Travel

Film stars and sustainability at The Brando in French Polynesia

Resort on French Polynesian island, once owned by a Hollywood legend, tackles environmental issues

An exotic island in French Polynesia bought by Marlon Brando in the 1960s is using its Hollywood image to tackle environmental issues - with a little help from its jet-set visitors.

The late US movie star fell in love with the palm-fringed atoll of Tetiaroa while filming Mutiny On The Bounty in 1961 on nearby islands.

He later married French Polynesian co-star Tarita Teri'ipaia, and the couple raised a family on Tetiaroa, now home to a luxury eco-resort that bears his name and pampers A-list clientele such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp.

Guests at The Brando help fund research projects by paying up to US$10,000 (S$13,500) for a night there.

As Pippa Middleton soaks up the rays during her honeymoon or Barack Obama seeks inspiration for his memoirs, scientists quietly go about their work testing ocean acidification to study the effects on coral bleaching.

Behind the butler service and Michelin-starred cuisine, the resort, which opened in 2014, has built on Brando's vision for a sustainable environment to become one of the most eco-friendly hotels in the world.

The Brando's electricity comes from more than 2,000 solar panels and generators fuelled by coconut oil. Air-conditioning is powered by deep seawater - Brando's idea.

Luxury eco-tourism is growing, with big-name hotel brands such as Alila and Aman investing heavily to ensure their green credentials.

Boutique resorts that pride themselves on sustainability and giving back to the local community - such as Song Saa in Cambodia, Nihiwatu in Indonesia and the Soneva hotels in Thailand and the Maldives - are also increasingly in demand.

But Tetiaroa has the added bonus of old Hollywood glamour. Brando's granddaughter Tumi, 29, works as the chief communications officer for the non-profit Tetiaroa Society, a scientific organisation devoted to marine wildlife and founded by the Brando estate, which owns the atoll.

"Our aim is to raise awareness," she said, as marine biologists studied shark populations inside the 4.8km-wide lagoon, which contains at least 167 species of fishes.

"First among local people... Maybe America or China - they come to my mind first because they are the biggest polluters - can emulate us."

Brando died in 2004, but Tetiaroa, located some 4,345km south of Hawaii, has been preserved in line with his ecological vision.

Following his blueprint, naturalists at the island's research centre monitor its countless tropical birds and turtle sanctuary, ready to rescue clumsy hatchlings before they can become a meal for predators.

Luxury eco-resorts offer high-rollers a chance to offset any guilt they might feel over their carbon-heavy lifestyles.

"You need to look at the full picture of sustainability," said Ms Rochelle Turner, research director at the World Travel and Tourism Council.

"Often these upscale resorts lead the way. They have a much higher profit margin, so they are able to do things that make their destinations more protected.

"But they pass on knowledge to the mass market too. Even backpackers are learning from what is happening at the high-end."- AFP

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