The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rejected a proposal to develop an airport on an environmentally sensitive area in Farukolhu Island in northern Shaviyani Atoll.
“We believe the damage caused to such an environmentally sensitive area does not justify the project,” EPA’s Director General Ibrahim Naeem told Minivan News today.
Farukolhu has extensive mangroves and is a nesting ground for several species of birds. Sharks and rays frequent the island’s bay for breeding.
In June 2013, Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb and recently dismissed Minister of Transport Ameen Ibrahim leased out the island to Araam Travels Pvt Ltd to establish an airport.
The project – to be completed within 15 months – would boost tourism in the area, Adeeb said. He identified lack of transport infrastructure to be the biggest obstacle to tourism in Shaviyani Atoll.
The company was awarded Gaaf Alif Atoll Innahera Island for resort development under a public-private partnership agreement to subsidize the airport venture.
The US$ 4 million project was to reclaim 1.8 hectares from the island’s mangrove sites to construct airport runway. Generators, desalination plants, sewerage and drainage facilities and a jetty were also planned.
The EPA rejected the proposal based on an environmental impact assessment. Araam Travels can appeal the EPA’s decision with Minister of Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim.
If the minister upholds the EPA’s decision, the government may have to designate another island for airport development.
According to local media, a company owned by Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela’s husband, Mohamed Ibrahim Didi, owns a stake in Araam Travels.
The EPA recently halted reclamation in Dhaal Atoll Meedhoo Island for violating environmental regulations.
Established in 2009, the EPA functions under the supervision of a governing board within the Ministry of Environment and Energy. The agency has published a list of protected areas and a separate list of ‘environmentally sensitive areas.’
Local environmental groups have spoken out against the dredging of a mangrove site in Haa Dhaal Atoll Kulhudhuffushi Island for airport development.
There are nine airports in the Maldives, of which five are domestic airports.