NGOs have slammed the decision to destroy mangroves to make way for an airport in Kulhudhuffushi, ahead of next week’s official project launch by President Abdulla Yameen.
The white clay mangroves, said to be the largest of their kind in the Maldives, are home to endangered species and serve as a natural defence system against tsunamis.
But developing an airport on Kulhudhufusshi, the main population hub in the northern atolls, was a campaign pledge Yameen made in August 2013.
He visits the island on November 12 to kick off the controversial scheme and hold a major political rally ahead of next year’s presidential polls.
Groups including EcoCare and the Maldivian Democracy Network condemned Kulhudhuffushi island council for being careless, irresponsible and negligent in allowing reclamation work to take place.
The groups listed their concerns in an open letter about the environmental and economic impact of the reclamation work, as well as rubbishing claims around job creation and improved quality of life for islanders.
“Our organisations urge the island council to stop the ‘sacrifice’ of the Kulhudhuffushi mangroves, the value and gain of which to the people of Kulhudhuffushi cannot be measured in money.
“The decision to ‘sacrifice’ the Kulhi [mangrove] with irreparable damages without accounting for the vulnerability that the island would face in the future, without allowing for the islanders and for the people of Maldives to have their say, is extremely careless.”
Late last month the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company started digging on the beach near the island’s mangroves for a “bund wall” to mark a boundary for reclamation.
MTCC CEO Ibrahim Ziyath told the press that nine hectares of the 12-hectare wetland on the northern end of the island will be reclaimed and that six hectares will be reclaimed from the lagoon.
The company’s new dredger Mahaa Jarraafu has already arrived in Kulhudhuffushi but a contractor has yet to be appointed to build the airport.
Despite an outcry from NGOs and activists, public opinion suggests islanders want the airport even at the cost of losing the mangroves.
The full text of the letter (in Dhivehi) can be read here.