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Paradise lost?

Who doesn’t dream of a few weeks escape to a tropical island paradise like the Maldives? I know I certainly do. So I couldn’t wait to watch Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve on BBC Two last weekend. It was the fourth installment of what has so far proved to be an excellent six-part series (I can’t wait for the final two episodes).

What has so captivated me about this show is not simply the stunning scenery. Rather, while Reeve allows you to marvel at the beauty of the places he visits, he also takes you to the heart of the communities living there.

In doing so, he highlights some of the more uncomfortable, darker sides of these places, as well as the positives – and, thankfully, he does so with the right balance of passion and journalistic endeavor to keep you entertained and engrossed rather than irritated and thus reaching for the remote control.

From the environmental perspective, his trip to the Maldives was mind-blowing.

Yes, I was in awe at the sheer beauty we have all come to associate with this tropical coral island paradise. The picture postcard shots of the low-lying islands that make up the Maldives, poking their heads out from the crystal clear, idyllic tropical blues of the sea. Thriving coral reefs: majestic in their elegance, colour and diversity, bustling with life at every turn. A breath-taking sight.

Environmental terror

Then, the shock of other reef banks now utterly dead, having succumbed to coral bleaching – victims of rising sea temperatures (the result of climate change), toxic pollution and overfishing. As low-lying islands, the Maldives is already at threat from rising sea levels, but as coral islands, rising sea temperatures are also already taking a heavy toll.

With the latest research suggesting our battle to limit global warming to just two degrees Celsius is likely to fail and a six degrees Celsius rise forecast instead (even if we doubled our rate of decarbonisation), the fate of these coral reefs is on scarily shaky ground - although as we see on Simon’s trip, some are working hard to restore these precious, vital, sea systems.

Growing global use of low carbon and renewable energy power systems are also essential in this fight of course – off grid renewables are particularly essential for small island states like the Maldives (as I’ll be reporting on in the print issue of Renewable Energy Focus soon).

Sadly, the death of coral was not, however, the only environmental terror thrusting a shadow over the future of the Maldives. The BBC told us: “Nothing can prepare him [Reeve] for the sight of the Maldives' rubbish island - a stinking landfill where the rubbish from the thriving tourist industry ends up”. Nothing could prepare me either.

I was left stunned with utter disbelief at the sight of this toxic, smoke-bellowing, fly-infested, garbage heap steadily sinking into the sea.

Paradise Island this was not.

However, as Reeve (pictured here at the rubbish island) said, all credit to the Maldivian authorities for allowing him to visit and film that segment. Many other governments would not. It was testimony to the country’s stated desire to find a solution to the problem.

Reeve’s guide in the Maldives told him, like the rest of the world, the country is struggling to devise a sustainable waste management strategy to deal with its ever-growing waste stream.

Having moderated our free webinar, Advanced Conversion: Maximising the potential for Energy from Waste, just two weeks ago, this struck a real chord with me – the vast volume of questions sent in by webinar participants made it clear this is a problem countless others all over the globe are also struggling to deal with.

Thankfully, industry is working hard on finding solutions to the world’s waste problem. Latest developments in energy from waste technology, like Advanced Conversion systems, could help significantly. They seem to enable deployment on a much smaller, more local scale, and in some instances can result in a 98% diversion of waste from landfill such as with one of the technologies discussed in our webinar.

These are the kind of innovations we need to see, but more needs to happen worldwide and quickly.

I’d like to hope that next time Reeve plans a trip to the Maldives (or me, if I’m lucky), its rubbish island is no more – and not because we’ve left it too late to fight climate change and let our small-island states sink without trace! 

PS. There’s just a few days left to watch this episode of Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve free online apparently, so if you haven’t seen it click here. It can also be downloaded from itunes, I’m told. It’s certainly worth viewing in my book. Meantime, if you haven't already, subscribe to Renewable Energy Focus now to ensure you get your copy of the upcoming issue with my report on off-grid renewable energy solutions for small island states.

Check out more Renewable Energy Focus blogs, including guest posts, here.

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