Scotland to support Maldivian green power

First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond will sign a joint statement of cooperation with President Mohamed Nasheed at Copenhagen, pledging Scottish knowledge and support for the development of green power in the Maldives.

Speaking at a press conference in Edinburgh, Salmond said Scotland would work together with the Maldives “to transfer knowledge about the capacity building needed to respond to the huge challenges posed by the climate change around us. We are delighted to help the Maldives in their endeavour to become the world’s first carbon neutral country.

“What is clear is that the industrialised nations must agree to targets that are both meaningful and binding. Anything short of that risks failing not just their own citizens, but those of the many developing nations most exposed to the destructive impact of climate change,” he added.

Glasgow-based Maldives Envoy for Science and Technology, Ahmed Moosa, said as a Scottish-trained engineer himself, he believed Scotland could play “a big part” in the development of renewable energy the Maldives, beginning with joint discussions in Copenhagen. “I think this is the start of something very special,” he added.

More than 30 per cent of Scotland’s energy will be provided by renewable energy sources by 2011, Salmond claimed, with the figure rising to half by 2020 – a key element of the country’s ambitious emission reduction target of 42 per cent by the same year.

Much of that will be produced by onshore wind farms. Scotland already has Europe’s largest onshore wind farm at Whitelee in Eaglesham Moor, which will soon be expanded to 593 megawatts allowing it power over a quarter of a million homes.

“Mr Moosa informed me that a wind farm of the same capacity could supply power to every house in the Maldives’ 1200 islands,” Salmond said, “although I think the transport lines might be a wee bit complex.”

The Maldives recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Swedish company Madsen Consulting, which will carry out a feasability study for establishing a wind farm in the Northern Province. The single 75w turbine will be installed in Lhaviyani atoll Hinnavaru early next year.


Maldives’ youth delegates return from Copenhagen

Three of the four young climate delegates from the Maldives have returned from representing the island nation at the youth climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The event preceded the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP 15) that began today, where 192 parties are meeting with the intention of formulating an agreement to stabilise the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Organisers hope the conference will prove as successful as COP3 in 1997, known as the Kyoto Protocol, which led to agreements on mandatory emission reductions.

Aishath Shifana, Mohamed Ansar and Aminath Riuman Wasif returned home on Sunday while the fourth Maldivian delegate, Mohamed Axan Maumoon, will remain in Denmark for a several more days after being chosen to meet the Danish Prime Minister.

Axan is revelling in his role as youth climate ambassador of the Maldives, appearing on award-winning US news program Democracy Now, the largest community media collaboration in North America.

“On the basis that you know what you are doing is wrong and you can see that the victim is begging for mercy, would you commit murder?” Axam asked the program’s viewers.

The other school students were welcomed home at the UN building by Education Minister Dr Mustafa Lutfy and UN staff including Mansoor Ali, Unicef representative to the Maldives.

Mansoor urged them to “keep up the momentum”, by trying to engage more of their contemporaies in tackling climate change, pledging the support of Unicef, while Lutfy offered the support of the education ministry to buoy the efforts of the schools’ climate clubs.

“I hope the trip was useful from an individual perspective as well as anchoring your efforts into the future,” Mansoor said, adding that he hoped the students had also had time to see Denmark.

Officer-in-charge of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in the Maldives, Dr Arun Kashyap, suggested the students continue to work together and develop a proposal for a youth climate summit to be held in the Maldives.

Coping in Copenhagen

The Maldivian delegates explore a forest in Denmark
The Maldivian delegates explore a forest in Denmark

During the week-long visit to Denmark, over 200 delegates aged 14-17 from 42 countries set up stands in Copenhagen town hall promoting their country’s efforts to combat climate change. The Maldivian delegates confessed theirs “was one of the most popular”, with many people fascinated by the immediate threat climate change and sea level rise poses for the low-lying island nation.

“It was very interesting to see how people responded to the issue of sea level rise,” Wasif explained. “Everyone kept saying: ‘we’d better go and see the Maldives before it is under the sea.'”

The Maldivians’ response, Ansar said, was to say “we don’t want to be under the sea. We’re an innocent [party] suffering from the actions of developed countries.”

The students’ enthusiasm for their subject was quickly picked up by the attending media and the group were inundated with interviews throughout their time in Denmark, frequently making national headlines.

There were a lot of journalists and we were always busy with interviews,” Ansar said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be afraid of journalists again,” he laughed. The trick, he explained, was “to talk normally, as you would to a friend.”

Seeing an opportunity to gain support from the education ministry, Shifana asked Lutfy to “please give the school climate clubs more support, because they are the least popular clubs in school.”

“We would like more students to join and be as interested in the environment as we are,” she said.

The four students were chosen from across the Maldives. A short-list of 10 competed in a quiz broadcast on TVM, from which the final four were selected.


Reefwalkers: Hiking comes to the Maldives

Ever thought you could see 80 islands in three days? And purely by hiking?

This unusual venture – a first in the Maldives – was completed by more than 100 people in the WalkMaldives event over the Eid holidays in late November.

GaafuDhaalu (Gdh) Atoll, one of the world’s biggest natural atolls, makes this possible as many of its islands are all situated in the same lagoon.

“We came up with the idea when we were discussing what sort of things people can do in the Maldives, apart from fishing, picnics and activities like that,” says Ali Shareef, from the architectural firm Tekton Design.

Tekton organised the event in conjunction with Green Tech, a local company selling environment friendly products like solar panels. The two companies often work together on sites across the Maldives. While working on working on a resort island in Thaa atoll, Mohamed Latheef of Green Tech suggested “We could hike and visit islands in my home atoll, Gdh.”

The idea took off, and the pair decided to give the public a chance to participate in the event.

Trail of Discovery

Maldivian feast
Island NGOs organised feasts for the walkers

The response was overwhelming. But the group was limited to 150 people, chosen on a first come basis, “because we wanted to have a manageable group,” says Shareef.

The organisers invited islanders from the atoll and the initial group that started the hike numbered 180. Hikers were divided into 12 groups, with each group given the chance to choose their own leader and each including islanders from the area.

The cost was only Mrf 600 per person, reasonable for such an adventure, while those who flew from Male paid for their seaplane ticket to Kaadedhoo and boat to the starting island of Madaveli.

NGOs did the ground work, arranging meals at Madaveli, Hodedhoo, Nadella, Rathafandhoo and Fiyoree where the participants finally arrived at noon on the last day.

Islanders welcome
Islanders welcomed the 180 participants

“It was amazing to see such natural beauty. It’s a sight that even most Maldivians don’t get to see,” says Zoona Naseem, a diver. Her group consisted mostly of fellow divers and water sports instructors, who were so enthusiastic they stayed on after the walk and have now visited 103 islands. While the sights were spectacular, “unfortunately we noticed a lot of erosion also,” she says.

Azim Musthag joined the walk partly to see the Gdh area, and partly for the challenge of completing the 35 kilometre hike. “It’s a very unique atoll, with all these islands in one lagoon. Sometimes it’s only five minutes’ walk between two islands.”

He says the most difficult thing was trying to avoid stepping on live coral.

“The corals are so colourful and alive, so the locals must have routes that they take. But since we were new in the area sometimes we had to swim to avoid stepping on any coral,” he says.

“Gdh is the most beautiful part of Maldives I have yet seen,” describes Aiminath Shauna. After spending the night at Keramitha and Kanandhoo, two uninhabited islands, she says “the sunrise and sunsets there put to shame the ones we see in Male.”

The ancient coral mosques and the warm welcome extended by the islanders made the trip especially memorable for Shauna. “And we had 100% visibility – it’s so amazing to see the beautiful islands and coral, and it was never tiring because of the rush of adrenalin hiking through such beauty.”

Exploring with awareness

Taking a rest
Taking a rest during the walk

Many of participants say they hope walks like this will motivate more Maldivians to take an interest in preserving nature.

“The organisers were very good, they asked people not to step on live coral or throw things in the sea,” says Zoona.

However Musthag says a lack of knowledge meant some Maldivians were not able to differentiate between live and dead coral, “so we held a briefing on the second day with the organisers on how to identify live ones.”

Shauna says most of the group had never seen such natural beauty, even growing up so close to it.

“It’s important that research is done, and it would be good if the hiking trail informed people where they should snorkel and even canoe.”

An identifiable walking trail was suggested by many participants as the best way to have a minimal impact on the environment.

“This small ecosystem of our country protects us, is a breeding ground for fish and attracts tourists, so we should take care of it,” Shauna says.

Future walks

With the resounding success of the first walk, Shareef looks forward to continuing it.

“We will do it in smaller groups so it will be easier to manage,” he says.

Protecting the environment was also one of his concerns, so the forms signed by participants had a clause to that effect.

The organisers also plan to train guides in partnership with island NGOs: “We really appreciate the help and support they gave us, and we want this to benefit the atoll as well.”

Shareef says visiting the atoll felt like stepping back in time 10 years, as it had not been developed to the extent it could have been.

It’s a wish shared by Abbas Ali, the island councillor of Nadella: “WalkMaldives is a very good initiative; we are ready to support in any way we can,” he says.

He believes the events will generate publicity for the atoll as well as enable further development, and eventually “we’d like to see tourists come here as well.”

Eighty islands, 35 kilometers and one lagoon in three days is WalkMaldives in a nutshell: perfect for those looking for adventure or simply to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the Maldives.

To contact the WalkMaldives team, visit the website


Holhudhoo prepares for beach erosion

Residents of Noonu atoll Holhudhoo have sent a letter to their island councillor expressing concern over the escalation in beach erosion, especially as monsoon season approaches.

Councillor Ishaq Rasheed told Minivan News that erosion was particularly bad on the north-east corner of the island where land had been reclaimed and plots given out to islanders to build houses.

“It happens every year during the north-east monsoon but it was worse last year than before,” said Ishaq, adding that he feared a repeat in late December or early January.

“One house owned by Badeeu was almost built. He just had the foundations. But luckily he didn’t built it otherwise it would have been completely in the sea,” he said.

In another example, Ishaq said the occupants of Saraamanzil were forced to leave their house on several occasions “because the sea is almost up to its walls”.

He said that although the President had pledged to build a sea wall, the government was still awaiting loan assistance for the Rf2 million (US$156,000) project.

For now, he continued, residents with homes on the north-eastern corner of the island would have to be relocated when the weather worsened.

As one of the lowest-lying countries in the world, the Maldives is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and its corollary, beach erosion.

In 2007, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted sea level rise of between 18cm and 59cm within the next century would submerge many of the Indian Ocean nation’s islands.

Speaking to Minivan News, Abdulla Shahid, chief coordinator at the disaster management centre, said that no action had been taken to tackle Holhudhoo’s erosion problem yet.

“The main reason is budget difficulties,” said Shahid, who added that over 70 per cent of islands in the Maldives experienced beach erosion.

If budget was not a question, Shahid said he would like to acquire the technical know-how and assistance to build bespoke harbours for each of the islands.

“This is what’s causing these problems. There might be other issues related to climate change but most of these erosion problems are related to harbours,” he said.

The Maldives’ “cut and paste” harbours have been criticised for not taking an island’s specific attributes, such as sand movement, into consideration, resulting in erosion.

Although islands in the Maldives are dynamic and coastal erosion is counterbalanced by subsequent sand accretion, erosion is worsened by man-made activity such as ill-conceived harbours.

Shahid said he was seeking cooperation with other countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, which had experience of designing and building harbours.

Until then, he said, sandbags provided a temporary measure, adding that the disaster management centre had recently sent 1,200 sandbags to Raa atoll Dhuvafaaru to help with the problem.

“We have got our work cut out and we have got nothing but empty coffers,” he said.


Developing countries to share US$10 billion climate package

Commonwealth leaders welcomed a US$10 billion annual package for developing countries ahead of the landmark United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen this December.

Leaders of the 53 countries, among them President Mohamed Nasheed, issued a declaration committing to “achieving the strongest possible outcome” in the Danish capital.

“The latest scientific evidence indicates that in order to avoid dangerous climate change likely to have catastrophic impacts we must find solutions using all available means,” the declaration stated. “We must act now.”

Participants at the two-day annual Commonwealth meeting in Trinidad and Tobago agreed that an international legally binding agreement at Copenhagen was essential and pledged their support to Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen to deliver a comprehensive treaty.

Negotiations over the past two years have virtually stalled with developed and developing countries unable to agree on the level of emission cuts and financial assistance to be given.

However a meeting between US President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Hu Jintao earlier this month breathed new life into the climate change talks as each agreed to lobby for a legally binding deal at Copenhagen.

In their declaration, leaders of the Commonwealth agreed that developed countries should continue to take the lead on cutting their emissions.

“And developing countries, in line with their national circumstances, should also take action to achieve a substantial deviation from business-as-usual emissions with financial and technical support,” the declaration said.

Copenhagen fund

Commonwealth heads welcomed the initiative to establish a Copenhagen Launch Fund to start next year and building to US$10 billion a year by 2012.

The goal received backing by French Prime Minister Nicholas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who said the UK would contribute US$1.3 billion over the next three years.

“The rest of Europe will do so,” Brown said at the Commonwealth summit. “And I believe American will do so as well.”

US Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said, “We need to get every country on board.”

Leaders also called for fast funding for the poorest countries as well as those most vulnerable to climate change and requested that 10 per cent of the fund be put aside for small island states and associated low-lying coastal states.

“The needs of the most vulnerable must be addressed. Their voice must be heard and capacity to engage strengthened. Many of us from small island states, low-lying coastal states and least developed countries face challenges, yet have contributed least to the problem of climate change,” the declaration said.


Scientists said last week the effects of climate change were being felt faster than anticipated and oceans were rising by 3.4 mm per year, greater than predicted.

As one of the lowest-lying countries in the world, the Maldives is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. In 2007, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that sea level rises of up to 59 cm within a century would swamp many of the Maldives’ 1,192 coral islands.

“My country would not survive,” said Nasheed at a conference of vulnerable nations earlier this month. “The sums of money on offer are so low, it is like arriving at an earthquake zone with a dustpan and brush,” he added.

In their declaration, Commonwealth heads further called for support for adaptation, technology transfer and capacity building in addition to financial assistance.


Supreme Court to decide appointment of ACC member

The government will ask for legal advice from the Supreme Court over the appointment of Hassan Luthfee to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Attorney General Husnu Suood has said.

Although President Mohamed Nasheed recalled Luthfee’s nomination, parliament rejected his substitute nominee and approved Luthfee to the commission.

Last week, members were sworn in to the commission without Luthfee.

Addressing press today, Suood said Luthfee’s nomination was not valid after the president withdrew his name.

“The principle I consider in advising the president is whether there is any obstacle in the law for him to withdraw a name or a period for him to do it,” he said. “If the Majlis has not passed the name, I believe the president can withdraw the name at any time.”


One minute to midnight for Maldives’ corals

From the air, the Maldives is a breath-taking vision to behold. White sand islands encircled by cerulean lagoons lie scattered in the navy sea. Delve beneath its turquoise waters and it is equally spectacular. A panoply of psychedelic fish, honeycomb moray eels, violet soldierfish and orange-striped triggerfish to name a few, flit among a treasure trove of coral.

But while the Maldives has grabbed headlines world over for being one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, fated to disappear beneath the waves if sea levels continue to rise, its underwater Shangri-La has received little press.

If the experts are right, however, the Maldives’ coral reefs are in terminal decline. A UN report entitled The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity released last week in Berlin, stated the world’s coral infrastructure and accompanying biodiversity would be the first ecosystem to go due to climbing greenhouse gases.


The message is critical; the reality is grim. “Corals are the foundation of the whole ecosystem, the building blocks of the reef itself,” said Guy Stevens, a British marine biologist at Four Seasons resort. “If the reef went, the Maldives would cease to exist, the islands themselves would be eroded and washed away. Without them, there’s nothing.”

Anke Hofmeister, a German marine biologist at Soneva Fushi resort is similarly pessimistic. “We can always argue that the coral reefs are recovering… but there’s definitely reason to think the reefs will disappear…this is the tipping point.”

Their fear is not unfounded. Anthropogenic carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases continue to drive global warming. Add into the mix, the local hazards of overfishing, an inadequate waste management system and population expansion, and corals have little chance of survival.

The vast colonies of coral, the bedrock of the Indian Ocean archipelago, are formed by the calcium carbonate secretions of tiny creatures called polyps. Living within the polyps, microscopic algae, zooxanthellae, take carbon dioxide for photosynthesise in return for food. As corals die, their calcium exoskeletons turn to limestone providing the perfect foundation for new generations of polyps to settle.

Yet while it has taken nature millennia to create the chain of 1,192 coral islands, it has taken humankind just over a hundred years to virtually wipe it out. The country’s fragile ecosystem lies on a knife-edge as concentrations of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere already exceed the safe threshold of 350 ppm.

Humanitarian catastrophe

Failure to curb emissions will condemn reefs to extinction, leading to dire economic, social and humanitarian consequences. In the Maldives, both tourism and fishing, which provides 71% of national employment and 49% of public revenue, will be hard hit. “Our whole existence, our livelihoods depends on reefs. It is a human rights issue because it will affect our right to life,” says Hussein Zahir, a senior reef ecologist at the country’s Marine Research Centre.

The loss of the Maldives’ coral ramparts will cripple the country’s ability to protect itself against extreme weather events caused by global warming. A government report estimates reefs absorb up to 90% of a wave’s force. As one of the lowest lying countries in the world, the Maldives is particularly vulnerable to waves, storm surges, cyclones and rises in sea level.

El Nino, the mass bleaching event of 1998, was the single most cataclysmic event in the history of coral degeneration in the Maldives. Up to 90% of the nation’s corals in some parts of the country were killed following the three-degree rise in ocean temperatures. Stressed out polyps evicted their colourful tenants – zooxanthellae – and were left a ghostly shade of white. For Stevens, the threat of one-off catastrophes such as El Nino pose one of the biggest threats to coral reefs.


Although a natural phenomenon, scientists predict that as sea temperatures rise, such incidents of large-scale bleaching will increase. “The frequency and magnitude are linked with global warming,” says Stevens. “As we warm up the earth, we are playing with the natural cycles, upsetting the equilibrium. Before a drought in one area of the world might result in a flood somewhere else. It was a see-sawing effect, but now there’s no balance.”

Hard on the heels of the tribulations faced by corals is another more critical threat. In June, the national science academies of 70 countries signed a statement warning that rising acidity in the world’s oceans would lead to a global catastrophe. The scientists said the oceans were more acidic than they had been for the past 800,000 years and urged ocean acidification to be put on the agenda at the Copenhagen climate change conference in December.

Oceans have absorbed around half of all carbon dioxide produced by humans since the industrial revolution, slowing global warming. But an overabundance of the greenhouse gas has tipped the balance. The resulting high levels of acidity impair the ability of some organisms to secrete calcium carbonate. This applies not only to polyps but a host of marine creatures, among them, phytoplankton – microscopic algae at the bottom of the food chain, responsible for producing half of the world’s oxygen. “It’s quite alarming if we think that it’s the base of the food chain,” says Verena Wiesbauer, a marine biologist at Water Solutions, an environmental consultancy firm in the Maldives.

A minute to midnight

Despite the doomsday scenario predicted by many scientists, marine biologists at the country’s luxury resorts are hard at work in search of stop-gap measures to buffer reefs from further climatic hardship. Coral propagation is one such technique. Fragments of coral are attached to a variety of structures from cement discs to electrified steel frames designed to encourage the birth of new colonies. The results so far have proved promising.

But while coral gardening may be an important conservation tool, most marine biologists agree it is not a large-scale solution. “There may be localised benefits from coral transplanting projects but in the long-term we need to concentrate on how to preserve what nature has given us,” says Hofmeister. “Ecosystems have been established over so many millions of years and you can’t just rebuild that.”

For now, the consensus is that coral reefs are teetering on the precipice of extinction. “It is one minute to 12,” says Wiesbauer. “The problem is that economy will always win and ecology will always lose.”

The climate change talks offer a glimmer of hope. If world leaders are able to put national interests aside and thrash out a successor to the Kyoto protocol then coral reefs may have a chance at survival.

Failure to commit to drastic cuts in greenhouse gases emissions will sound the death knell for coral reefs and spell the beginning of the end for other ecosystems. As a microcosm of the world, the plight of the Maldives and its fragile reef should be heeded, says Hofmeister. “We see the effects much much earlier here than other countries,” she says. “But it is only a matter of time before what happens here, happens to the rest of the world.”