TOWARDS AN ARTIFICIAL PARADISE ON EARTH

The Government has recently announced plans to develop ten artificial islands by reclaiming natural lagoons of inhabited islands of the Maldives to increase development opportunities under the National Population Consolidation Strategy and Programme.

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Aerial view of Kaashidhoo island showing the proposed area for the artificial island.

These artificial islands, which will be developed as tourist resorts, are a growing concern for environmentalists and the public in general due to their potential damaging impact on coastal ecosystems as the country’s beach systems are highly dynamic.

The initial preparation to develop an artificial island for a resort in the natural lagoon of Kaafu Kaashidhoo is already in progress. Haa Dhaal Nolhivramfaru, Haa Alifu Kelaa, Alifu Alifu Thoddoo, Faafu Nilandhoo, Faafu Magoodhoo and Laamu Gaadhoo and Kaashidhoo are seven islands selected as locations to develop the artificial islands in their natural lagoons presently surrounded with quite healthy coral reef flats.

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Laamu Gaadhoo beach is one of the most important nesting areas for marine turtles in the Maldives with over 100 turtles, an endangered species, nesting there annually. Laamu Gaadhoo’s beach is a protected area for marine turtles and egg harvesting has been banned in order to protect the dwindling turtle population. All five species of marine turtles seen in the Maldivian waters are on Appendix I (the most endangered species) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The development of an artificial island in the lagoon of Gaadhoo will endanger marine turtles and will come into direct conflict with the policy of conservation already in place.

Kaafu Atoll Kaashidhoo has a large natural lagoon almost the size of the island with quite a healthy reef flat. At the beginning of 20th century, there were two islets called Huraa and Fushi, in the lagoon of Kaashidhoo. However, those two small islets have eroded now (Changes in the Topography of the Maldives, 1990, page 32, Hassan Ahmed Maniku). This shows how dynamic Kaashidhoo’s beach is to erosion and accretion.

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In early 20th Century Gulhi Falhu was an uninhabited island at times used to quarantine lepers.

Erosion of some islands and formation of new ones are, in fact, ongoing processes in the Maldives Archipelago. Many islands have been abandoned in the past due to beach erosion and the natives of these islands had been moved to better and bigger islands. It had been first documented by Persian geographer Abu Zayd of Siraf in 890 A.D and Arab geographer Al Biruni in 1030 A.D. In early 20th century Gulhi Falhu, to the west of Villingili in Male’ Atoll, was an uninhabited island at times used to quarantine lepers. By mid-20th century the island was completely eroded and turned into a lagoon (Dhivehi Thaareekhah Au Alikameh, 1958, page 34, Dhivehi Bahaai Thaareekhah Khidhmaiy Kuraa Gaumee Marukaz). In one of the ironies of modern times, Gulhi Falhu is to be reclaimed for making a commercial zone. Coastal modifications and reclamation of lagoons in such dynamic ecosystems often pose a threat to the survival of these fragile atoll islands.

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Harbour dredging one of the common human-induced threat to reef ecosystem in the Maldives.

Coastal development is usually ecologically-destructive and leads to major changes to beach profiles of islands normally associated with changes in the flow of current and waves near the shore. Presently coastal development such as land reclamation and increased harbour dredging is the major and most common human-induced physical danger to coastal and coral reef ecosystems in the Maldives. Severe cases of beach erosion have been reported in inhabited islands and several resort islands in recent years. Recent beach erosion could be due to the man-made changes, such as construction of coastal infrastructures, channel blasting with dynamite, dredging and reclamation.

The Maldives is a coral nation and coral ecosystem add significantly to the national economy and specifically to the value of beach-based and diving-based tourism, supporting activities such as diving, snorkeling and glass-bottom boat operations. In addition to this, coral also provides to the creation of white sand beaches.

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Coral worth thousands of dollars destroyed by dredging a harbour in a virgin reef in front of Royal Island in Baa Atoll. The harbor was made for mooring the vessels used by the resort, even though many harbours exist nearby.

A report published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in 2006 argues that protecting coral reefs and mangroves makes economic sense. The report, titled “In the Front Line: Shoreline Protection and other Ecosystem Services from Mangroves and Coral Reefs“, argues that conserving coral reefs and mangroves ecosystems for the services they give — fisheries protection, mitigation of beach erosion and as a source for medicinal substances — is cost-effective than destroying them and replacing their function with artificial structures.

The UNEP report concludes that:

  • The estimated value of coral reefs is between $100,000 to 600,000 per square kilometer a year.
  • The cost of protecting them, through the management costs of a marine protected area, is just $775 per square kilometer per annum.
  • The costs of erecting artificial breakwaters made of concrete tetrapods around the Male, Maldives, following the degradation of the natural reef, was $10 million per kilometer.
  • In Indonesia, a hotel in West Lombok has spent an average of $125,000 per year over seven years restoring its 250 metre-long beach following erosion as a result of offshore coral mining.
  • A typical coral reef can absorb up to 90 percent of the energy of wind-generated waves thus protecting coastal areas from damage. The report cites a study from Sri Lanka which shows that one square kilometer of coral reef stops 2,000 cubic meters of coastal erosion per year.

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In the Maldives, a reef flat adjacent to the capital of Malé was filled using coral rubble and causing sedimentation of nearby reefs. Their degradation was partly responsible for reduced shore protection and extensive flooding in 1987, which resulted in 20-30 percent of the new infill being lost. Subsequently, artificial breakwaters of concrete tetrapods were installed at a cost of US$10,000 per metre (US$10 million per kilometer) (Brown, 1997). Not only was this expensive, but it did not prevent serious flooding during the tsunami. (In the Front Line, UNEP-WCMC/UNEP 2006).

In the light of the UNEP report, it is important to assign monetary values to ecosystems such as coral reefs in the Maldives. In order to better understand and recognize the value of nature’s services, it is also important to estimate economic cost of ecological damage that is going to be incurred from developing artificial islands in the lagoons of 10 inhabited islands, especially deposition of sediment on the adjacent reef flats of natural islands, following intense dredging and reclamation.

Beach erosion on the adjacent natural island could occur by developing artificial islands because of alteration of natural circulation of the water and wave. The cost of erecting artificial structures to replace the function of lost beach areas must also be taken in consideration. Loss of reef, ornamental and bait fishery must be also estimated in economic value, so that people can better value and conserve these natural assets.

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Untouched Islands of Maldives: Ibn Battuta, the celebrated 14th-century Muslim geographer called the Islands of the Maldives “one of the wonders of the world,” and commented on their annular form and proximity to each other: “A hundred or so are arranged in a circle like a ring, with an opening at one point to form a passage; ships may reach the islands only through this passage…. They are so close together that when leaving one, the tops of the palm trees on the next are visible.”

The proposed plan to develop artificial islands by reclaiming lagoons will have negative impacts on the aesthetic beauty of Maldives, a country renowned for green islands, white beaches and spectacular reefs and lagoons. The plan will harm several species leading to the loss of biodiversity as reefs are affected by sedimentation. It has the potential to cause beach erosion leading to economic losses, and will increase the vulnerability of the islands and their population to disasters such as high swells, storm surges and tsunamis. Since coral reefs and mangroves are the first lines of defense against such disasters, the destruction of coral reefs through such a plan is in contradiction to the claims that the Maldives is at the forefront of the global fight against climate change.

25 Comments »

  1. jaa said,

    May 24, 2008 @ 10:45 am

    That was very interesting. Thanks…

  2. LEE HARVEY OSWALD said,

    May 25, 2008 @ 5:05 am

    dont expect anything to go right as long as the self proclaimed father of environment is ruling this nation. if you r looking for a justification for any of these damages done by his rule over our eco-systems, he’ll give you one, cos proving things on paper is one of his specialty.

  3. Verena said,

    May 25, 2008 @ 5:34 am

    Agree – a fantastic topic to write about. You should talk about this on TVM! Get it into the newspapers, wake the public up! You can do it, your articles and blogs are always fantastic, up-to-date.

    Go ahead like this!

    V.

  4. Mohamed Latheef said,

    May 25, 2008 @ 6:01 am

    Good research.

  5. confused said,

    May 25, 2008 @ 7:05 am

    wouldnt it be less expensive to develop an already existing island than to go to the trouble of creating one and then developing it? are ideal uninhabited islands that scarce? why do they insist on creating new islands when out of 1120 islands 70% (820) are just lying there waiting for the taking? this occurred to me when they were reclaiming land for Hulhumale’ as well. anyway,.. good and informative article. i love this blog, and your website too. could you please update the bird’s page (environ info)? and i’d like to see more on the fruits and vegetable that are native to maldives too. thanks :)

  6. firu said,

    May 25, 2008 @ 7:51 am

    this is great.. we are looking for this kind of thing heppend in maldives.

  7. Oi Iya Vattalau said,

    May 25, 2008 @ 5:02 pm

    excellent topic. I wonder why this regime is always concentrating on tourism – being a very vulnerable and fragile economy. One reason, what i fore see is that this regime need a good handsome of money to drain into their pocket.

    Well, since in the Maldives we have other resources such as fishing/and other marine products, which can be developed, wonder why government is not giving interest and not supporting the private sector for it.

    Coming into the topic, I totally agree bluepeacemaldives and their argument on the issue of developing lagoons into resorts after extensive reclamation.

  8. devihifaafa said,

    May 25, 2008 @ 9:17 pm

    Great posting…I agree with your views in this article. It is beyond bizarre that Maldivians need to create islands for tourism!

  9. Maniku said,

    May 25, 2008 @ 9:40 pm

    Could you please check whether an EIA was done for the so called harbour for Royal Island. The reclaimed tip of Dhigufaru, clearly separated from Royal Island by deep sea is no part of that island (and therefore may not be on the lease agreement at all). Dhigufaru is an important bait-fishery area for the people of Baa atoll and is bigger in area by about eight times the size of Horubadhoo (where the resort Royal Island is built). The “harbour” tip was a sand bank (Finolhu), a nesting ground for sea-birds, another important component of the environment as well as the fishery industry. In other words, the dredging of the Finolhu had destroyed important nesting grounds, a coral island in the formative stages, and part of a large reef constituting a bait fishery area for fisher-folk. This obviously merits a larger feature on this topic and more focus by Blue Peace, to expose foul play by high handed investors. Thanks.

  10. Maamigili Femunu said,

    May 25, 2008 @ 11:38 pm

    The bigger story is Royal Island and Dhigufaru. How does the government reconcile the lease of one complete island and part of a much larger Reef Lagoon (Dhigufaru, which is a separate entity) as one property on the lease agreement? And many other questions….

  11. Maldives Lover said,

    May 26, 2008 @ 12:58 am

    In the Carribian all of a sudden many people died on poisoned food. The investigation showed: Fresh fish from the reef. The reason: People where digging, reclaiming land and blasting the corals away in order to get a channel to the new built Hotel Resort – after 6 months the work has been done. Due to the stress the algs became posioness – and in the food chain it ended in the fish. And these fish have been eaten from human……..

    Did not recently a lot of fish died in Maldives – due to bacteria infection? Check out if in the last month before that incident some stress cousing work has been done in that area!

    Maldives Lover

  12. Ibrahim said,

    May 26, 2008 @ 1:57 am

    Dhigufaru in front was never bid for developing a harbor, if that is the case, how could there be an EIA. When Government Departments such as Male’ Municipality and even resorts like Biyaadhoo were fine for not having done EIA, the case Dhigufaru have to be investigated by the Environment Ministry. Damage to coral and loss of bait, reef and ornamental fishery has be assessed in monetary terms, I know even it cannot be compensated in economic terms, but need assessment.

  13. umair said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 2:23 pm

    All we need is more international loans to create islands we don’t need. These highly educated “environmentalists” in tourism and environment ministries are too creative to make use of anything nature has to offer. I say we build a second Maldives right next to it in the Indian Ocean. Maybe something that is more “Dhivehivantha” than the one that we ended up in.

  14. Ibrahim said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

    Well said and is really an issue we need to take in to consideration. This kind of top down decision without consultation with general public of the isalnds will cause unprecedented social impacts to people living in the isalnds. Threre were no social impact assesments done before decisions were made. This kind of tourism development is against sustainable development. It is questionable whether the local islanders will get much benefit and we are negelecting the most basic principle of sustainable development which is intergenerational equity. This also will hamper bio physiscal environment causing fish stocks to dwindle and lots of people will loose their jobs. After all when normal islanders go to work in a resort they may only get a 100 dollar salary a month which is hardly enough to survive. As such these resorts are created for making the elite rich with dollars while undermining people and our future generations. We should plead the regime to halt these developments. its our Maldives, its not Maumoondom.

  15. Zedam said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 9:33 pm

    The elite cronies think only in terms of quick money. They do believe in the global worming and sea level rise. Therefore, before Maldives sink beneath the ocean, they are trying to collect whatever they get by hook or crook. They do believe they’ll be migrating and relocated somewhere else. These people do not care about the local Maldivian population or the fragile ecosystem of the Maldives.

  16. Fenfulhangi said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 10:52 pm

    THe Damn government and the scrooges in the top of big companies see $$$ when ever they see an island. They cant see the marine and terrestrial creatures that balance the eco system and the pure existence of the island. Their lack of general knowledge and passion for life and humanity leaves them blind and in the wake of eco tourism!!! There are so many islands uninhabited and potential for waste management tourism and other purposes without affecting the natural balance. Their are alternative methods and choices that need a little investment and at sometimes though cheaper it need a little education and awareness. EIA is a JOKE.Its a mechanism for making money. Even private companies who might actually do an honest EIA get paid for doing it but their recommendations are given a blind eye.The seawall project is another failure. We need scientists and researchers looking into alternative methods for protecting the reefs. NOT Seawalls that damage the reef and affect the natural currents and lead to ambiguous beach erosion.WE NEED AND OVER HAUL OF THE SYSTEM!!!

  17. Fenfulhangi said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 10:53 pm

    SUggestion by someone USE EMPTY WATER BOTTLES {PLASTIC} TO FILL UP WITH SAND AND PROTECT THE BEACH.. what do you think
    ????

  18. Mohamed said,

    July 3, 2008 @ 12:13 am

    And to think the World Bank has only recently approved a US$12.5 m loan for Maldives environment sector. Do they know what’s happening to our environment, or are they being delibrately misled.

  19. hassan said,

    July 3, 2008 @ 9:17 am

    maybe bluepeace should become more acive, like green peace in the UK , Japan & in France. Writing articles will not get to the ears of money hungry officials. Activism is required in environmental issues in this age. And this activism to stop environmental disasters wilol be covered by world press and make headline news, thus generating much needed publicity & international support ! good luck & were waiting for your membership drive for activists !

  20. Adam7171 said,

    July 6, 2008 @ 6:10 am

    This is a serious issue to be raised. The research is superb. The issue of the impact on marine ecosystem is something that we all MUST raise it to the whole of the nation. Like Verena has said, I think the issue must be shared with the whole country on TV, radio and the papers. This is because only a handful of people can get access to the internet or can read English.

    I guess, Blue Peace has been doing a great deal of the good and really beneficial researches, so why not we guys those who can get access to the media also try our best to spread the awareness.

    Cheers,

  21. Verena said,

    July 6, 2008 @ 2:58 pm

    Have you… ever… thought about…

    a ***G R E E N P A R T Y*** in the Maldives? !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Just read that another two parties are going to come up… they just need (correct me if I’m wrong) 3000 members?

    Sorry to say but the Environment Ministry is quite limited in their actions, as far as I can judge. With whoever I have talked I can say: they WANT to do more, but I think their hands are cut off from… well… probably… you know who I mean……!

    Bluepeace is doing a great job, and I’m sure there will be someone who can go into politics with these topics, and raise some awareness!

    By the way – last time I was in Maldives the programme Nala nala rajjee was just coming up.
    CAN ANYONE SEE MORE DUSTBINS NOW IN MALE, or in VILINGILI?????

    No wonder why streets and beaches of inhabited islands are so dirty, it’s hard for me to find simple dustbins there.
    Anyone thought about that??? Why is that??????? Simple DUSTBINS!

  22. Sharron Penny said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 4:56 am

    This is so sad and disturbing at the same time, my point of views that this destruction of these beautiful islands all boils down to greed. I visited Kuredu in 1996 and Kurumathi 1999 these two beautiful islands had the basics and what a pleasure to experience. There were a few luxuries, were some of the rooms had air con and fridges…this was good enough to have a fantastic holiday, why build so many extravagant hotels ..are there not enough ? are there any more deserted islands ? I feel a certain amount of these islands should be kept just as they are. and if there is no land to build so be it.

  23. BLUEPEACE blog » DHUVAAFARU: ONE OF THE MOST VULNERABLE ISLANDS TO CLIMATE CHANGE said,

    February 28, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

    [...] favoured solutions of the previous government, whether it was to ease population congestion, for developing new resorts, or even for waste management. No lessons seem to have been learned from the example of [...]

  24. Ahmed [attu] said,

    September 18, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

    Rite. Use any kind of means to stop government projects. How else can the Thugs of 30 years can come back to power. when hulhumale’ was developed no one spoke of any environmental issues. But now that our president is trying every possible way to make this country a better place, talk shit about him. You people should rot in hell.

  25. admin said,

    October 5, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

    @Ahmed(attu). If your comment was directed at Bluepeace, please check the date when this blog post was published. We are a politically neutral organisation and we will raise concerns on environmental issues regardless of the political party in power.

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