Environmental regulations were violated in dredging work conducted on the island of Eydhafushi in Baa atoll, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) said today.
Speaking to Minivan News, EPA Director General Ibrahim Naeem said the agency is currently investigating violations of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) terms during the dredging.
Naeem said the main issue was failure to build a “bund wall” to contain excess dredge spoil from spilling into the ocean, an issue which also came up last month in the dredging of Meedhoo in Dhaalu atoll.
The Meedhoo project was halted by EPA for noncompliance with EIA requirements, while the Health Protection Agency warned of possible health risks caused by unsafe dredging.
Using the rainbowing technique – the propulsion of materials through the air in a high arc – rather than using pipelines to take the the sand closer to the land, left a large part of the island’s shoreline vegetation and many houses near the beach covered in fine sand and sea water.
As the Eydhafushi project is expected to be concluded in three days, the EPA has not sought not to halt the dredging as was done with the Meedhoo project,
Naeem however assured that all necessary action will be taken in accordance with laws and regulations.
“Everything should be done in accordance to the regulations, we are trying to minimise the [environmental] impact. Our intention is not to become an obstacle to these projects, not to stop them. We all want development, but we need to protect the environment. It is the environment that we sell and we depend on,” Naeem said.
He said following the Meedhoo incident, the agency advised the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure to ensure that Eydhafushi dredging is carried out in accordance to regulations.
“We will not let another project go on like this, we will take action under article 6 [of the Environment Protection and Preservation Act],” he said.
The article authorises the EPA to stop ongoing projects to prevent any negative impact on the environment.
The project aimed at reclaiming 25.79 hectares land at Eydhafushi is funded by the state budget and implemented by Netherlands’ Boskalis International.
Yesterday, Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Dr Mohamed Muiz said the project will be completed within four days. The minister was unavailable for comment at the time of press.
UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
Eydhafushi is an inhabited island of Baa Atoll, which was declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2011.
According to the EPA, Eydhafushi falls into the ‘transitional area‘ of the reserve, which under the “Statutory framework of the world network of biosphere reserves” has to be an area where “sustainable resource management practices have to be promoted and developed”.
“Since it is a biosphere reserve there are certain standards have to be met, even in buffer zones and transitional areas. Developmental activity should be carried out in an environmentally sustained manner, it should go beyond the usual acceptable standards with mitigation as well. We should maintain the terms which were agreed upon with UNESCO. They will be monitoring the situation,” Naeem said.
Naeem said it was likely for UNESCO to take action if the terms are not met.
Mohamed Aslam, who was the Minister of Environment and Housing when Baa Atoll was declared a biosphere reserve, said it was disheartening to see such violations by the state, noting that it was particularly sensitive since the incident has taken place within the biosphere reserve.
“Development and human intervention will always have an impact, but some practical mitigation measures to minimize the impact are agreed upon through the EIA process,” Aslam said, stressing that the Ministry of Housing must follow these measures and should also be held legally accountable for failure to do so.
“We [the Maldivian Democratic Party government] also used the same methods and reclaimed a number of Islands through the same company. There was Kulhudhufushi, Velidhoo, Thulhaadhoo, Hinnavaru Dhidhoo, GulhiFalhu. We took all the environmental mitigation measures. It can be done. It is disheartening to see a government which pledged to obey laws doing this, one ministry disrespecting the mandate of another like this,” Aslam said.