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Airport project on protected island alarms environmentalists

Environmental groups say construction of an airport on the “unique and rare” island of Dhigulaabadhoo in southern Gaaf Dhaal Atoll would lead to biodiversity loss.



Environmental groups have expressed concern over a government plan to build an airport on an environmentally sensitive island in a southern atoll.

Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer told the parliament in late June that the airport was necessary to expand tourism in south Huvadhoo Atoll, also known as Gaaf Dhaal Atoll.

It is to be built on the island of Dhigulaabadhoo, a U shaped island located between the inhabited islands of Fiyoari and Faresmaathodaa on the south western tip of the atoll.

The island’s natural bay is a breeding ground for rays and sharks and has an extensive mangrove system.

Zameer told newspaper Mihaaru last week that the government is carrying out an environmental impact assessment to judge the feasibility of the project.

“We’re conducting the studies at the island after discussions with the environment minister. To my knowledge, it is a protected island, but should the EIA indicate that airport development is feasible there, we will go ahead with the project,” he was quoted as saying. “Only the survey will show if it is possible or not.”

If the project goes ahead, Dhigulaabadhoo would be the third airport in Huvadhoo Atoll, thought to be the largest atoll in the world. Huvadhoo is divided into Gaaf Alif and Gaaf Dhaal for administrative purposes. The atoll has a total of five tourist resorts.

Describing the island as “unique and rare,” Mohamed ‘Meemu Zaviyani’ Zahir, an environment ministry official, said airport construction on Dhigulabadhoo would lead to loss of biodiversity

The lagoon would have to be dredged and reclaimed for the airport, he said.

“No industrial work can be done in the island in a way that doesn’t affect its environment. The island’s features will be lost, we will lose a sensitive island that showcases the beauty of the Maldives. This is the only such kind of island we have.”

The environment ministry has not been informed of the project, he added.

Ali Rilwan of environmental NGO Bluepeace said: “My position is that this project should not be carried out. This island is categorised as environmentally sensitive as well as one of the most ecologically rich islands. There are only a few islands like this and it would be a shame to lose it.”

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration had also considered leasing the island for aquaculture, but scrapped plans following an outcry from environmental groups.

Nasheed’s environment minister Mohamed Aslam called the airport project “madness.”

The Maldives has a total of 11 regional airports.

The Environmental Protection Agency had previously put a stop to plans for an airport in another environmentally sensitive island in the northern Shaviyani Atoll. However, the EPA may no longer have a say in such projects as its authority to monitor tourism-related projects was stripped last year. It still has the power to monitor non-tourism projects.

President Abdulla Yameen’s administration has been criticised for disregarding the Maldives’ fragile environment.