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Maldives faces elevated risk of coral bleaching

The Marine Research Centre advised suspending dredging and reclamation projects.



Rising ocean temperature is accelerating coral bleaching in the Maldives, the Marine Research Center has warned, advising the government to suspend projects that affect the health of reef ecosystems. 

The MRC said in a statement Monday that the Maldives has been classified at the ‘watch’ level by a satellite monitoring programme of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which categories regions by No Stress, Watch, Warning, Alert Level One and Alert Level Two.

“Coral bleaching status of Maldives could jump to warning level and even to Alert Level One in some parts of the country,” the centre warned.

“Human activities may contribute a slower recovery of bleached corals. Activities such as dredging, land reclamation and beach nourishment projects, which are done at very large scale in Maldives, is damaging the environment of the coral reefs.”

On Wednesday, the MRC said the Maldives has now been upgraded to the ‘warning’ alert level.

Coral reefs form the bedrock of Maldivian islands. Bleaching occurs when warmer water stresses the coral and disrupts the symbiotic relationship with a micro-alga called zooxanthellae, causing the coral to expel the food source and turn white. Bleached coral can starve and die.  

While coral reefs in the Maldives recovered relatively quickly after previous bleaching events, the MRC said stressors that damage reefs could slow the rate of regeneration.

It advised a temporary suspension of dredging and land reclamation projects.

“As the reefs are either directly or indirectly related to the livelihood of Maldivian citizens, we need to do everything we can to minimise the impact of global warming on reefs,” it advised.

Hassan Shah, CEO of the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company, told newspaper Mihaaru on Wednesday that the company has not suspended ongoing projects, including land reclamation for the Hoarafushi airport, harbour expansion in Kulhudhuffushi and placement of rock boulders in Rasdhoo.

But MTCC has been taking measures to mitigate reef damage, he assured. The company’s dredger Mahaa Jarraaf takes sand from 25 meters deep and a bund wall is build around the reclaimed area, he noted.