The deforestration of Madivaru in Lhaviyani atoll was necessary to build a domestic airport on the uninhabited island, the environment watchdog said Thursday.
Contrary to speculation on social media amid outrage over widely shared photos of the denuded island, an environment impact assessment (EIA) was conducted for the airport project, Ibrahim Naeem, director general of Environment Protection Agency, told the Maldives Independent.
“We found that the removal of trees was compulsory to build an airport on an island as narrow as Madivaru. The same goes for the airport in Raa atoll Fainu island,” he said.
The EIA for the controversial Fainu project was released for comment Thursday, warning of environmental damage from the proposed removal of more than 5,000 trees.
Naeem agreed the photos of Madivaru island circulating on social media were concerning as “it looks like the removal of trees might have exceeded the permit.”
Photos show vegetation on the 2.4-kilometre stretch was almost entirely cleared out. There was a thick forest of coconut palms and other trees.
“We will find out for sure after an inspection. I can assure that an inspection will be done and measures will be taken appropriately,” he said.
The Madivaru island, which previously used as a military base, was leased in May to the Kuredu Holdings company of tycoon ‘Champa’ Mohamed Moosa to develop a domestic airport and city hotel.
The Crown & Champa Resorts operates two resorts in Lhaviyani atoll with two more properties due to open in December.
Newspaper Mihaaru reported the trees removed from Madivaru were burned or transported to resorts.
“Now trees are only seen in the area where workers stay and few palms trees near the beach. Although it is a very narrow island, earlier we could not see from one side to the other because of the dense trees,” a man from the nearby Naifaru island was quoted as saying.
According to the rules on removal of trees, a permit must be obtained from the EPA before removing more than 10 trees and an EIA has to be done for the removal of more than 200 trees.
But permits for tourism related projects are authorised by the tourism ministry.
Last week, the EPA blamed lack of resources, poor inter-agency cooperation and insufficient enforcement authority for the failure to ensure environmental protection standards