Ruling party holds tea party to celebrate reef blasting

Ruling party holds tea party to celebrate reef blasting
November 21 16:36 2016

Government supporters held a tea party on the southern island of Meedhoo to celebrate the destruction of the island’s reef for a channel, a project that drew widespread condemnation on environmental grounds.

On Friday afternoon, more than a dozen people gathered at Meedhoo’s northwestern side to watch as the Sri Lankan contractor hired by the housing ministry blasted the reef, sending plumes of water high up into the air.

The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ branch of the Meedhoo island – an administrative ward of Addu City – organised the gathering with tea, short eats and rice pudding.

Reef blasting was discontinued ten years ago because of the damage it causes to marine life and corals, but the Environment Protection Agency on November 9 approved the government’s plans to use dynamite-laden explosives to blast 405 square meters to create a channel between Meedhoo and Ismahelahera, an uninhabited island to be developed as a resort.

Environmental campaigners and politicians warned that using dynamite to blast the reef would cause irreversible damage, but their pleas were ignored.

Ali Mohamed, who represents the Hulhumeedhoo constituency on the Addu City council, told newspaper Mihaaru that the majority of Meedhoo people were not concerned about the use of explosives to blast the reef.

“This is something that the people of this island have wanted for a long time,” he was quoted as saying. The new oceanside access point will help fishermen and farmers with easy entry and exit, he said. 

The councillor, who defected from the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party to the ruling party in 2015, accused the opposition of “politicising” the issue. He was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.

Rozaina Adam, an MDP MP who represents the Meedhoo constituency, was vehemently opposed to the project. She accused the government of opting to blast the reef because it was cheaper than other methods.

“After blasting that reef and developing Ismehelahera as a resort, what are you going to bring tourists to show? A dead reef?” she wrote on Facebook last week.

She went on to warn of other long-term effects such as beach erosion, noting that funds have not been allocated in next year’s budget for shore protection or a breakwater system. 

Former Presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed had also denounced the plans to blast Meedhoo’s reef.

Gayoom banned the use of explosives for creating channels in 2007 after the government was forced to compensate the people of two islands in Vaavu atoll for damage caused during a controlled blasting.

His successor called the blasting “an attack on island livelihoods.”

The EPA initially refused to approve the blasting but relented under pressure from the government, a senior official told the Maldives Independent on the condition of anonymity.

An Environment Impact Assesment report submitted to the regulatory body had warned of irreversible damage. “But the environment ministry made it clear that the approvals must be given. The agency had no choice in the matter,” the official said.

The environment ministry meanwhile said in a press release that only a small portion of the reef will be blasted. “This does not mean that we are stopping the use of more sustainable ways,” the ministry said, stressing that blasting would not be used as a common or preferred method.

Expressing concern, Maeed Zahir, an environmental campaigner at Ecocare Maldives, a leading environmental NGO, said: “By approving the use of dynamite, we are letting everyone know that this is an option. That is a very dangerous precedent, the consequences of which will be felt for generations to come.”

The Maldivian economy is bio-diversity-driven and reliant on income from tourism and fisheries, he noted.

“By celebrating destruction to our ecosystem we are setting a bad example. If we allow cheap and easy courses of action that leads to irreversible damage to these delicate reef ecosystems, we may lose our future income sources,” Maeed warned.