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Climate Change Pushes Maldives into Uncharted Waters; Ecosystem-based Adaptation is Imperative for its Survival.

Coral bleaching 2010, Maniyafushi, 0ver 50% corals bleached but recovered causing little mortality.

In a new United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report titled, the “Working Group II Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report” released on 24 March 2014, like its past reports,  scientists predict apocalyptic consequences unless the world changes course immediately and dramatically, the fundamental systems that support human civilization are at risk.

The latest report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says the effects of warming are “Risk of death, injury, and disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states, due to sea-level rise, coastal flooding, and storm surges.”

The effects of warming on the Maldives further push it into uncharted waters. Maldives is a coral atoll based nation and coral ecosystem adds significantly to the national economy. Maldives tourism heavily depends on the goods and services the reefs provide in addition to the coastal protection they provide.

Global temperature has increased over the past 50 years. This observed increase is primarily due to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently projected the rise of the sea level worldwide by two feet by 2100 as a result of melting ice sheets and the expanding of the sea by warming seawater.

2010, Maniyafushi, partially dead coral.

Temperature increase human induced coral bleaching.

Warming of the sea and changes to the weather pattern has been associated with coral bleaching leading to wide spread damage to coral reefs at a global scale.

Coral bleaching is caused when rising water temperatures stress the coral, forcing the coral to expel the algae it uses to obtain food and other nutrients.

When water temperatures rise even slightly (1-2 Degrees Celsius), algae leave the coral polyp causing the coral to lose its colour and eventually die due to insufficient food source.

Coral bleaching in 1998 in Maldives, severely beached 90% of hard corals in shallow waters. Bleaching was also recorded at depths in access of down to 30m. Post bleaching survey of the reefs at several location throughout the atolls across the country by Marine Research Centre showed a little over 2% on in 2004 shows recovery of 2 to 29% live coral, but the recovery extremely varies between the sites. Southern atolls showed faster recovery whereas the central and northern atoll showed slower recovery indicating regional differences in terms of reef recovery.

Bandos house reef, 2010 bleaching. A good recovery at one of the monitoring sites by MRC as part of long term monitoring of reefs initiated in 1998. The impact of 2010 bleaching was not significant since 90%of bleached corals recovered.

With IPCC predictions in increase in frequency of bleaching at global level, Maldives also witnessed coral bleaching event again in June 2010, similar to coral bleaching since of 1998 bleaching event. However, damage to the reefs due to bleaching of 2010 was far less that of 1998. Previous exposure to severe condition of bleaching may have resulted in conditioning the coral to recurrent exposure. This perceived increase in resilience is seen a positive indicator that the reefs can buffer extreme environmental pressure.

With little sign of reducing climate related pressure it is important to reduce and manage human induced pressures on these important ecosystems. Adaptation to climate change by changing the attitudes society to use natural resources at ecosystem level has always been important. The goods and services provided by the coral reefs and the pressures on these services are now been understood in the context of their capacity to natural and human pressures at ecosystem level.

Therefore, ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change is vital to Maldives to ensure these ecosystems are maintained to ensure inter generational equity.


Ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change is vital to Maldives

Conserving terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems and restoring degraded ecosystems should be vital for the overall goals of National Climate Change Adaption Plan for the Maldives. The atoll island ecosystems play a crucial role in providing number of ecosystem goods and services that are necessary for well-being of the people and the very survival of the islands in adapting to climate change.

Huraa Mangrove. Protected but surrounding development of various infrastructures are encroaching causing concerns.

Coral reefs act as first line of defence against wave action and storm surges and reduce coastal erosion.

Shallow Lagoon and sea grass beds of island in between the reef and beach act as second line of defence.

The coastal vegetation (Heylhi) with salt tolerant plants act as third line of defence.

Mangroves play vital role in protecting the atoll islands from coastal erosion by the waves, stop erosion and protect the islands.

Even though atoll ecosystems provide a wide range ecosystem based services, the degradation of many ecosystems due to the local human activities are drastically reducing the capacity to protect the islands, livelihood and loss of biodiversity.

The poor waste management and disposal via dumping untreated waste near coastal shores hamper coral growth and damage coral reefs. Untreated sewage into coastal areas creates potential problems such nutrient enrichment, algal blooms and eutrophication. Such situations badly upset coral reef.

It is imperative to protect the coral reefs, sea grass, coastal vegetation and wetlands to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change. Conserving island terrestrial, freshwater and marine island ecosystems and restoring degraded ecosystems should be vital for the overall goals of National Climate Change Adaption Plan for the Maldives.



Organised and managed waste disposal programmes or systems are not common place in the Maldives. Mostly in the local islands, the island administration (Island Office) does not provide any municipal service. The island administration or local authorities currently are not mandated to provide services such as waste collection or disposal. Instead individuals or households dispose waste as they see fit, creating environmental hazards.

A lorry carrying domestic waste collected at Male’ Waste Collection Centre to be transported to Thilafushi to be disposed.

This year the Maldives is going to introduce Local Governments in island communities in a comprehensive way for the first time in its history to promote or improve the economic, social, and the environmental well-being of the island communities. Though Maldives never had Local Governments in this form, the Maldives has a traditional system of local government. The present system of island administration is not well-suited to the changing life patterns that it has to deal with. For instance, only a couple of decades ago most waste produced on the islands of the Maldives was biodegradable.  Today local authorities or island administrations are not capable of dealing with non-biodegradable alien products such as plastics and hazardous waste.

Domestic waste from Male is transported in lorries to Thilafushi by a landing craft.

Currently there are limited organised means for waste disposal in the country. For Greater Male’ region a lagoon-fill site at Thilafushi is being used. There is also a waste disposal programme presently undergoing in the North Province which is administered by the Maldives Environment Management Project and funded by the World Bank.

Refuse or waste collection can be the most routine and visible activities of the local council in order to promote or improve the environmental well-being of the people of local council area.

Legally, local councils are required by the Local Government Act to collect and dispose of the waste produced in the local area. This requirement aims to promote and improve the environmental well-being of the people of local council area.  Each local council can make its own decisions as to the method and timing of waste collection.

The local councils or their agents have to deal with all wastes, such as all household waste, street litter, municipal parks and garden waste, council office waste and some commercial and industrial waste. In an average a household in the capital Male’ an individual produces 2.8kg of waste per day and in the atolls around 0.66kg of waste is produced by an individual on a daily basis. The waste produced by the tourism industry stands at 7.2kg per guest per day, and a huge proportion of these wastes are dumped into the ocean.

Introduction of bins to collect waste and establish an economically viable waste management regime with emphasis on establishing a competitive recycling programme should be one of the major challenges for the local government.

Waste disposal is one of the critical environmental issues throughout the Maldives for some time, and environment has been placed under increasing pressure. A number of waste disposal projects have been inefficiently implemented without much success.

A Waste Collection Centre lying idle for more than four years in  Raa Hulhuduffaaru without a proper waste management regime.

Following the Asian Tsunami, various donors actively participated and supported the waste management regimes, by creating waste disposal centres. The Australian and Canadian Red Cross Societies jointly funded a project worth AU$9.5 million to implement a sustainable waste management programme in the Maldives. The project aims to strengthen the solid waste management system of domestic garbage. Under the project 80 waste management centres were built in 74 of the most tsunami-affected islands. Unfortunately, most of these centres are not sustainable, as the facilities lack adequate management with absence of proper waste management laws.

Waste collected near the beach in Raa Hulhuduffaaru, not taken into the Waste Collection Centre.

The bulk of Local Government spending is going to be financed by grant from the Central Government; however the Local Government Act of 2010 empowers the Atoll Council to charge a fee for the services they provide in their wards.  For a sustainable management of a refuse collection programme, a direct charge for waste by weight, volume, or a combination of both, should be imposed.   A variable charging for domestic and non-domestic waste can strongly influence recycling and encourage waste minimisation behaviour.

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Bluepeace has discovered used engine oil is being discharged into a ditch at the Waste Collection Center for Building Debris in Male’. This reckless discharge of waste oil into groundwater could worsen the already contaminated groundwater of Male’. The Waste Collection Center, managed by Male’ Municipality and located near the STELCO building, is an alarming hotspot for pollution in the capital city.

Even though groundwater is collected from boreholes ranging in depth from 50 to 60 meters in Male’ for desalination by Maldives Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC), risk of groundwater contamination by used engine oil is increasingly high.

Currently there are no proper disposal facilities to manage the used engine oil or black industrial oil in Male’. The only disposal facilities available are bins in Thilafushi for dumping waste. Another source of pollution is used engine oil in plastic containers dumped daily into Male’ lagoon from vessels.

Under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil, reception facilities for waste oil and oil separated from bilge water has to be provided. Such facilities do not currently exist and neither do facilities for oil disposal.

Used engine oil is also a valuable resource that could be recycled. It can also be used to run some types of incinerators.

Update. 26 December 2010. After Bluepeace published this blog post the ditch at the Waste Management Center was buried and empty oil barrels have been placed to dispose used engine oil. The barrels are taken to Thilafushi where a proper disposal mechanism for used engine oil is yet to be implemented.

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