Precious mangrove under threat as government plans airport in Kulhudhuffushi

Environmental NGO Ecocare has expressed concern that government proposals for an airport on Kulhudhuffushi island will result in the destruction of environmentally sensitive wetland areas.

“Though the constitution it self calls for sustainable development, it is sad and absurd when politicians care less about the vulnerability of Maldives and of its ecological diversity,” read an Ecocare press release.

Minister of State for Transport and Communication Mohamed Ibrahim today admitted that, should the proposed plan go ahead, there are few options but to encroach upon the island’s only remaining mangrove.

“We don’t have the details, but the new government plans to build an airport. We have prepared concept and have shared with the atoll council and the island council, and we are awaiting their comments,” said Ibrahim.

Ecocare stated that official enquiries into the specifics of the development had yet to yield any responses.

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.

Ecocare have also raised fears that the government plans to abrogate its constitutional responsibility to protect the environment as long as the proposed plans are termed ‘development’.

“Ecocare does not believe that this is a development proposal – this is just to honour a campaign pledge…it seems that he [President Abdulla Yameen] has asked authorities to get all of these promises done in 25 months,” said Ecocare’s Maeed M. Zahir.

State minister, Ibrahim, also referred to President Yameen’s August campaign pledge, in which he had suggested that the recently developed Hanimaadhoo airport – within the same area – was not enough for Kulhudhuffushi’s development.

At just just 16.6 km – or a thirty minute dhoni ride – from the new airport, Ecocare’s statement declared: “we cannot find reason whatsoever for the construction of an Airport in the Island of HDh. Kulhudhuffushi”.

Ibrahim declined to comment on the need for an additional regional airport.

Island divided

Ecocare’s Zahir suggested that most of Kulhudhuffushi’s residents were against the development, arguing that support for the proposal came largely from “party cadres” of President Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives.

“[Ecocare] has been made aware that there is a growing population of younger more environmentally sound locals who are opposing the idea of an airport,” Ecocare stated.

In contrast, however, Kulhudhuffushi North MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa explained that a strong desire for economic development, alongside the government’s failure to promote the environmental case for preserving the wetlands, had resulted in strong local support for the plan.

“There are many many people who want the airport…My [parliamentary] election is a month ahead – my priority is to all people. Some of the people, they want to have the airport, so how can I comment against the airport,” said the opposition MP.

Asked about the potential for reclamation of the mangrove, Ghafoor suggested that economic imperatives would outweigh environmental.

“People are looking for the jobs and people are looking for better options,” he said. “Their concern is the airport so I am am also willing to have the airport.”

Ecocare’s Zahir suggested, however, aviation regulations make the development of a second airport in the region untenable, arguing that local development would be better served by improvements to the ferry network.

Ghafoor argued that, without significant government efforts to maintain the area, the mangroves were currently acting as breeding grounds for mosquitoes – furthering local indifference to the wetlands’ fate.

“So far, the government hasn’t brought [environmental importance] to public notice – through this muddy land, a lot of mosquitoes are coming. The government is not providing control and these things so people are suffering – when there is low tide, there is a lot of smell, due to the heat and all.”

The Maldivian Democratic Party MP suggested that a newly developed airport may only require the reclamation of 10-15 percent of the mangrove.

“Without my people surviving, how can my concern be on the environment?”


Former shark fishermen learn farming and aquaculture at M&S-sponsored workshop

Mohamed Rauf is a father of three from Kanditheemu in Shaviyani Atoll. Like most fishermen in his island, he took up shark fishing as a means to provide for his family.

For three years Rauf’s family depended on selling sharks to local buyers until the government of the Maldives imposed a nationwide shark fishing ban, bringing a halt to his income from shark fishing.

In March 2010, the government banned all types of shark fishing within its territorial waters, which covers about 90,000 square kilometres, technically making it the largest shark sanctuary in the world at the time. A trade ban on all shark products was imposed in July 2011.

Rauf is just one of the estimated 200 shark fishermen whose livelihood was affected following the ban.

Although the government in March 2010 said it would provide the fishermen with financial support and retraining, Rauf had to wait two years for any action on the matter. Last week, his hopes were finally raised.

‘Alternative livelihoods for former shark fishermen’ is a training workshop funded by UK retailer Marks & Spencer, focusing on farming and aquaculture training. The workshop was held last week for former shark fishermen and their families from the islands of Kulhudhuffushi in Haa Dhaal Atoll and Kan’ditheemu and Goidhoo in Shaviyani Atoll.

Seamarc Pvt Ltd, an environmental consultancy in the Maldives, coordinated the workshop in collaboration with the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture and New England Seafood.

Environmental consultant at Seamarc, Marie Saleem, said the workshop was conducted by experts from the Hanimaadhoo Agriculture Centre and Marine Research Centre, and was a great success.

“The workshop served as an inspiration to people – they have being asking for this since 2010. Now they realise they can really do things like hydroponics and agriculture on the islands,” Saleem said.

The farming course focused on home gardening and hydroponic techniques. Participants learned to cultivate different crops including chilli, watermelon and papaya. Participants also acquired knowledge on common pest and disease control related to these crops.

The aquaculture course focused on different species of aquaculture including food fish, clown fish, grouper, pearl, seaweed and sea cucumber cultivation. A lecture on the commercial aspects of mariculture was also given by the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Corporation (MIFCO).

The Hanimaadhoo Agriculture Centre will conduct a further, more in-depth agricultural training course later this year. The three-month course and another two-week long training on aquaculture planned for the year are expected to equip the participants with more hands-on experience.

“It was more of an introductory workshop this time. We really hope participants will continue with the other workshops that are coming up,” Saleem added.

Rauf, who has now achieved a certificate from the workshop, agreed that further workshops, especially in aquaculture, would be helpful.

“The workshop was great. We learned a lot of new things. But I am only confident with the farming techniques so far. Another workshop in aquaculture will be very useful,” he said.