Arson suspected as fires destroy wetlands in Fuvahmulah

Arson suspected as fires destroy wetlands in Fuvahmulah
February 14 14:00 2017

Two fires have destroyed a wetland area equal to 35 football pitches on the southern island of Fuvahmulah. Islanders said they suspect the fires were started deliberately.

The Maldives National Defence Forces said some 250,000 square meters of reed beds were destroyed. Some mango trees and banana trees were also damaged in Friday’s fire.

The area is not used for agriculture, the Fuvahmulah councillors said. They said the fires are an annual occurrence when reed beds dry out in the heat, and added that the damage was the same as other years.

Fuvahmulah has the largest wetlands of any island in the islands. They cover more than a quarter of the island.

The Environmental Protection Agency said setting fire to wetlands is an environmental crime and said it has asked the police to launch an investigation.

The first fire occurred on Friday in the area between the Hoadhandu and Dhiguvaandhu districts in the island’s north.The second fire was reported on Monday on the wetlands to the south of the island.

Photos posted on social media show the island enveloped in smoke.

A spokesman for the army said the fire on Friday took six hours to control while Monday’s fire took four hours. “We believe it is not caused naturally. But so far we can’t say who is doing this either.”

Mohamed Musthafa, an island councillor, also said the fires could not be a natural phenomenon as the soil remained wet and moist despite the reeds drying out.

“It might be that somebody carelessly threw a cigarette or maybe some individuals are doing it for fun,” he said.

On February 1, the Maldives marked for the first time the World Wetlands Day in Fuvahmulah. Wetlands contribute to agriculture and recharging groundwater. Of the 1,190 islands in the Maldives, only 74 have wetlands and mangroves.

In September, a massive fire was reported in the wetlands of Hulhumeedhoo in southern Addu.