3 Island Experiences That Are Good for You and the Environment

Explore some of the world’s most breathtaking islands—without putting them in harm’s way.

The island of Nosy Komba, Madagascar

Nosy Komba, which sits between Nosy Be and Madagascar’s main island, is a great place to see lemurs.

Photo by lenisecalleja.photography/Shutterstock

These days, we’re all searching for trips that will have a positive impact on both ourselves and the planet. For the sustainably minded traveler, beaches are some of the best places to get the best of both worlds, especially as the effects of climate change threaten the livelihood of our coastlines.

So next time you choose your trip, why not go where you can minimize your impact or even help the planet? Consider partaking in civic science with your feet in the sand and scenic water views. Here are three islands with experiences that’ll have you at sustainability.

1. Observing Madagascar’s spectrum of biodiversity

Off the southeastern tip of Africa, the wild and remote island of Nosy Be has been experiencing an uptick in tourism since direct flights were added from Europe in recent years. For those traveling to this island in Madagascar, the destination can feel like an unspoiled locale for adventurers, home to volcanic lakes, coral reefs, and a marine reserve for snorkeling, on the appendage of Nosy Tanikely.

But while Madagascar is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, it’s also under environmental threat, with climate change predicted to increase events like cyclones, flooding, and erosion. Sustainable tourism helps preserve the country’s quickly disappearing endemic plants and animals (about 90 percent don’t exist anywhere else).

Consider stopping by the region’s last primary forest, the Lokobe Nature Special Reserve, home to the vulnerable black lemur and the colorful Nosy Be panther chameleon, or the Nosy Komba lemur shelter on a neighboring island. If you’re up for a wild boat ride down the Mozambique Channel and a tour on back roads in Ambanja, head to the mainland to learn about a growing method of farming cacao (the main ingredient in famous Madagascar chocolate), called agroforestry, that’s helping prevent deforestation by regrowing the canopy cover.

Beach in front of tall green mountains

Female sea turtles find their way back to Grand Cul de Sac’s shores in April and May to lay their eggs.

Photo by Christian Graugart/Shutterstock

2. Finding sea turtles in Grand Cul de Sac, St. Bart’s

The people of St. Bart’s know how to wine and dine, throw opulent parties, and soak up the sun in style on its outstanding white-sand beaches. But among the island’s super-yachts and designer stores, there are the sea turtles that have made their mark on Grand Cul de Sac Beach thousands of years before tourists. On this island, you never know where a turtle might turn up—and preserving turtle habitats has only become more vital after the island was hit by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

In the past, Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa has made efforts, such as partnering with the Environmental Territorial Agency, to protect sea turtle nurseries that swim in on the island’s nature reserve, located right on the hotel’s beachfront. But starting March 2023, the hotel will also offer guided education and interactive coral planting experiences to locals and guests in partnership with environmental protection organization Coral Restoration St. Barth. You’ll learn about turtles and other marine animals that inhabit the coral reefs, as well as fish for invasive species like lionfish.

While you’re on the island, don’t forget to check out 650 acres of reefs, seagrass beds, and marine life at the rest of the nature reserve, which the Environmental Territorial Agency manages.

Squirrel fish and juvenile drum fish are hidden from a scuba diver

You can take part in reviving Grenada’s colorful reefs, which are home to creatures like the squirrel fish and drum fish.

Photo by Eric Carlander/Shutterstock

3. Witnessing coral regeneration in St. George’s, Grenada

On this small island, there are plenty of opportunities to hike or drive among unspoiled hills of rain forests, waterfalls, and nutmeg plantations. But you definitely don’t want to miss the coral reefs. On the “Spice Isle,” scuba is included in a list of activities at Sandals Grenada resort, which started implementing lessons on protecting marine life as part of its “40 for 40” sustainability initiatives.

Last year, the Sandals Foundation began working with the Grenada Coral Reef Foundation to train Sandals guests and local communities in reef restoration because Grenada’s coastal ecosystems are suffering from pollution, overfishing, development, hurricanes, and coral bleaching (a phenomenon where the coral loses its algae, turning white and weakening as a result of warming waters from climate change). One of its tour offerings, scheduled to come this year, is a lesson on how to preserve the fragile underwater world through a method called coral gardening.

Coral gardening excursions introduce the ”Biorock” method of repairing reefs, which applies low-voltage electrical currents through the water to grow dissolved minerals that crystallize into the self-repairing white limestone we see on the coral reefs and white-sand beaches. Through your diving mask, you’ll watch as other tourist divers drop off the boat into Grenada’s Molinere Bay, each following the local marine biologist to the ocean floor, connecting a coral seedling to a metal cage. Then it’s your turn to descend into a colorful current of fish.

If you decide to make a bay excursion, you can also visit Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park, the world’s first underwater sculpture park. Below the surface you can admire the 15-ton concrete Vicissitudes by sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, which consists of dozens of statues of boys and girls holding hands in a circle, purple coral covering the face of one, bright orange sponges dotting the body of the next. The piece, along with dozens of nearby sculptures, was bolted to the ground in 2006 as a statement on reef generation, and serves as a stable platform for coral polyp attachment.

Anna Fiorentino is a storyteller focused on outdoors, adventure, and travel. Her work has appeared in AFAR, National Geographic, National Geographic Travel, Outside, BBC Travel, Boston Globe Magazine, and other publications.
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