Maldives’ coral reefs: latest victims of political power play


by Ibrahim Mohamed

The Maldives is a coral reef system, one-fifth the size of the Great Barrier Reef and is hailed as the 7th largest coral reef system on the Earth and is the largest atoll reef system. The reefs act as both the economical and structural backbone of the entire nation highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. The two major economic activities, fisheries and tourism are heavily dependent on the healthy reefs, while making the islands resilient against major natural disasters such as storm surges. Though climate change is a slow process, reefs are the most important resilient feature for the adaptive capacity of islands.

However, warming episodes due to global climate change have been causing mass coral bleaching in the Maldives. Consequently, the Maldives advocates strongly on behalf of vulnerable small island nations and is currently the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). In a recent Op-Ed in The Huffington Post, the Environment Minster of the Maldives, Mr. Thoriq Ibrahim, raises concerns of bleaching and mentions:

“On a local level, we must continue to mitigate the effect of human activity of these delicate ecosystems. Our government is increasing protection of affected areas and the scope. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) will be markedly expanded in light of this recent bleaching event. That means stringent EIAs on new hotel developments and limiting terrestrial runoff and agricultural pollutants – proven enemies of coral reefs”.

However, news of blasting of a reef using dynamites, has loomed large in local media lately. Both former Environment Minsters Mohamed Aslam and Maryam Shakeela raised alarms about this destructive process. Aslam questioned the controversial decision of the Government:

I was just told Env [Environment] min [Ministry] have given permit for blasting reefs after 10 yrs of not permitting this destructive practice. Where are we heading?

Shakeela urges to appeal to concerned authorities to reverse this decision:

Y [why] not 1st appeal 2 [to] authorities yet again 2 [to] explain the consequences nd [and] suggest alternatives. Development can occur without harming env [environment].

History of reef blasting in the Maldives

In 1986, cracks in the North East Reef of Male’ were observed by local environmentalists, Mohamed Zahir and Husain Manik, who believed they may have been caused by reef blasting. Later on the 14th of November 1990, the Southern Reef of Male’ was blasted using dynamite resulting in shockwaves and severe damages to several buildings. Local diver and environmentalist Husain Manik informed President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of severe damages to the Reef with photographic evidence, which led to strict polices on blasting of reefs.

According to The 2007 Audit Report of the Ministry of Construction and Public Infrastructure, the Ministry blasted a reef in the island of Vandhoo in Thaa Atoll without proper studies and the resulting damage caused a huge financial loss to the Government. To compensate for the damages, the Ministry paid MVR 1.7 million (about USD 100K) to islanders of Vandhoo and MVR 300K (about USD 20K) to neighboring island Hirilandhoo. Since then the Government has banned reef blasting. The Government has not conducted any assessments on the reef of Vandhoo Island and hence the damages to the reef has never been valued.

The Meedhoo Ismehela Hera Channel in Addu City

In 2011, to obtain sand for Herethere Resort, a proposal to dredge a channel between Meedhoo and Ismalehera Islands, was developed. A 2011 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) justifies the need for this channel, which was followed by the Addendum of 2016. The 2011 EIA envisages two main benefits as below:

(1)  To provide easy access between Addu and Fuvahmulah Cities via ferries

However, the Fuvahmulah Airport was constructed and began operation in 2012, which along with Gan International Airport based in Addu City became the major popular transportation mode for locals. The EIA hence underestimated the implications of air transportation’s dominance over ferries, and therefore need for the channel was not justified. There was no mention of development plans for the Addu City Seaport and International Airport and how this project may become obsolete in future with these major developments.

(2)  To decrease the cost of fuel for fishermen of Meedhoo Island

Although EIA 2011 and 2016 Addendum emphasizes fuel saving, no cost benefit analysis was provided. Also, the benefits including employment for small-scale fishers in Meedhoo, was mentioned but the impact of irreversible damage to the Reef and its marine life was not considered. Additionally, for tuna fisheries, baitfish is required and has to be obtained from the intra-atoll basin rather than by going out to open sea through this channel. Hence the benefits mentioned for fishermen in the EIA are not justifiable for this project.

2016 EIA Addendum

In 2012 the project was initiated and after using a one-ton air gun for almost two and half years of dredging the Channel, the project contractor realized it is impossible to break the beach rock formation underneath the Reef. One major reason was the Reef has become hard and stable over thousands of years. Hence, in 2016 an Addendum was submitted to determine the impacts of blasting the Reef using dynamite or any other suitable explosives. Given the complexity and uncertainty of impacts from such an explosion, the EIA review has shown that the blasting of reef does not comply with (a) The 1992 Rio Declaration signed by the Maldives, and (b) The Article 22 of the Constitution of the Maldives. Hence the initial EIA review has determined blasting the reef using dynamite should not be allowed and the project should seek other alternatives. However, the Housing Ministry appealed to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the Maldives regarding the decision. After deliberation the EPA has permitted the project despite the irreversible damage that could be caused, and against the EIA reviewers initial recommendations. The EPA has issued a statement saying that the Ministry of Housing should be responsible for any damages from the blasting and acknowledged the inevitable irreversible damages of using explosives.

The project as a key vote swinger

The Government candidate for local council election from the Island of Meedhoo has been a strong supporter of this project. This project also has been used as an electoral incentive in the past. The local business elites, who control a large number of votes, are the main beneficiaries of this project. For instance, in 2013 election the incumbent President Mohamed Waheed was able to gain majority vote from Meedhoo by expediting this project through his Government. The project was then stopped due to a lack of finance. Later, during the parliamentary election, Qasim Ibrahim promised to finance it. The project contractor left in 2016 due to financial losses incurred and the project was stopped – until now. The upcoming local council elections has now become a major reason to continue the project as a means to gain vote for the Government candidate.

The questionable way this project has been prompted at a time of an election is highly controversial. In addition, the way the project was given a green light, shows the hypocrisy of the current Government in dealing with environment and climate change at the heart of the Maldives. The Environment Minister of Maldives, Thoriq Ibrahim, currently attending Conference of the Parties of UNFCCC (COP) 22 in Morocco, is asking for finance for adaptation. Back at home, he has allowed the destruction of a reef, the most important adaptive feature of an island. As opposed to his pledge to international community in June this year on strengthening EIA process in the country to reduce damage to coral reefs due to human activity he has allowed to blast an important reef of an island already faced with severe erosion.

Just a few kilometers north of this destruction there is a European Union (EU) and Australian Government jointly funded Climate Change Adaptation project. This project, located in the Hithadhoo Koattey and Edhigali Kilhi Protected Area, is funding various activities worth millions of dollars aimed at protection and sustainable use of the coastal marine environemnt. In the meantime, the Hithadhoo Koattey Area Reef, which was resistant to 1998 bleaching, has been reported to have recently shown traces of bleaching.

The Government of the Maldives has an obligation both under local environmental laws and international commitments to stop this destruction. The moratorium on prohibiting blasting of reefs should be enforced in the country already with weakened environmental monitoring and enforcement. Instead of pleading to international community and condemning their inaction on global climate change the country should ensure they do not destroy their critical natural resilience against climate change.

The blasting of this Reef will be an intergenerational theft that can never be repaid.

About the author:

Ibrahim Mohamed is a Ph.D. candidate at James Cook University, Australia. His research is on the adaptive capacity of islands of the Maldives to climate change. Prior to his Ph.D. scholarship from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia under Australia Awards, he was working in the Maldives Environmental Protection Agency as the Deputy Director General. He has also worked for the Maldives Climate Change Trust Fund managed projects related to adaptation and mitigation.

Photo: New Scientist


    Party like it’s real

    by Azra Naseem

    If you want an example of how people in power try to create your reality, Yameen’s bash tonight to launch The Real PPM is a classic

    Fact is, The Real PPM is a thing that does not exist. At least not as a political party.

    PPM is a registered party of some thirty thousand members, the elected leader of which is Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. After all the laundry has been done and all shades of family dignity have been hung out to dry on public lampposts, PPM remains the party of its members, led by the man they picked as their leader. These are material facts. That’s PPM for real.

    A court saying the party is Yameen’s doesn’t make it so. The ‘courts’ have no business meddling, uninvited, in party affairs. Maumoon’s leadership of PPM is not limited to hosting great office parties. Preventing him from ‘even cutting the cake!’ does not stop him from leading the party. As for locking Maumoon out of his own office, putting a padlock somewhere and shouting “It’s mine!’ is as legally binding an ownership claim as pissing around a disputed area to mark territory.

    Drawing on walls to insult others, perhaps popular entertainment in the caveman era, isn’t all that clever anymore. For one thing, it can backfire, as when Maumoon ended up owning Goruhan’daa and looking Gatu. “Grandpa totally killed it,” said the millennials.

    And that business of deleting the name from the wall. Is a party ever only its office?

    Just as clear is what  a political party is not. A group of men and women who, having claimed ownership of eight truckloads of party paraphernalia, take over the physical office of an established political party and declare themselves leaders of close to 40,000 people without so much as a by your leave, is not a political party.

    The Real PPM is a gang of men and women, led by Abdulla Yameen, the President, who have staged a hostile takeover of the Maldives and a majority of its people, and are exploiting their leadership of the country to make as much money as quickly as possible from the people, the islands and their unique natural beauty.

    That is what is being packaged as a new political party, ‘The Real PPM’, and being presented to anyone who will look and listen.

    Yameen has a story to promote his product.

    The West wants to colonise ‘us Muslims’. We must fight against Them. More, there are enemies within, eating us up from the inside like an autoimmune disease. These enemies were born to Maldivian mothers, the traitors. In these dangerous times, we must be afraid. We are all victims in need of protection. We need a strong leader, like Yameen.

    Maumoon, the lazy, meddlesome, old brother, must bow out, his time is past. He should make way for young blood. Young Yameen has balls, he gets things done. He brought back the death penalty, no sissy him. He is tough on the criminals he is not on a first name basis with. He is ‘brave enough’ to change the Constitution whenever he wants, for whomever he chooses.

    He will do whatever it takes to ‘develop the Maldives’.

    What Maldives needs to grow as a nation is money. Money will end social inequality, money will guarantee a happier life, world class infrastructure will end poverty, dredging will solve the housing crisis.

    Trust me, I am an economist.

    Selling everything will get us money, it will cost us nothing.

    Progress is skyscrapers, artificial trees, man-made beaches, imported marble.

    Development is never again having to be on a boat to cross even a kilometre of the ocean. Chee, lonu.

    Sustainable living? Takes too long. We can get fifteen million dollars for that island over there, and twenty for the other one in the distance, now. People are unhappy? Let’s cut down those trees, build an ice-rink and host a party.

    You can’t beat us. Join us, let us buy you.

    Yameen has great plans, and great plans need time to execute. We must reelect him. For ‘God and country’.

    Are you watching Yameen’s product launch? Are you buying it?

      Maumoon’s Monsters


      by Azra Naseem

      The ruling party, PPM, has split into two. One (so-called) Faction, is led by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the party’s founder, leader, and muse. The second is led by Yameen Abdul Gayoom, the younger brother anointed and hoisted onto the throne by the elder, now a turncoat publicly, gleefully, stabbing his octogenarian sibling in the back, declaring him obsolete and an obstacle to government.

      Debris from the battle between the brothers have been flying around for months. Maumoon was not happy with many of Yameen’s appointments. He was also unhappy with Yameen for amending the Constitution to allow Maldivian territory to be siphoned off and sold to anyone who is interested. As told by the Maumoon family, they always put ‘nation first’, and this, allegedly, is where their differences with Yameen begin.

      Yesterday Maumoon told the media he has been trying to meet Yameen now for about a year. To be denied an audience with Yameen—who would not have been made President without Maumoon’s endorsement and tireless campaigning—is a shocking insult to a leader unused to being turned away. Still, always a man of dignity, he seemed to have wanted to wash their dirty laundry in private.

      Unfortunately for Maumoon, Yameen is a stranger to dignity; he neither respects it, nor knows how to comport himself with any. To engineer Maumoon’s exit from PPM, Yameen resorted to the Gayooms’ favourite family toy—the Maldives judiciary. One of the many men on Yameen’s payroll that sit on various judicial benches issued a ‘court ruling’ handing over PPM to Yameen, as the Musthashar of the party.

      Mushthashar, according to PPM regulations, is a fancy term referring to the ceremonial role given to any PPM member who becomes President. It is purely the role of an observer, nothing more. But, for some reason, someone called Haleem Bai—who used to be a ‘journalist’ but is suddenly a Civil Court judge—ruled that PPM now belongs to Yameen because Maumoon is too interfering, and has effectively ground the party to a halt.

      This led to Maumoon bringing the Gayoom laundry basket to the court of public opinion. First he chaired a PPM council meeting where he appointed a new Secretary General. Then he held a press conference to make it clear his brother had finally overstepped the limits. Maumoon seems to have felt a sense of unwanted déjà vu having walked the same route before with DRP, which also splintered into an alphabet soup of factions. He was a man betrayed—et tu Adhurey? Nihan? He had hand-picked from the streets of Male’ many of the men who now stand behind Yameen. He had cocooned them in his patronage, lavished them with privileges, tried (with very little success) to clean up their street language, and thought he had (re)created them in his own image. Alas. His patient grooming amounted to nothing when pitted against the dollars Yameen has at his disposal post-MMPRC. The bling bling of golden Rolexes shine brighter than Maumoon’s preaching of a Gadharu-plated life.

      “I took selfies with them…they would not have been elected otherwise”, Maumoon lamented, eyes wide hurt. These men (and Madam Hello Kitty), who now sit as PPM MPs in the Majlis and daily betray the people they are meant to represent in exchange for Yameen’s favour, had slowly pulled a fast one on the veteran politician.

      “I will not respect the court’s ruling.” Maumoon said that. Really.

      Maumoon’s own creation—one of the most corrupt judiciaries in the world—has finally turned around and bit the hand of its Master. Maumoon’s party engineered, and MDP allowed, the dismissal of Article 285 of the 2008 Constitution. Had it been followed, it would have cleaned the judiciary of the many unqualified and sometimes criminal figures Maumoon put on the benches during his 30 year reign.

      The Gayooms were happy with court decision after decision that ate away at the Maldivian democracy. They were at the heart of the manufactured ‘people’s revolt’ following the military detention of Abdulla Mohamed, the so-called judge with criminal connections and a history of judicial misconduct. They were on Republic Square when—in the name of the Constitution—a democratically elected government was brought to a premature end by undemocratic means. The Gayooms supported—nay, more likely engineered—the court decisions which allowed Mohamed Waheed to stay in power well over the constitutionally stipulated term limit; the many Supreme Court interventions that finally handed the 2013 election to Yameen; the same court’s restrictions on the Elections Commission and the Human Rights Commission; and the (still continuing) rake of sentences that have locked away Yameen’s opponents one by one for long periods of time.

      Despite the blatant disregard for law that these court rulings showed, despite the highlighting of this by national and international activists, experts and lawmakers, despite the injustice these rulings celebrated, and despite the demise of Maldivian democracy these decisions enabled, none of the Gayooms ever said of any of them: ‘I will not respect the court’s ruling.’

      Today, when the ruling is against Maumoon, when he is the opponent facing the prospect of jail, he finally sees the judiciary for the monster that it is. Or, more accurately, almost sees it for what it is. There is yet to come the acknowledgement that it is a monster he created.

      Maumoon’s Frankenstein, which now belongs to Yameen.

      Just hours after Maumoon’s PPM Council Meeting, Yameen held his own PPM Council Meeting. It is as if the two men existed in parallel universes, where one is fully aware of—but refuses to recognise—the affairs of the other. At his own Council Meeting, Yameen did the same as his brother—elected a new Secretary General, and appointed other loyalists to key positions.

      Now the two councils of the two PPMs are sending letters to the Elections Commission, each explaining their new appointments, and their positions as The Real PPM. A Local Council Election is looming, and future PPM candidates need to know which of the Real PPMs are actually real. Everyone knows the Elections Commission lost its independence the day the courts booted out Fuwad Thowfeek and his team of democracy champions. What remains to be seen, from the Commission’s response, is whether it belongs to Maumoon or to Yameen.

      That’s the bottom line, really, of this battle of the brothers: does Maldives belong to Maumoon, or does it belong to Yameen?

      Confronted with the spectacle of the reality show much of the country seem to have fallen into the stupor typical of reality TV audiences. People are hooked on every new episode, many too distracted to remember what is really at stake outside the family drama: Yameen, the so-called economist, has run the country into the ground with national debt now standing at a shocking 80 percent of GDP. State expenses continue to spiral out of control, tourism industry has gone down, and investors just aren’t interested. Yameen has absolute control of the judiciary and so-called independent institutions. The Majlis has stopped functioning. The opposition has been rendered wholly ineffective and virtually voiceless, and the multiparty system is under sustained attack. Isolationism is the new foreign policy, and human rights is an Enemy of Islam and an attack on Our Sovereignty.

      Does Maumoon’s Awakening include a recognition of all, or any, of this? Will his criticism of Yameen include speaking out on any of these issues? Or will the face-off be restricted to challenging how he himself is treated by the younger man?