The government of Maldives has amended environmental regulations to allow dredging in protected areas in order to facilitate the development of an airport in the protected mangrove site on Kulhudhuffushi island.
Speaking at a press conference today, Minister of Transport Ameen Ibrahim said the government would seek advice from environmental specialists to decide to dredge all or part of Kulhudhuffushi’s only remaining mangrove.
“We have to dredge the mangrove. We will determine whether it will be part or whole of the mangrove later,” he said.
Amendments to the regulations on dredging islands and lagoons will allow the government to dredge protected areas for development projects on the condition that an area with similar geographical characteristics is designated as protected.
The government must also determine if dredging in an environmentally protected area would cause flooding or damage underground fresh water aquifers – a critical water resource in inhabited islands.
Establishing an airport on the most populous island in the north was a key campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen, although with a regional airport on Hanimadhoo Island – just 16.5 km or a 30 minute dhoni ride from Kulhudhuffushi, critics have questioned the feasibility and economic viability of the venture.
The government has said airport developers will be given a contract of 25 years and will be awarded an island for resort development for 50 years in order to subsidise the airport.
“It may not be profitable to only serve Kulhudhuffushi residents. But it will become a profitable investment when islands nearby are developed as resorts,” Ameen told the media today.
Environmental NGO Ecocare has expressed concern over the government’s plans to abrogate its constitutional responsibility to protect the environment as long as the proposed plans are termed ‘development’.
“Though the constitution itself calls for sustainable development, it is sad and absurd when politicians care less about the vulnerability of the Maldives and its ecological diversity,” Ecocare has said.
The group pointed out that – following the complete reclamation of the island’s southern mangrove for the construction of housing -the northern mangrove had been designated to be an environmentally protected zone.
Marine biologist with local environmental consultancy Seamarc, Sylvia Jagerroos, has explained the importance of such wetlands, describing them as “one of the most threatened ecosystems on earth”.
“Mangrove support the seabed meaning they prevent erosion on beachline and also enhance protection of the island in case of storm and higher sea levels,” she said.
“They support a nursery for fish and marine fauna and aid and the reef and seagrass in the food chain. The mangrove mud flats are also very important in the turnover of minerals and recycling.”