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Thomas Jefferson believed that closeness to the land is essential to virtuous citizenry. For those who share in this sentiment, there are thousands of ways to get involved, even in the lap of luxury. Of course, resorts, cruises and safari camps have been teaming up with leading conservation groups for years — but only a few allow guests to roll up their sleeves and get involved in the action. The following properties go beyond monetary donations and educational lectures, offering rare opportunities to get close to the land — and the sea — and truly make a difference.
1. Rescuing Rhinos in Africa
Standing out among andBeyond’s many, many conservation efforts is its Rhinos without Borders project. While staying at andBeyond’s Phinda Homestead, Ngala Safari Lodge or any of its Phinda Private Game Reserve or Kruger National Park properties, guests can help monitor the health of both black and white rhinos, protecting them from poachers via land and helicopter expeditions. Participants can also help stop the population decline — in the past decade alone more than 7,000 African rhinos have been lost to poaching — by helping locate and dart rhinos alongside a team of veterinarians and conservationists. While the endangered giants are sedated, guests can help notch a rhino’s ear with a unique marking, take horn shavings and skin samples for DNA analysis, and microchip both the horn and the rhino’s body for security purposes.
2. Caring for corals in the Maldives
According to the World Wildlife Fund, 27% of the world’s coral reefs have already been lost to climate change and pollution. If the current rates of destruction continue, 60% of the world’s coral reefs will be destroyed over the next 30 years. Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaruis working to prevent this with its Reefscapers Programme. While staying in one of the resort’s 103 overwater and beach villas, guests can help marine biologists build coral frames at the resort’s state-of-the-art Marine Discovery Centre. The centre also features a refurbished aquarium, a clownfish breeding program, expeditions with the Manta Trust conservation organization and a rescue center for injured green turtles. PADI-certified guests can also dive with the scientists to help install underwater frames and attach new strains of pocillopora verrucosa — chosen specifically for its resilience to rising ocean temperatures. So far, Landaa Giraavaru scientists and guests have installed more than 3,000 coral frames in the Indian Ocean.
3. Managing Mangroves in Cambodia
Cambodia’s Song Saa Private Island is doing its part by assisting the country’s first marine reserve and supporting coral conservation efforts. Although guests cannot actively farm the coral themselves, they can snorkel or scuba-dive through the resort’s sprawling man-made coral reefs with a marine guide, assisting in underwater clean-ups and auditing the surrounding coral and marine life. Back above water, guests can partake in other Journey of Change programmes, such as kayaking through the mangrove forest of the adjacent island Koh Rong (where they can audit red, black and white mangroves, as well as shrimp, needle fish and Oriental pied hornbills) and visit the neighbouring island of Prek Svay to help local conservation teams implement clean water initiatives.
4. Learning about Leopards in Sri Lanka
Merrill J. Fernando — the Dilmah tea tycoon behind the luxurious Resplendent Ceylon hotel brand — has been one of Sri Lanka’s biggest philanthropists for decades. Now, the 87-year-old hotelier is hoping to engage his guests through a partnership with the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust that aims to teach local communities about the leopards in order to reduce fear and avoid conflict, while also reducing unnecessary interactions between humans and leopards. Guests can join Fernando’s mission with a stay at his five-bungalow resort Ceylon Tea Trails, set on a working tea plantation. There, they can accompany a team of conservationists as they monitor resident leopard behaviour via remote cameras and collect scat for diet analysis. Guests can also join naturalist Anuradha Ediriweera on a night hike to audit other nocturnal species, such as rusty-spotted cats, wild boar and a variety of snakes.
5. Great White Shark Expedition in the USA
Once a hunting lodge for wealthy Boston vacationers, the historic Chatham Bars Inn is today one of Cape Cod’s most luxurious summer retreats. The charming turn-of-the-century resort is giving back to its pristine surroundings with its new Great White Shark Expedition, allowing guests to join the area’s only team of scientists currently conducting great white research. Participants, along with a member of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, can learn to identify the apex predators in their natural habitat while sailing aboard one of the resort’s research vessels. Participants may also have the opportunity to help tag individual sharks, allowing scientists to conserve the species and better understand their hunting and migrating patterns.
6. Save the turtles in Africa
It is estimated that each year only one in 1,000 hatchling turtles live to adulthood. The hatchlings that do manage to survive the dangerous journey from beach to sea are subject to overharvesting and bycatch threats — 4,950 turtles are caught each year as bycatch in Indonesian longline vessels alone. There are many programmes around the world attempting to give these beloved creatures a fighting chance, but Tanzania’s Thanda Island and Madagascar’s new Miavana Island Sanctuary are among the very best. Guests of Thanda’s 20-acre exclusive-use retreat can join the property’s conservation partner Sea Sense to protect turtle nests from mongoose and monitor lizards. Guests of Miavana, meanwhile, can do their part by counting hatchlings. The new 14-villa eco-resort is located near important nesting sites for four species of marine turtles, all of which have been affected by a spike in illegal poaching.