Maradhoo fish death (April 2023) Triggerfish #SaveMaldives

Addu City Council and the Government must immediately halt the reclamation of Addu Atoll following mass marine death in Maradhoo lagoon

Press Statement
20 April 2023

We are appalled at the failure of dredging contractor Van Oord currently operating in Addu Atoll to prevent or mitigate the marine carnage that has occurred in Maradhoo island. Reports coming out of Addu and tweets by residents show that terrible sights of mass marine wildlife death is visibly showing the willful environmental degradation taking place in Addu Atoll. This is impacting people’s lives, causing distress and discomfort to residents in Maradhoo also due to the resulting inescapable stench of the carcasses of decaying marine creatures on the island.

We reiterate our position that the Addu reclamation project is reckless ecocide during a national climate emergency.

The #SaveMaldives Campaign and concerned civil society stakeholders have consistently raised our deep reservations about the planned dredging and reclamation of Addu Atoll biosphere reserve since the Maldives government’s announcement of these plans in 2021. We raised a host of specific concerns based on the information and evidence available from the project’s first Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) released in February 2022, which showed the wide scope of the destruction, loss and damage to ecosystems and biodiversity. The February 2022 EIA was subsequently manipulated with some revisions and re-issued in September 2022, which was swiftly approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Despite this effort to cover up the scope of damage, the project poses significant risks to sustainable ecosystems-based economies currently operating in the atoll and risks the future climate resilience of the whole atoll.  We have never had any doubt that the project will have far-reaching and catastrophic consequences to Addu Atoll today and in the future. Despite the authorities’ willingness to ignore it, we have no doubt that they too are well aware of this fact. The Addu project serves perceived short-term political interests of the current government while risking the future security of the entire atoll.

In February 2022, we issued a statement raising our many concerns about the proposed project.

In March 2022, we submitted an open joint letter to the People’s Majlis highlighting that :

Given the evidence that the Addu Development Project is a destructive project that is prohibited by Article 22 of the Constitution and other related laws, to advise the government and relevant authorities to immediately stop the project.

To date, the response of the Majlis has been weak disinterest. We have since made consistent efforts to inform the public by sharing information about the dangers of the project, which seeks to reclaim 3 artificial resorts and large areas of shoreline of natural islands by burying nearly 21 hectares of coral reef,  98 hectares of seagrass meadows and using nearly 6 million cubic metres of sand by dredging nearly a third of the Addu Atoll basin.

None of our many concerns were considered or heard by the government, parliament or the relevant institutions. The complete absence of interest and action by the authorities has today resulted in the inevitable reports of marine life carnage coming out of Addu.  We are deeply disturbed by the reports of mass marine death that has occurred in Addu Maradhoo island as a direct result of the dredging being conducted by the Dutch contractor Van Oord.

We note with concern that Van Oord has a history of dredging in the Maldives where they had created public relations narratives that they are ‘working with care’ in the Maldives. This is of course a figment of their imagination or at best, outright lies. Van Oord was involved in the reclamation of Feydhoo island in Addu in 2016. The February 2022 Addu Reclamation Project EIA documented that officials from EPA and Addu dive guides had informed that “because of Feydhoo reclamation project mantas were not sighted from Manta Point for a long time”. Further, consulted stakeholders observed that “negative impacts on the dive sites caused during Feydhoo reclamation are still observable”. The EIA also noted that “because of lack of monitoring reports of Feydhoo reclamation project, there are no published reports identifying the impacts of that Feydhoo reclamation project on the Addu Atoll.”  Van Oord cannot dredge with care in the Maldives. No one can. Dredging is inherently and absolutely deeply destructive to the marine environment, coral reef systems and the biodiversity within, and regulatory failure undermines impact monitoring.

Regarding the current project, Van Oord had also made outrageous and nonsensical claims to Dutch media in March 2023 stating that it plans to “take measures in Addu to minimize environmental damage, including by moving coral and seagrass”, because the project was “necessary”. Coral relocation is a corporate greenwashing practice that permanently destroys the sustainable ecosystem services provided by existing natural reefs, with no proven ecosystem benefits to communities. We condemn the brazen gaslighting and greenwashing used by global corporations to mislead the public when they cause irreversible destruction to the natural resources and defences of vulnerable communities in Maldives.

The Maldives EPA is incapable to monitor contractor performance and this is an established fact, with more evidence unfolding today in Addu Atoll. While it has the mandate, the EPA does not have the governance and regulatory competence nor the resources to monitor the majority of the environmentally destructive projects happening around the Maldives, which unfortunately, they actively approve and facilitate. The regulatory failure of EPA and the recklessly destructive and unsuitable infrastructure projects greenlighted by the government with the active participation of state owned and global dredging corporations continue to drive the social and economic decline of communities. In addition, they increasingly expose communities to environmental disasters.

On 4 April 2023, the Minister for Foreign Affairs celebrated the Maldives role as a ‘main co-sponsor’ of a UN Human Rights Council resolution adopting ‘The human right to a clean, healthy & sustainable environment’.  The Maldives preoccupation with rights rhetoric at international fora has absolutely no bearing on the lives of the people of Maldives, and has now become akin to a joke in our society.

We demand that the Government and Addu City Council must :

  • take immediate action to ensure the people of Maradhoo their human right to a clean, healthy and safe environment as provided in Article 23 of the Maldives Constitution, and
  • uphold Article 22 of the Constitution to protect the environment for present and future generations and bring an immediate and permanent halt to the Addu reclamation project consistent with our calls for the same since March 2022. 

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