On a recent day, clusters of women wearing hijabs wove around Guraidhoo’s candy-colored shops, which sell knickknacks imported from Thailand.
Unlike resorts, guesthouses are prohibited from stocking alcohol, and island councils have designated certain stretches of the shoreline as a “bikini beach” where tourists are able to wear more revealing swim suits.
The beach is its own separate island, heavily wooded and connected to the rest of Guraidhoo by a plank bridge. Occasionally, residents say, complaints are heard about the guests’ attire. But for now, the question of modesty has mostly been addressed by moving the sunbathers to another island.
Now, with guesthouses injecting cash into local economies and providing greater employment opportunities outside the resort industry, many hope this new revenue generator is here to stay. That is, of course, if the islands remain above water.
In 2015, to help fund conservation and waste management projects in the Maldives, the government passed a bill levying a “green tax” on tourists visiting resorts. For every night booked, tourists pay $6. Last year, guesthouses, which were initially exempt from the policy, were added to the list of green tax-paying businesses at a discounted rate of $3 a night.
Guraidhoo has a permanent population of around 1,900 people, but hosts 12 guesthouses and another 1,000 day visitors. But residents say the government has yet to start work on their island.
“It is very simple,” said Mohamed Solih, 50, the owner of Ithaa Beach Inn. “The cow that gives more milk has to be fed more. So islands that pay tourism taxes should be a priority in shore protection initiatives by the government.”
Asked how green taxes are spent, the Ministry of Environment directed questions to the country’s Environmental Protection Agency, which directed questions to the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Finance declined to comment despite repeated questions. A review of the country’s 2017 budget proposal did not yield information about where green tax revenue is allocated.
Among concerns voiced by residents of Guraidhoo are a monsoon season that has become more erratic and intense, and degradation of the reef system, which acts as a natural buffer against rising seas. There are also problems with erosion — which residents attribute to storm surges — harbor modifications and even shore protection practices on other islands.
Gazing out toward the island of Kandooma, which is separated from Guraidhoo by a thin channel of water, Mr. Solih said he believed part of the erosion problem could be attributed to sand dredging at the nearby Holiday Inn Resort.
“Erosion on this island is very much connected to the development work done on the resort,” he said. “Kandooma is a coral rock island, not a sand island like you see now. They dredged sand and pumped sand and reclaimed the beaches. After that, erosion became a big problem here.”
At the resort, Mohamed Shahid, a marine biologist who oversees shore protection projects, said sand dredging was not eroding Guraidhoo’s shore, but he acknowledged that the relationship between the islands had occasionally been frosty.
“We have had a lot of discussions with the local authorities on that side,” he said, adding that Guraidhoo improperly disposes of garbage, which affects the resort. “We try to be diplomatic. We help them and they help us kind of a thing.”
On a recent tour of the Holiday Inn, Mr. Shahid was enthusiastic about technology used to protect Kandooma. Apart from using a dredging machine, which he estimated as costing several hundred thousand dollars, concrete sea walls have been erected at certain points near the beach.
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