Cultural connoisseurs will be enthralled by the Malaysian book village of Kampung Buku and the bucolic beauty of stilted wooden houses in local villages. A visit to the fishermen’s village of Kuala Teriang enables visitors to quietly observe fisherfolk return with their day’s catch, or sample delicious deep-fried banana fritters with local milk tea at wooden roadside stalls. Back at the Resort, relish local spices and ingredients during a Malay-cuisine cooking class – available as both adult and child-size experiences.
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