The Maldives government is endangering coral reefs in pursuit of urbanisation and opaque mega-deals with foreign investors.
This is the picture painted by divers, marine scientists and campaigners – and endorsed by two whistleblowers from the country’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). After a 2016 ocean heatwave that killed 70-80% of the country’s surface corals, widespread dredging and land reclamation threatens their recovery.
Under president Abdulla Yameen’s “transformative economic agenda,” investors are being courted for massive resort and infrastructure projects. To facilitate this, the tourism ministry has taken over environmental impact assessments for resort developments from the EPA.
Ibrahim Mohamed, an EPA deputy director on secondment to James Cook University in Australia, said ministers now routinely overruled experts.
“If [a project] gets rejected [on environmental grounds] and the minister thinks it might be politically advantageous, they will go ahead with the project,” he told Climate Home by Skype. “People have a fear of rejecting the government’s decisions… The [environmental assessment] process is quite stringent, but in the end, it is prone to quite a lot of intimidation.”
One of the most dramatic interventions was on his home atoll of Addu, in the southern Maldives. Last November the ruling party celebrated as a reef was blasted with explosives – a practice not seen in ten years – to create a shipping channel. The EPA initially withheld approval but caved under pressure.
The haste to green-light investment threatens the vibrant ecosystems that draw tourists and sustain tuna fishing – the Maldives’ two main earners.
“If we neglect the environment… we will lose resilience,” added Mohamed, who is writing a doctorate on climate adaptation in the Maldives. “Most of these coastal modifications aren’t well planned.”
A senior source still working at the EPA, who did not wish to be named, backed-up Mohamed’s assessment and did not comment further.
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Source URL: Google News