The destruction caused by large-scale infrastructure projects in the Maldives is becoming more apparent, even as the government marked World Environment Day.
In the past two weeks there has been reef blasting that sparked tremors while strong swells have led to flooding in Kulhudhuffushi, where a mangrove and lagoon were reclaimed for a controversial airport project.
SaveMaldives, a citizen-led environmental movement, has documented the destruction with a publication looking at the “obsession with airports of questionable need, reclamation of lagoons and reefs for resort development to destruction of environmentally sensitive areas.”
“The Maldives is a rich nation with poor and underdeveloped local communities. It is a country in political turmoil, with governance in crisis,” says the group.
Nowhere are governance issues more apparent than the Environmental Protection Agency, says SaveMaldives.
It points to the agency’s lack of independence and how it runs as a department of the Environment Ministry, making it a “rubber stamp” that legitimises destructive infrastructure projects.
But the government appears unfazed by any criticism.
Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim issued a special message to Maldivians on the occasion of the International Day for Biological Diversity, urging the public to appreciate the ocean, fauna and ecosystems the country is blessed with.
That same day reports of tremors around central Maldives turned to rumours of an earthquake during a week of especially bad weather.
The Maldives Meteorological Service clarified that no earthquake activity had been detected.
“These shakes are likely to be caused by localised minor land disturbances and are not likely to cause any severe impacts,” it tweeted at the time.
The tremors near lhaviyani atoll were the result of a local resort company blasting a reef near Maabinhuraa island to widen a channel, EPA sources confirmed to the Maldives Independent.
The tourism ministry could not be reached for comment.
“This is absolute nonsense!” said Adam Abdulla, a sustainable development advocate. “Thoriq and this government have facilitated so much damage to ecosystems and still he is shifting the responsibility to people?”
“Just look at what has happened in the past six months. How many lagoons have been reclaimed? The largest mangroves in the Maldives destroyed for an airport. Reef blasting – a practice we had long decided was too destructive – has been brought back,” he added.
“Thoriq goes abroad to these climate talks and gets all these funds, but at home he is doing the exact opposite, that is complete hypocrisy,” SaveMaldives activist Ahmed Mohamed ‘Forme’ said.
“They have destroyed unique places like Kulhudhuffushi and Maafaru. The EIA (environmental impact assessment) rules for tourism have been transferred to tourism (ministry) to intentionally create loopholes to facilitate environment destruction, so that resort owners can reap benefits.”
In a statement released Tuesday to mark World Environment Day the minister urged Maldivians to adopt environment-friendly practices and reduce the use of single-use plastics.
Plastic and other man-made waste is polluting the oceans, he said.
“As Maldives is blessed with the fifth richest reef system in the world, our economy, tourism and fishing, depends on the health of these reefs.”
He thanked President Abdulla Yameen for his “invaluable work to protect the environment of the Maldives.”
A joint statement from 13 NGOs condemned the ministry’s hypocrisy and incompetence in “creating and expanding a culture of bottled water consumption.”
They said that as the environment ministry talked about reducing plastic consumption and waste, a new water bottling plant that will produce 10,000 plastic bottles every hour, is being set up in Kulhudhuffushi.
“If this factory is operational 24 hours per day, it will introduce 87.6 million million plastic bottles to the Maldives annually,” they said.