Reliable sources have informed Bluepeace that the government of Maldives has decided to lease Dhigulaabadhoo, an island of ecological significance in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, to a private company for aquaculture. Our sources within the government confirm this decision was made in a Cabinet meeting held this week.
Dhigulaabadhoo is an island of ecological significance listed as a ‘sensitive island’ by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the Maldives. Although the island was not declared protected, the EPA had marked it as ‘sensitive’ because of the uniqueness of the island.
Dhigulaabadhoo is located between the inhabited islands of Fares-Maathoda and Fiyoari in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll. A channel separates the island from Fiyoari, believed to be the location of the best waves in the Maldives. Divers and surfers have noted the abundance of rich marine life near Dhigulaabadhoo and mentioned the sightings of whale sharks. A naturally formed bay adds to the richness and natural diversity of the island. The island also features mangrove vegetation.
In October this year, the daily newspaper Haveeru broke the news that the government was planning to lease Dhigulaabadhoo to a private party for aquaculture. Haveeru’s report (in Dhivehi) quoted EPA’s Director Ibrahim Naeem as saying EPA had recommended preserving Dhigulaabadhoo because of the unique features of the island.
Haveeru reported the government was considering leasing Dhigulaabadhoo to Aqua Treasure Pvt Ltd, a company in which a senior member of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) holds shares.
Environmental groups and activists have raised deep concerns reacting to the news of the decision to lease Dhigulaabadhoo for an economic activity that could potentially harm the rich biodiversity and ecology of the island.
“SOS is deeply saddened and disappointed by the lack of commitment on environmental preservation by the government of the Maldives. If they decided to give the environmentally significant island of Dhigulaabadhoo to a private company for business purposes, SOS condemns this action and gravely reminds the government officials that they are currently packing their bags to go to Cancun, Mexico to participate in the COP16,” Local NGO Strength of Society (SOS) said.
Environmental activists are concerned this will create a precedent for other islands of ecological significance to be leased for commercial activities. In 2008, Bluepeace and other concerned parties protested against the leasing of Hanifaru, the uninhabited island located in the now-world-famous Hanifaru Bay, for commercial activities. The campaign resulted in the protection of Hanifaru Bay, a breeding ground for mantas and whale sharks.
On World Environment Day in 2006 Bluepeace called for creation of nature reserves to offset the increasing environmental damage caused by rising industrial activities.
“The use of uninhabited islands for tourism and other industrial activities are causing considerable changes to the island biodiversity and its ecosystems. It is imperative to declare protected islands as natural reserves for the benefit of the present and future generations. The islands’ ecosystems and native biodiversity has to be protected, preserved and monitored as our natural heritage,” Bluepeace said.
Bluepeace had also cautioned about the leasing of islands of ecological significance for commercial purposes.
“There are instances where islands with rich biodiversity and ecological significance are selected for industrial activities such as tourism. The use of such islands for industrial purposes causes negative environmental impacts on the islands and loss of rich natural biodiversity for the country. At a time when increasing number of uninhabited islands are being selected for industrial purposes such as tourism, it is important that the islands are assessed for their significance on the environment of the Maldives,” Bluepeace stressed in a press release issued on June 5, 2006.
In recent months, Bluepeace has observed increasing instances of the usage of places of ecological importance such as freshwater lakes and mangrove ecosystems for aquaculture. In several cases alien species such as alien sea cucumber have been introduced to the native ecosystems.
EPA was not available for comment at the time of publishing this post. Mohamed Zuhair, the Press Secretary at President’s Office, was not aware of any decision to lease an island of ecological significance in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll for a commercial activity. He told Bluepeace that Dhigulaabadhoo was not marked on the map of Maldives being used by the President’s Office.