Cracks in reef could cause Male’ to collapse, warns Ministry of Agriculture

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has raised the alarm over cracks appearing in Male’ reef, after surveys revealed they could eventually cause the reef to collapse just as it did in January outside the Nasandhura Hotel.

State Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr Mohamed Ali, said the cracks in Malé reef are “serious problems because it is the reef on which we are building this infrastructure.”

He said the amount of weight and activity around the reef is “debilitating the structure [and] part of it has already collapsed.”

“Cracks are a significant threat to infrastructure,” he said. “We fear some of the reef face might just fall off.”

Dr Ali said although there were many options being looked to try and resolve or alleviate the issue, “nothing is being done” at the moment. He added one of the simplest options to help relieve the pressure on the reefs was to “reduce the load” they are subjected to.

He said although some of the cracks were natural, “it is [mostly] due to some external forces that exacerbate it.”

He added that the effect of pollution and contamination were also of major concern.

Director of Environmental Protection and Research at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Ibrahim Naeem said although “cracks are a common occurrence… there are some threats.”

He said the cracks were occurring “on the reef structure, on the non-living basement of the reef.”

Naeem noted “there is a possibility of collapse” and added “it has happened in many regions,” including in Malé near the Hulhumalé ferry terminal. He said the north-east area of the island was the most vulnerable.

The cracks were usually caused “when people start making buildings and heavy structures, and loading and unloading heavy equipment and goods,” such as granite rock, near vulnerable areas of the reef.

He noted it is “really hard to reconstruct [the reef base]” and if it was to be done, reconstruction might have to start from the sea bed. “We would have to be careful,” he suggested.

Naeem said there had been some studies on the corals around Malé which concluded “it is not a good idea to build heavy structures in these [vulnerable] areas.”

He said the government has also “advised agencies not to give licences to build high structures in those areas.”

Head of Malé Municipality Adam Manik said the incident in front of Nasandhuraa Hotel in Malé, where part of the reef seemingly collapsed, “has nothing to do with the coral reef. It’s the piling.”

Manik said some of the metal pilings beneath Malé, which are 18 inches wide, “don’t reach the lagoon floor bed.”

He said due to “wave action,” the sand beneath the pilings loosens, leaving a gap between the sea bed and the pilings.

He said on 1 January 2010, when the reef collapsed at the hotel, he rushed to Malé to find “several ministries were involved, making a mountain out of a mole-hole.”

He said it would be very “irresponsible of the government” if they were “not giving due credence to these things if they are true.”

Manik said there could be caves in the reef, which would account for the sightings of large cracks. But overall, he said he felt “the whole concept is wrong.”

Building codes stipulate the height of buildings should be determined by the size of their base, but there is no code that limits the weight of a building, Manik added.

Currently, Malé Municipality is in charge of overseeing constructions and making sure they follow the building codes.

Ali Rilwan from environmental NGO Bluepeace said there are places in the reef where “reef slope failure” can be found, meaning the reef has sloped down, as it would happen in a landslide.

Rilwan noted there were some incidents in 1991 when dynamite was used to place the cables for a desalination plant and caused cracks in the reefs. The reef was damaged again near the Hulhumalé ferry terminal, he said, when the sea wall was being put in.

Rilwan said the barge that was transporting all the rocks to build the sea wall unloaded from this area, where the barge was anchored for a long period of time. This in itself, he said, could have worsened sloping of the reef, if not caused it.