The Save Maldives Campaign is extremely concerned about the serious issue affecting the community of Rasdhoo in Alif Alif Atoll, as they face the loss, damage and destruction of local ecosystems, marine wildlife and biodiversity services due to dredging activities by nearby Veligandu Island Resort (owned by Crown Company Pvt Ltd). The project endangers environmentally protected areas in the vicinity, specifically the marine protected area (MPA) known as Madivaru Reef or Madivaru Corner, which was declared a nationally protected area in October 2018. This MPA is renowned for its biodiversity richness, being home to megafauna such as hammerhead sharks and turtles which are nationally protected species. According to the list of Protected Areas of Maldives 2019 produced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Madivaru Reef is “one of the few dive sites where hammerhead sharks can be seen throughout the year”.
Since 13 August 2021, residents of Rasdhoo island have been protesting the ecosystem damage caused by the dredging activities to build a harbour at the artificially created “Velifinolhu” island by Veligandu Island Resort. This activity has generated a significant sedimentation plume, which is endangering Madivaru Reef and the surrounding marine ecosystems. Rasdhoo Council informs that there are 37 guesthouses and 7 dive schools on the island that uses these ecosystems, and share the same resources with the resorts in the area. According to local sources, Madivaru Reef and surrounding ecosystems are estimated to generate an annual revenue of USD 1.4 million. We join the community of Rasdhoo as they raise their voices to protect their livelihood resources and irreplaceable natural assets.
We note with concern that “Velifinolhu” was created by Veligandu Island Resort to expand its business activities, and we question the legality of this ecosystem modification and encroachment on the public commons, endangering natural assets. The sand for the project is being taken from a nearby sandbank, which had been declared a sand “no take zone” in the past, preventing sand removal for local needs, according to Rasdhoo Council. Nevertheless today, the same area has been designated as the “sand borrow area” for the dredging project in its environmental impact assessment (EIA), which was approved by the EPA (see image below).
Prohibiting sand removal to local communities for ecosystem protection reasons, and then making it available to Veligandu Island Resort is a clear example of the Maldives government’s discrimination against local residents and the facilitation of resource-grabbing by resort businesses. These acts of impunity by resort operators are increasingly prevalent across the Maldives, as local communities are denied access to, or are being deprived of common public assets and livelihood resources, which are then used by businesses for their private profit. Sand is a precious finite resource in the Maldives (and the world), and the government’s gifting of this valuable public resource to selected businesses is unacceptable.
Rasdhoo Council and residents inform us that they have made several attempts to raise concerns about the threats to Madivaru Reef with relevant authorities, including the EPA, the Ministry of Environment and other duty bearers. However, the response they had received was less than adequate, as dredging activities continued to cause damage. As residents continued to widen their protest activities, the government responded by sending a squad of Special Operations officers from the Maldives Police Service to Rasdhoo on the evening of 16 August 2021. We condemn this show of force and intimidation by the government, against peaceful protestors at Rasdhoo, who have a Constitutional right and duty to protect our common natural heritage and environmental assets.
We note that on 17 August 2021, EPA released a statement announcing that it had “requested” Veligandu Island Resort to temporarily stop the dredging work due to complaints about the impact of the resulting sedimentation plume on the marine environment. We note that EPA has little to no monitoring capacity to ensure protection measures and compliance. However, the agency had approved the project EIA which clearly shows it was done without adequate baseline data citing “not enough time to collect data” as an excuse. The absence of professional practice and due diligence in the production of EIAs in the Maldives systematically undermines the purpose of the EIA and the security of our finite, fragile natural ecosystems.
We join the people of Rasdhoo to call on the government of Maldives to immediately :
- end the ecological degradation and destruction of Madivaru Reef and surrounding marine ecosystems by Veligandu Island Resort ;
- end the impunity and discriminatory practices used by both the resort operator and State institutions to deprive the community of Rasdhoo from access to common public assets ;
- stop all attempts at intimidating and silencing Rasdhoo residents by sending SO police to the island, and instead address the valid concerns raised by the community to stop ecosystem destruction ;
- stop the superficial and unprofessional use of unfit-for-purpose EIAs to facilitate ecological crimes, undermining finite natural resources and causing irreversible loss, damage and destruction to ecosystems and livelihood resources.
In light of the UN IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) released on 9 August 2021, and the dire warnings of the “unequivocal” certainty about human induced climate change and the expected consequences Maldives must face, we demand the government to take urgent action to stop all State sponsored ecosystem destruction. We reiterate our calls to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and the government to apply the Precautionary Principle and immediately stop the continuing intensely destructive reclamation and dredging activities in our lagoons and island reef ecosystems. Our communities’ climate resilience depends entirely on the protection and conservation of our natural defence systems. Therefore, we demand that the government initiate immediate climate action and heed the calls of scientists to protect and conserve nature to mitigate the imminent and potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change which will affect all our communities.
Rasdhoo Madivaru is a marine protected area declared as a nationally protected site in Oct. 2018 due to it being a #BiodiversityHotspot.— #SaveMaldives Campaign (@SaveMaldivesMV) August 17, 2021
Today, #VeliganduIslandResort is dredging nearby, creating a massive sedimentation plume across the area.#VisitMaldives to see #MVecocide? pic.twitter.com/kTOezXzUVl