A paradise island vacation with no mosquito bites – and no chemicals

CNN  — 

Anyone who’s ever been swarmed by mosquitoes while trying to unwind on a scenic hike or placid beach is keenly aware that even a small pest can have a big impact on a vacation.

But beyond a mere nuisance, mosquitoes can pose a more serious health risk as carriers of diseases like malaria, dengue and zika. Soneva Fushi, a resort on the private Kunfunadhoo Island in the Maldives, has spent years working to eradicate these pests.

The most effective solution they’ve found has led to a dramatic reduction of mosquitoes, and invigorated the island’s tropical plants and animals in the process.

Soneva has partnered with the Germany-based company Biogents, which has developed mosquito traps that rely on environmentally friendly attractants.

“We had been looking at ways to manage mosquitoes without the use of chemicals,” said Arnfinn Oines, Soneva’s director of social and environmental consciousness.

The region has long battled a mosquito problem, made worse during its monsoon season — which runs from May to November.

Several methods they tried, including the use of various traps and working to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds, posed their own challenges.

Another approach to combating the flying pests involved using methods like “hot fogging and mist blowing,” according to Oines, which aren’t exactly precise in targeting just the bugs with insecticides, and can be unpleasant for guests and hosts. Although they tried to use these techniques discreetly, they would inevitably disturb guests, he said.

A Biogents-created mosquito trap at Soneva Fushi

What’s more, these techniques are typically only useful for eliminating adult mosquitoes. And after a while, even those develop resistance, rendering the chemicals ineffective, Oines noted.

What doesn’t develop a resistance though, is the bounty of other insects on Kunfunadhoo Island. As a result, there was a noticeable decrease in populations of butterflies, dragonflies, bumblebees and beetles.

Soneva first employed the Biogents system in 2019, using two different types of traps – more than 500 in total positioned around the island. The first type, called the BG-GAT, is a passive trap meant for tiger mosquitoes that have already bitten someone and are searching for a place to lay eggs, according to Oines.

The second type, the BG-Mosquitaire CO2, is meant to attract mosquitoes searching for blood, which it does by using carbon dioxide created through yeast and sugar fermentation, plus lactic acid, which mimics human skin.

“The BG-Mosquitaire CO2 is unique and effective in that it simulates humans by using CO2 and the smell of sweat,” he said. Essentially, the devices both smell and “breathe” like humans, luring and containing the bugs. In the first few weeks, the traps were catching thousands of mosquitoes each day.

Beyond just using the traps, the resort has educated staffers on mosquito ecology. Now, the Soneva team does inspections of the property to identify and reduce things like tarps, fallen coconut shells and anything else that could hold stagnant water, which is necessary for the bugs to breed.

An overwater bungalow at Soneva Fushi

The pest-combatting program has been a success, according to Soneva.

The resort said it recorded a dramatic decrease in the island’s mosquito population by upwards of 98% in the first year.

“We counted the mosquitoes caught on a daily basis — the counting certainly got easier as the numbers were reduced,” says Oines. “We got many positive comments from repeat guests that come back year after year, and thus noticed the difference.”

The Biogents trap system has also proven to be highly effective in long-term use, with no concerns over the bugs developing a resistance to the method. And more good news: since the chemicals were discontinued, the Maldives’ native insects are flourishing again.

“These natural pollinators are now back in abundance, which means there are more flowers, more fruits and more produce,” says Oines, adding that more fruits and insects also means “there are also more birds visiting the shores of Kunfunadhoo and fireflies are once again spotted at night.”

The boost in biodiversity, as well as the eco-friendly and sustainable methods used to get there, make sense considering the resort’s roots. Soneva Fushi was founded by Sonu and Eva Shivdasani in 1995, with a pioneering commitment to environmental sustainability. The couple’s vision made them among the first to introduce initiatives like recycling, energy conservation and waste reduction in the region.

Today, Soneva Fushi remains an example of sustainable luxury in the world of hospitality, and counts a zero-waste philosophy and an innovative coral restoration program among its environmental initiatives, in addition to the harmful chemical-free pest control.

By working with Biogents to use eco-friendly mosquito elimination methods, Soneva aims to be the first mosquito-free island in the Maldives. But they don’t want to be the only ones.

The resort chain has gifted mosquito traps to Parliament in Malé, the country’s capital, and trained staffers on how to use them.

It has also implemented the Biogents system on Soneva Jani, the brand’s resort on the island of Medhufaru in the nearby Noonu Atoll, with similar results. And they’ve installed traps at its new resort development Soneva Secret, slated to open early in 2024, and have recorded zero mosquitoes over several months.

“This makes us hopeful that we will be able to open a mosquito-free resort in the new year,” says Oines. “We have also seen other resorts follow suit. It would be lovely if all of the Maldives could do the same.”