Those nasty little nibblers.
Now that our week of wet weather has passed, and the glorious sunshine has returned to its rightful place, everyone is back outside with a bounce in their step. Instead of rushing from shelter to shelter, hidden under raincoats and umbrellas, people are stopping. Basking, chatting and taking a moment. This has given me a chance to have a chat with Kai, a junior researcher on the Science Entomology team on Soneva Jani. Big confusing words, I know, but he has a special, important job on the island. Helping to rid it from those nasty little nibbly creatures, mosquitoes.
If you’re like me, and you hadn’t ever really given much thought to these pesky little annoyances, apart from moments of madness trying to smack them away with your palm - well that’s ok. That’s probably quite normal. I have only once given real, proper thought to mosquitoes, and that was a couple of years ago in Greenland when I walked through swarms of them on the Arctic Circle Trail. Millions of them, crawling down the back of my neck, under my head net, and almost into my brain, it felt like. I had moments of pure insanity. I also learnt the scientists fly to Greenland specifically to study these swarms of mosquitoes. Seriously.
So, the sun was out and this week I set off into the jungle to learn a bit more about the world of Science and Soneva.
The usual way that resorts and islands in the Maldives try and get rid of mosquitoes that plague us is through chemical fogging. Which, as it turns out, and as you may expect, is full of negative ramifications. And it is exactly what it sounds like, the release of poisonous chemicals with the hope of eliminating the mosquito population. These chemicals have been found to be only 25% effective in killing exposed mosquitoes. Survivors then go on to build a resistance. As well as this, these chemicals have an effect on everything – not only the air we breathe but the rest of the population of animals and insects that inhabit these magical islands. Since the use of chemicals has stopped in Soneva, the insects have returned. Dragonflies are back, bees are back. There has been an increase in yield in the gardens. Nature is back and on-trend.
Soneva set out to become the first mosquito-free islands in the Maldives – and has done so without the use of chemical fogging. Since this began, Soneva Fushi has managed to reduce its mosquito population by 98%. Which is epic. This is where the hard work that Kai and the Science Entomology team, headed up by Bart Knols, have been doing, pays off.
Kai, a local Maldivian who grew up in Sri Lanka, came to be on Soneva Jani from a background in turtle conservation which he began with the Olive Ridley Project. His view is that though he’s not working underwater like his original plan, he is still hitting his target of environmental conservation. From my short time speaking to him, his passion for learning about the environment and sharing through teaching is obvious. His role here involves collecting data from the two types of traps; they are set out across the island to catch the Asian Tiger and the Southern House mosquitoes.
“Instead of using chemicals, these traps work by using visual attractants and smell to lure the mosquitos in. A clever combination of attractive colours, such as red and white, alongside a mixture of yeast, sugar and water – that release Carbon Dioxide. Being what we exhale as humans. That next to a sachet of lactic acid which we produce when we sweat, all work together to attract the mosquitos, almost thinking the traps are humans”
Once they are caught, Kai works to collect the live ones and places them in a freezer (yes, freezer) to die peacefully. After an hour or so, he then counts them and sorts them into the two types. This data is sent off to Germany for analysis. These traps used to catch thousands of mosquitoes per day, the number is now down to the hundreds. On Soneva Fushi, this number is in single digits. So, it’s working.
This is not a story I expected to hear when I arrived weeks ago on Soneva Jani. I bought along a suitcase full of insect repellent. I have yet to use it even once. This is a team that works behind the scenes, quietly in the background. But they are vital to the daily enjoyment of life, not just of the guests that spend time in this tropical paradise, but the hundreds of staff who live here, keeping the place running.
The results collected are used in outreach to get other resorts and nearby islands to adopt this non-fogging approach. Kai speaks of protecting these islands, his home. He feels a duty to teach those that come and stay about the impact that global warming and marine waste is having on these islands. The effects that actions of others on the opposite side of the planet are having on his homeland. Change is happening, it is slow, but there is movement. Kai believes it is our responsibility to speak up, share, and learn.
I’m not sure about you, but this week, I have learnt a lot.
Kai’s book recommendation:
Sapians. A brief history of Humankind. By Yuval Noah Harari.