Meedhoo dredging halted for noncompliance with environment regulations

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has stopped dredging in Meedhoo, Dhaalu atoll, after the recently started project failed to take measures to protect its environmental impact.

Director General of the agency Ibrahim Naeem told Minivan News that the project was approved by the agency after completing an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), but that the dredging was carried out against the conditions under which it was approved.

The US$10.8 million government project to have 17.5 hectors of land reclaimed and a 485 metre revetment constructed in Meedhoo is being implemented by Netherlands’ Boskalis International.

It was inaugurated last week by President Abdulla Yameen and is expected to be completed within eighteen months of commencement.

Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz had told local news agency Sun today that the dredging had been halted in order for the vessel to be brought to Malé to repair a pump.

Acknowledging that dirt was sprayed on to the island while dredging, he said that safety measures will be taken in the future.

Minivan News was unable to obtain a response from the Ministry of Housing regarding the issue at the time of press.

According to the EPA, one of the main issues leading to the project’s halting was the failure to build a ‘bund wall’ to contain the excess dredge spoil from spilling into the ocean. Another key issue was using the rainbowing technique – the propulsion of materials through the air in a high arc – instead of using pipelines to take the the sand closer to the land.

“If it is required, action will be taken as per regulations,” Naeem explained.

Local environmental NGO Ecocare which – also looking in to the issue – said the organisation is currently communicating with head office of the Royal Boskalis Westminster in the Netherlands,  who are also “concerned and very much alarmed about the situation”.

“As soon as we got information from the island we informed the authorities and we are communicating with Boskalis as well. It is very sad that such an incident happened,” said Maeed M. Zahir of Ecocare.

“Boskalis has a reputation for implementing their projects in a sustainable and environment friendly manner and follow international standards. They are also investigating the incident,” he added.

He said from the reports and pictures from the area, the failure to take mitigation measures had resulted in a negative impact on the island.

“The whole shoreline vegetation is covered in sea water and sand. It is all white now. In addition to this, trees inland have also been affected by this. Leaves are falling off many trees,” Maeed explained, noting that  people living there have also been directly affected by the incident.

According to Ecocare, rainbowing has left “fine sediments ‘raining’ on rooftops and on the vegetation cover near shore and inland”.

A statement issued today by the NGO said that layers of sedimentation found on some rooftops were 2-3 inches thick, large trees on the shoreline and inland had also been affected and are now drying and dying.

“The implications to the environment are frightening while property both public and private are at risk,” the statement added.

Applauding the swift action taken by the EPA concerning the issue, Maeed expressed concern that such an incident had happened on a government project.

“It is very important for them to monitor such projects even if it has been handed over to a private company,” he said.


Queen of the Netherlands moves islands, causes shock and awe

The sheer speed at which the enormous dredging vessel Queen of the Netherlands has been reclaiming land at various islands has left some islanders open-mouthed with astonishment.

“People were truly in awe,” Hinnavaru Councillor Adam Yousuf told Minivan News.

Yousuf said it had previously taken nine months to dredge six hectares of land in Hinnavaru. The rate of the current reclamation project – 28 hectares of land reclaimed in less than ten days – was hard to believe for most islanders.

Currently Queen of the Netherlands is docked at Haa Dhaal Kulhudhuffushi where, within two weeks, it increased the size of the island by about a third. The growth of the island has left islanders a little disconcerted, Kulhudhuffishi Councillor Jamsheed Mohamed told Minivan News.

“When we wake up in the morning, the island is bigger than we left it the night before,” Mohamed said.

The welcome extended to the reclamation project on Kulhudhuffushi has not been completely unadulterated, however. The impact of the island’s rapid expansion has left the fishermen more than just disorientated.

“One week the harbour was on the West of the island, where it had been for generations. The next, it had moved to the north west,” Kulhudhuffushi fisherman Mohamed Iqbal, Dhinaashaa, told Minivan.

Added to the disconcerting switch is the lack of facilities at the new harbour.

“It is very far from where people live, which means that anybody wanting to buy fish has to walk a longer distance on Kulhudhuffushi than they ever have had to before,” Iqbal explained.

The newly reclaimed area is also far from residential areas, and does not have any electricity either, which makes running a fish market there extremely difficult, he said.

Councillor Mohamed told Minivan that while all the islanders are not happy with the way things are at the moment, they are all expecting them to improve. All islanders had wanted the new land.

“We are all hoping that things will change soon. We are hoping to have a new harbour within less than a year”, Councillor Mohamed said.

Bad weather, combined with unfamiliarity with the new harbour, caused an oil carrier accident as it approached the island on Sunday night.

The state-funded Rf109 million project to reclaim Kulhudhuffushi began on 21 September 2010, and is being carried out by Netherland’s Boskalis International. The Queen of the Netherlands is a trailing suction hopper dredger in its fleet.