The recent announcement of the discovery of a critically endangered mangrove species in the northern islands of Maldives is a welcome development at a time when unexplained mass die-off of mangroves is occurring across the country, especially in the north.  As a mangroves-nation, Maldives has a significant number of wetland and mangrove habitats in 74 islands, although mangroves are known to be present in 150 islands across the country.[i]  Maldives hosts a high number of true mangrove and associate mangrove species in the region, with the new finding bringing the number of nationally recorded species to a total of 15 (see Table 1 below for full list).[ii]  The discovery of critically endangered Bruguiera hainesii is particularly important as its presence in multiple locations in the Maldives will help to highlight the significance and urgency of mangrove conservation and restoration in the country.

Save Maldives Campaign would like to inform the public that B. hainesii was discovered in Haa Dhaal Atoll Kulhudhuffushi in August 2019 by our advocate and volunteer, Adam Abdulla who is himself from Kulhudhuffushi.  The discovery was shared with Dr Norman Duke at the Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER) at James Cook University in Australia.  In September 2019, under the guidance of Dr Duke and his team, samples were collected from Kulhudhuffushi, prepared, packed and sent to TropWATER for further analysis and formal identification.  One of the reasons for not disclosing this discovery publicly until now, was due to the continuing fear of attacks on vulnerable mangrove ecosystems, considering the government’s record of irreversibly destroying mangrove habitats for unsustainable infrastructure development. Kulhudhuffushi has been, and continues to be a target of such activity and mangrove habitat loss.[iii]  We also note that the discovery of the presence of B. hainesii is not new to the local residents of many of the islands where the species has been identified as distinct, being commonly known as Bodukandoo or Maakandoo locally.

[i] State of the Environment, 2016, Ministry of Environment and Energy, Government of Maldives
[ii] Sivakumar K et al, Mangroves of the Atolls of the Maldives, rich among the atoll groups of the Indian Ocean, ISME/GLOMIS Electronic Journal, Volume 16, No.3, May 2018
[iii] Kulhudhuffushi Kulhi : Issue Brief, 29 Jan 2019, Save Maldives Campaign

cont/d…

Save Maldives Campaign is extremely concerned about the Ministry of Environment’s negligence of mangrove conservation, and the superficial nature of its advocacy to promote the Ministry’s work without substantive and real investment to establish facts or progress. The Ministry continues to “declare” new protected sites in news headlines and on paper, while existing protected sites are being willfully destroyed.[iv] However, there is no investment to develop and implement management plans or undertake urgently needed remedies, even where substantive information and recommendations for action exist. We note with concern that although Neykurendhoo mangroves which is experiencing severe die-off currently, was declared a “protected site” in December 2018, there is no management plan or funds to protect the site.  To date, the recommendations of the June 2019 assessment of the remaining part of Kulhudhuffushi mangroves produced in collaboration with Save Maldives Campaign, the Ministry of Environment, conservationists from Mangrove Action Project (MAP) and mangrove scientists from the IUCN Mangrove Specialists Group (MSG) remain pending. We are aware that since the destruction of Kulhudhuffushi wetland and mangrove ecosystem, the island has been experiencing severe flooding events, causing repeated loss and damage to households.

We are also extremely concerned about the unacceptably slow and weak response by the authorities to the unprecedented and rapid mangrove die-off happening across the country. Available information shows that the die-off began as far back as December 2019 and has now affected 11 islands from Haa Alif Atoll Uligamu in the far north to Gaaf Dhaal Hoadehdhoo in the south central region of the country (see Table 2 below for full list). Several mangroves sites affected by the die-off are understood to host B. hainesii including Haa Dhaal Kulhudhuffushi, Haa Alif Kelaa, Haa Dhaal Vaikaradhoo and Noonu Kendhikulhudhoo. Therefore, the discovery of this endangered mangrove species in Maldives requires renewed and serious attention to address the ongoing die-off in meaningful and substantive ways.  We further note that the government’s existing policy to protect “one island, one reef and one mangrove area from each atoll” is woefully inadequate and indicates a level of policy poverty which is unacceptable in the current national and global climate crisis

As such, we call on the government to urgently provide the necessary funding to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and local authorities to conduct the necessary technical assessments to study the mangrove die-off. We believe the government’s Green Tax Funds must be re-directed from current environmentally destructive projects to fund productive environmental protection and conservation work.  We believe the Maldives must prioritise the protection of mangroves habitats which are critical ecosystems to sustain climate change resilience of affected communities as well as food security and other ecosystem services.

We therefore call on the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Finance, The President’s Office and other relevant State authorities, including the newly appointed Board of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and the People’s Majlis to :

  • Take urgent measures to implement the recommendations of the MAP/MSG Report to protect the remaining part of Kulhudhuffushi wetland and mangroves to stop the repeated loss and damage to the local community, in addition to protect it as a site of special environmental significance due to the presence of critically endangered B.hainesii
  • Take urgent and substantive measures to address the issue of mangrove mass die-off events occurring across the north of the country, where assessments are yet to be done to establish the presence of B.hainesii and, develop and implement management plans for conservation
  • Take immediate measures to facilitate the availability of funding from the Green Tax Fund to enable the above activities and ensure this fund is meaningfully used to protect, preserve and conserve natural ecosystems and biodiversity for present and future generations.
  • Review the government’s inadequate environmental policies and environmental governance regimes, and reformulate them to protect, preserve and conserve ecosystem services and biodiversity across the country befitting the current context of national and global climate emergency.

[iv] Current examples include :
1 – Destruction of MPA Hans Haas Place in Kaafu Atoll Gulhifalhu along with about 30 dive sites affected due to reclamation project;
2 – Disregard to ecological impacts on MPA Guraidhoo Kanduolhi due to reclamation of Kaafu Atoll Guraidhoo

Table 1 : List of Mangrove plants found in the Maldives
 

# Dhivehi Name Common Name Family Species
1 Baru Grey Mangrove Avicenniaceae Avicennia marina
2 Randoo Red Mangrove Rhizophoraceae Rhizophora mucronata
3 Kulhlhavah Mangrove Apple Sonneratiaceae Sonneratia caseolaris
4 Bodavaki Oriental Mangrove / Large-leafed Orange Mangrove Rhizophoraceae Bruguiera gymnorrhiza
5 Kandoo Small-leafed Orange Mangrove Rhizophoraceae Bruguiera cylindrica
6 Thakafathi Tall-stilt Mangrove Rhizophoraceae Rhizophora apiculata
7 Karamana Yellow Mangrove Rhizophoraceae Ceriops tagal
8 Marugas Puzzlenut Tree / Cannonball Tree Meliaceae Xylocarpus moluccensis
9 Burevi Black Mangrove Combretaceae Lumnitzera racemose
10 Kaharuvah Looking-glass Mangrove Sterculiaceae Heritiera littoralis
11 Thela Milky Mangrove / Blind-your eye Mangrove Euphorbiaceae Excoecaria agallocha
12 Maakeha Mangrove Fern Pteridaceae Acrostichum aureum
13 Thelaviyo Mangrove Vine / Common Derris Fabaceae Derris trifoliata
14 Kuredhi Shrubby Coral Pemphis Lythraceae Pemphis acidula
15 Bodukandoo / Maakandoo Eye of the Crocodile /
Berus Mata Buaya (Malay)
Rhizophoraceae Bruguiera hainesii

Table 2 : List of islands where mangrove die-off has been reported/recorded since December 2019

# Atoll Island Protected Status / Date Baseline Study / Management Plan / Other
1 Haa Alif Uligamu Not protected None
2 Haa Alif Kelaa Protected
16 June 2019
Not known
3 Haa Dhaal Neykurendhoo Protected
30 December 2018
– Baseline Study by
Bluepeace NGO, Maldives
– No Management Plan
4 Haa Dhaal Kulhudhuffushi Not protected + at risk of further ‘reclamation’ None
MAP Report
5 Haa Dhaal Vaikaradhoo Not protected None
6 Haa Dhaal Nolhivaram Not protected None
7 Shaviyani Feydhoo Not protected None
8 Shaviyani Goidhoo Not protected None
9 Shaviyani Farukolhu Protected
7 October 2018
Not known
10 Noonu Kendhikulhudhoo Protected
16 June 2019
Not known
11 Gaaf Dhaal Hoadehdhoo Not protected Not known

References used to collate mangroves list, in addition to web resources :

  • State of the Environment 2016, Ministry of Environment and Energy, Maldives
  • Sivakumar K, Rilwan A, Priyanka K, Salah M & Kathiresan K, Mangroves of the Atolls of the Maldives, rich among the atoll groups of the Indian Ocean, ISME/GLOMIS Electronic Journal, Volume 16, No.3, May 2018
  • Field Guide to Maldivian Mangroves with Minna Mas, Live & Learn Environmental Education, March 2008