Tagged: dredging

Maldives: Ecocide as Achievement

Humay Abdulghafoor

On 15 March 2023, fireworks and led lights lit up a site of state sponsored ecocide in the southernmost tip of Gaaf Dhaal atoll in the Maldives, as President Solih celebrated another destructive airport project.

Holding pole position on the victim-list of global climate change, Maldives pleads shamelessly for global climate funds.  It also expects to blamelessly destroy finite natural ecosystems and climate change defences for short-term political expediency, and claim from the international taxpayer to ‘mitigate’ willful ecocide. The government of Maldives is well aware of the imminent and unknowable impacts of global climate heating to its natural foundations, which constitute the seventh largest coral system in the world. The country’s finite ecosystems including coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, wetlands and the rich and yet to be studied biodiversity within, sustains the nation’s economic lifelines – its tourism and fishing industries. The Maldives State of the Environment Report 2016 says that 98% of the country’s exports and 71% of its employment are directly linked to its biodiversity sector. This is unsurprising in a nation constituting 99% ocean and 1% land. This land which lies mostly below the one meter mark above mean sea level, is entirely dependent on the stability of its surrounding marine environment.

However, the government of Maldives’ development approach undermines the stability of the balance of nature in the country. It entertains a policy of domestic aviation and airport infrastructure that is grossly and disproportionately overblown in the context, capacity and need, at the expense of multiple ecosystems. The policy to have a domestic airport at every 20-30 minute travel distance attempts to justify expansion that is financially and environmentally debilitating to the country.

The multitude of questionable and destructive ecocide projects like Faresmaathodaa Airport are not environmentally accounted. The extreme loss and damage inflicted on ecosystems, the loss of services they provide to communities and existing businesses dependent on them are not valued, as a matter of practice. These projects are conducted as if these natural systems have no inherent value as the natural defences of the country. It is a well established fact that the country’s reef ecosystem foundations were instrumental in defending these small, low-lying islands in the middle of the Indian ocean. The 2004 Asian Tsunami travelling at a speed of 500 mph was slowed down by these reef defences that took the brunt of the hit. To destroy and bury these defences willfully during a self-proclaimed ‘climate emergency’ is akin to digging its own grave. The government of Maldives is invested in free riding on the narrative that it faces an existential crisis due to global climate heating, and take no responsibility to cease widespread and irresponsible ecocide nationally.

Faresmaathodaa Airport Ecocide

The political fanfare and fireworks surrounding the Faresmaathodaa ecocide is a superficial show covering up extreme environmental loss and damage, the value of which is entirely dismissed and ignored. The airport was built by destroying 5 uninhabited islets south of the inhabited island of Faresmaathodaa. The reclamation component of the project is nearly MVR 80 million (~USD 5.3 million). According to the State broadcaster PSM, the airport project cost an estimated USD 10 million.

The environmental damage and destruction the project will cause is outlined in the project environmental assessment (EIA) of July 2018. The project was estimated to remove 14,000 to 16,000 trees from the impact area, although the environmental or social cost was not accounted. The EIA further said that

coastal construction activities will involve significant adverse impacts on the marine water quality and marine life. The most significant will be the turbidity impacts from the dredging, reclamation and shore protection activities. Biota associated with the seabed within these footprints will be lost, either due to physical removal during dredging or burial during reclamation works.” (project EIA, pg.xvii – italics added).

The report further described the project’s proposed and anticipated future impacts, saying that,

“There are potentially severe impacts predicted due to hydrodynamic changes. The reclamation across five islands and funneling effect created between Faresmaathodaa and the airport may cause severe erosion on the eastern shoreline of Fares and western shoreline of Kan’dehdhudhuvaa. There is also strong likelihood of flooding on the airport due to the elevation and shore protection designs proposed, and given the fact that Faremaathodaa [sic] has a known history of coastal flooding.” (project EIA, pg.xvii – italics added).

The decision to ignore the environmental and ecological consequences of ecocide to build short-term, ecologically high-impact and loss-making infrastructure for political gain undermines every legal and governance requirement to develop Maldives sustainably. This approach to infrastructure development imposes a crippling environmental and financial burden on the country, incurring loss upon loss.

Kulhudhuffushi Airport Ecocide

Politically driven ecocide projects continue to plague the Maldivian people and their aspirations for meaningful change to improve their lives through sustainable development activities. Sustainability, viability, economic and financial feasibility are of little to no concern for politician-driven ecocide projects. In October 2017, the government of Maldives went ahead with the destruction of Kulhudhuffushi mangroves and wetland to build an airport in the middle of one of the largest wetland ecosystems in the country, amid public protests. State owned company MTCC Plc with no experience in airport development was assigned the project, using its first ever dredging vessel built by Netherlands company ICH Holland in China. In a press statement, the President’s Office said that the vessel, named “Mahaa Jarraafu is capable of conducting land reclamation activities without causing damage to the environment.” (italics added)

The project’s immediate negative consequences were widespread, including the displacement and dispossession of local livelihood resources and economies affecting over 400 families. Other impacts to the community showed when Kulhudhuffushi began to experience increased flooding which had significant direct impacts on people’s homes and property. Efforts by the #SaveMaldives Campaign and concerned stakeholders to protect the remaining part of the wetlands have been ignored by the current government.

In 2023, Kulhudhuffushi airport requires extensive shore-protection works as erosion threatens it. The national budget has thus far allocated over MVR 20 million (~USD 1.4 million) to address the continuing impacts of the destruction caused by the airport project. Today, nearly 6 years after the project began, Kulhudhuffushi Airport is still not fully operational. Notably, President Yameen Abdul Gayoom was impatient to inaugurate the airport project, and did so before the airport terminal could be completed, as part of his failed re-election campaign in 2018. The airport continues to suffer from significant critical infrastructure deficits which limit flight movements.  Its operational functions were initially hindered by the absence of key operational components such as fire and rescue and ground handling services. To date, the airport has yet to install runway lights.

Hoarafushi Airport Ecocide

The ecocide case of Haa Alif Atoll Hoarafushi Airport which was a political project initiated in 2019 showed yet again the catastrophic consequences of willful ecosystem destruction by the government of Maldives and its political decision-makers. The airport was constructed in record time by the Maldives State owned company MTCC Plc (once again), and opened with the usual fanfare by President Solih in November 2019. Initial reports suggested the airport construction cost MVR 198 million (~USD 13.2 million) while another said it cost MVR 211 million (~USD 14 million).  The government project portal shows that between 2019 and 2021, over MVR 233 million (~USD 15.5 million) had been spent on this project.

The project EIA’s First Addendum of March 2019, on the strength of which the project was approved, reached the following conclusion :

“The study found that through the implementation of the proposed practical and cost effective mitigation measures in this addendum report in conjunction with the EIA all significant impacts can be brought to an acceptable level.” (pg. 158) 

This pivotal project EIA document provides no valuation or accounting for environmental or ecological loss and damage the project would cause. At this point, it might interest the reader to know that the producer of the Hoarafushi Airport EIA is the incumbent People’s Majlis (Maldives parliament) MP for Hoarafushi, Ahmed Saleem who ran for his parliamentary seat for this constituency in April 2019, with a pledge to develop this airport. MP Saleem is also the Chairperson of the permanent parliamentary committee known as the Environment and Climate Change Committee. In this capacity, he is also known for having submitted an application in December 2019 to the International Criminal Court on behalf of the Maldives, to make ecocide an international crime. The situation could hardly be more ironic, duplicitous or dishonorable.

Just five months after its November 2019 inauguration, Hoarafushi Airport was inundated due to high winds and tidal surges during the monsoon in May 2020, causing significant losses raising key questions about the project’s planning, construction and management. In April 2021, reports emerged that the causeway linking Hoarafushi island to the airport would be removed, confirming the serious gaps in the project’s planning, approval and implementation.  A scientific study on coastal flooding in the Maldives published in 2021 observed that Hoarafushi island experiences the “highest incoming waves in the archipelago”. The fact that the Hoarafushi Airport EIA addendum was produced by a technical practitioner who either missed or deliberately ignored this basic scientific fact is astounding. This leaves room to suggest that the evident personal conflict of interest in this case trumped the public interest. The fact that the Maldives Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also failed to act on this fundamental fact by approving the airport EIA is indicative of monumental regulatory failures. These failures highlight the political realities that make unchecked ecocide actively endorsed and normative in the Maldives. The complete absence of accountability and professional due diligence undermines the ecological and human security, and therefore, the present and future stability of the country.

Ecocide as Achievement for Political Expedience

This brings me back to the case of Faresmaathodaa Airport. It is not lost to the Maldivian people that Faresmaathodaa is the home island of the incumbent Minister for National Planning, Housing and Infrastructure, Mohamed Aslam. Similar to Mr Saleem MP for Hoarafushi, he also has a professional history of producing EIAs. Prior to his current cabinet post, Mr Aslam, who holds a BSc in Geological Oceanography, held the position of director at the EIA consultancy company La Mer. There, he was personally involved in the production of the EIA to construct a causeway between the islands of Madaveli and Hoadedhdhoo in Gaaf Dhaal atoll, in 2016. This project was also commissioned to MTCC Plc, and have proved to be an ongoing, financially wasteful and catastrophic ecocide project since 2012. This history has relevance to the kind of decision-making we see by these politicians.

The Faresmaathodaa Airport project plans pre-date the current administration. The opportunity to prevent the loss of environmental stability of 6 islands and their surrounding natural defences and assets was available to this government. President Solih’s government and his cabinet in which Mr Aslam sits, chose not to do that. They chose to commit willful ecocide in this case, as in several others, continuing to gaslight the public and attempt to package these acts of destruction and irreversible losses as achievements.

As long as political decision-makers in influential positions are allowed to exploit public finances and environmental assets for personal political expedience, the Maldives vulnerability to climate disasters will continue to spiral. High level officials including the President, members of his Cabinet and their partners in the Peoples’ Majlis continue to celebrate ecocide as achievement in the Maldives. This stands in absolute and stark contrast to the narrative of vulnerability to climate change these same public officials attempt to sell, especially internationally. Their gross professional misconduct and failure to uphold legal and public duty should be understood as that.

This article, with its accompanying images, was first published on 19 March 2023 on SaveMaldives.net Click here to visit the original article and sign the petition #SaveAddu Biosphere Reserve. Re-posted here with author’s permission.

Image 1: Kulhudhuffushi before the Airport Ecocide 📷 Save Maldives campaign, Image 2: Faresmaathodaa (2011 – 2022) 📷 Google Earth, Image 3: Kulhudhuffushi (2006 – 2022) 📷 Google Earth, Image 4: Hoarafushi (2016 – 2022) 📷 Google Earth

Open letter to the people of The Netherlands, from the environmentally endangered Maldives

This letter, penned by Humay Abdulghafoor, volunteer for the Save Maldives campaign, addresses the people of The Netherlands with a story little-told: how their nation’s business enterprise has produced another’s destruction and demise, through dredging, reclamation, and port development.
This letter, penned by Humay Abdulghafoor, volunteer for the Save Maldives campaign, addresses the people of The Netherlands with a story little-told: how their nation’s business enterprise has produced another’s destruction and demise, through dredging, reclamation, and port development.

January, 2023 

Dear Netherlands,

New Year’s greetings from the Maldives. You may have heard about our country: an earthly “paradise” that is home to luxury tourism. That’s the marketed image, representing a “sunny side of life”. We also have several, less sunny stories. This particular one is about the endangered and finite ecosystems of the Maldives that have an unhappy connection to your country, the Netherlands.

You and us – we are all in the same predicament, even if we are not in the same hemisphere. We are all experiencing a great earth-heating climate crisis that is breaking down global climate systems. Scientists tell us that we humans are causing this Earth crisis. The United Nations tells us the situation is “code red for humanity.” Our actions and inaction have been creating an existential and extinction crisis.

Of course, the Dutch people would be very familiar with what this means.

You will no doubt remember the landmark decision of the Dutch Supreme Court on 20 December 2019, the Urgenda Climate Case, which decided that the Dutch government had obligations to “urgently and significantly reduce emissions in line with its human rights obligations”.  All governments have these obligations, although most choose to do little or nothing. The Netherlands is very lucky to have a judicial system where redress is available in court for serious grievances raised by concerned people, against unlawful and irresponsible decisions of the government, in our time of catastrophic climate crisis.

The Urgenda decision seeks to protect not just yourselves, but all of us inhabiting the Earth.

While we in the Maldives may be thousands of miles away, this decision in the Dutch courts is a big deal.

The whole world knows today that politicians around the world have consistently failed to address the climate crisis with decades of failed and farcical international conferences. This is why the Dutch Supreme Court’s decision in Urgenda stands out.

As you know, global climate breakdown is an existential crisis for many of us living in coastal nations, especially low lying small islands like the Maldives. Most of our 1,200 or so islands are less than one metre above sea-level. Our islands are made of coral and sand. Every island is an organic, living entity, protected by a living reef-defence-system, sometimes with the additional security of seagrass meadows and mangrove ecosystems which, when healthy, are teeming with marine life and biodiversity. We are just beginning to understand the richness of this biodiversity, which remains poorly studied.

Less than a year ago, a species of fish new to science was discovered in the Maldives. Who knows how many more are waiting to be discovered?

But our life-giving ocean, marine life, and biodiversity which collectively make up our critical natural reef defence systems have been under increasing threats due to many factors involving destructive and unsustainable development practices. Many of our reefs and lagoons have been completely and irreversibly destroyed. You may wonder who or what is destroying the reefs of the Maldives? The simple answer is that, primarily, it is the government and political decision-makers of the Maldives. But the government has been able to do this with the help of global dredging corporations and banks, although today, Maldives also has its own state-owned company, MTCC Plc also doing enormous damage.

The leading giants of the trade are two notable companies, Royal Boskalis and Van Oord, from the Netherlands. They are the expensive and profitable tools deployed to destroy our living environment, irreversibly and permanently. This story is mainly about the activities of Boskalis.

Royal Boskalis has over a decade-long history of reclamation that has destroyed community reefs and livelihood assets in several islands of the Maldives.  Some of these activities are labeled as ‘climate adaptation projects’. The cost of that destruction is enormous, running into millions of US dollars of public debt, often loaned from the ING Bank of Netherlands. In 2010, Royal Boskalis and MT- Hojgaard of Netherlands engaged in reclaiming five islands in the Maldives at an estimated US$43 million, borrowed from the ING Bank of Netherlands. These are the kinds of funds that are not available locally to develop community-based initiatives that improve people’s lives. You may be surprised to learn that this reclaimed land from over a decade ago remains unused and unavailable to local people.

This is, of course, a problem of the Maldives government. The point is that the big reclamation contracts to big companies, paid with large amounts of public debt, continue with relative ease, while no funds are available to do anything with the reclaimed land. Reclamation destroys sustainable livelihood resources and undermines the basic security functions of the living island reef systems irreversibly. Once an ancient reef is lost, it cannot be brought back. The partial or complete destruction of the natural reef defenses exposes islands to erosion and climate change disasters.

More recently in 2019, Royal Boskalis was contracted to undertake the largest and deepest reclamation project thus far in the Maldives: the Gulhifalhu Port Development project, which is estimated to cost Maldivian taxpayers US$120 million just for the reclamation.  Notably, the project was contracted to Boskalis before an environmental impact assessment (EIA) was produced to understand its impacts. It was also contracted without a bid, which media reported was being probed by the Maldives Anti-Corruption Commission. Whether anyone has been held to account about such irregularities is not known in the murky governance environment of the Maldives.

Boskalis Beef

The Gulhifalhu project will dredge an area of 13.75 sq/km in northern Malé Atoll, extracting 24.5 million cubic metres of naturally formed biogenic sand from the ocean to reclaim the Gulhifalhu lagoon. The environmental and eco-systemic loss and damage of this project was poorly evaluated, and the loss and damage have not been properly costed environmentally or financially. This may be because the project’s initial EIA noted that the project was a foregone conclusion even before the EIA was commissioned. It is also a sad fact that the EIA processes in the Maldives are deeply flawed and do not serve the public interest.

What is also a foregone conclusion is that the project will destroy a marine protected area (MPA) in Gulhifalhu lagoon, called the Hans Haas Place and designated in 1995. It is also accepted that the project will negatively impact approximately 30 dive sites in the area, having significantly damaging impacts on reef ecosystems, including the reefs of several resorts in the area. The project is expected to destroy the last remaining natural reef freely accessible to local people in the area, located in Villimale island a few hundred metres from the Gulhifalhu lagoon. It will also negatively impact small businesses and fisherfolk.

In June 2020, when Boskalis first began dredging the lagoon, a significant sediment plume damaged the Villimale reef. However, concerns expressed by local people and civil society stakeholders about the project, which was submitted for parliamentary scrutiny, was largely ignored by the Maldives government and the parliament. Instead of protecting Gulhifalhu and its threatened surrounding marine ecosystems, the parliament’s Environment and Climate Change Committee instead chose to justify the project.

A few months prior to this, the Maldives parliament had passed a motion to declare a Climate Emergency in the Maldives. At the same time, the Maldives suffers deeply from political instability, poor governance, policy poverty, endemic corruption and even poorer environmental protections of its own finite natural resources and assets. This may be a surprise to anyone reading about the Maldives’ leading role at climate conferences and global victim-status from impending climate catastrophe. The story on the ground is far removed from that politically manufactured image of the ‘sinking Maldives’ with ‘no higher ground’ to climb. That political rhetoric is disseminated around the world by the international media, on behalf of well-connected politicians who receive copious amounts of column inches and broadcast coverage.

In June 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic while the country was in lockdown, Boskalis arrived on site and engaged in a greenwash initiative to “relocate corals” from the Gulhifalhu reef. The company said this was conducted as a CSR (corporate social responsibility) activity!

Is it really so noble of a global corporation taking on a multi-million dollar project financed with foreign loans that must be covered by public debt to offer CSR to that same foreign state? It is evident that this is part of the company’s marketing strategy of presenting an image of ‘eco-friendly’ credentials.

The notion suggesting that a reef can be ‘relocated’ is unintelligible, with no scientific credibility as any Maldivian or visitor to the Maldives who has seen our natural reefs would know. This idea is absolutely untenable, has no substance and is nothing but a corporate smokescreen. Coral gardening, involving the removal of coral fragments to grow elsewhere, is an experimental tourist attraction in some resorts in the Maldives, which is also a type of corporate greenwashing.  However, the project’s official website considers “coral relocation” a triumph of the project!

Billionaire Coral Migration

Due to the enormity of the destruction planned by the Gulhifalhu reclamation project, civil litigation action to stop it was lodged at the Civil Court of Maldives in September 2021, which remains pending to date. Sadly, the Maldives courts do not have a good history of protecting the country’s fragile environment or holding the government accountable for environmental crimes. This is so even if some of our laws on environmental protection are reasonably progressive. Unlike the Netherlands, the courts in the Maldives are yet to be tested to address environmental destruction and our common climate crisis. This is the case despite the country’s extreme vulnerability and position at the forefront of global climate breakdown. This is in spite of the Maldives’ political pleas to the world at international fora to act on the climate, through its projected image internationally as a ‘climate champion’.

A significant amount of inconsistent, opposing and opportunistic narratives are created by Maldivian politicians with short-term goals who willfully risk the health and life of entire ecosystems, people’s lives and sources of livelihood. But they cannot do this without the active support of global corporations like Boskalis and the ING Bank of Netherlands. As the European Union strengthens its laws and law enforcement to do due diligence on climate change related matters, European corporations are finding poorly governed nations like the Maldives to exploit.

In June 2022, undeterred by its  people’s concerns, the government of Maldives took out a loan of €101 million from three European banks, including the ING Bank of Netherlands, to continue with the second phase of the Gulhifalhu reclamation project. Boskalis is expected to be back in the Maldives in 2023 to inflict extreme damage to the north Malé region with the next and most destructive phase of the reclamation project. Since its initial estimate of 20 million cubic metres of sand use, the project has increased this to 24.5 million cubic metres using an addendum to the EIA in November 2021. What the project will eventually extract is anyone’s guess.


This is a situation where information is withheld from the public and Boskalis’ sand-search survey for the Gulhifalhu project is considered a ‘trade secret’, even from the Maldives parliament!  We do not know the scope of damage this project will cause to the region when a massive dredging vessel deploys its destructive forces into a marine environment rich with life from the seabed to the surface. The after-effects of a string of expensive, historical reclamation projects under Royal Boskalis’ belt in the Maldives have never been studied. There are no funds to study the loss and damage. There is never enough funds to obtain accurate baseline data for these projects either. The funds are instead available from corporate banks for corporations like Boskalis to inflict permanent irreversible and unstudied damage at great financial and debt costs to the people of Maldives.

These are highly lucrative multi-million dollar projects, taking just a few short months for the contractor to impose untold ecological harm. The direct and collateral damage inflicted by Boskalis will be suffered by present and future generations of Maldivians. This will happen after the vessel has made its money and safely left our shores, leaving us to deal with the debt, destruction and damage as the climate crisis unfolds before us.

As the new year breaks in 2023, the news breaking in the Maldives is that two of the most damaging marine contractors from the Netherlands will be actively destroying critical marine ecosystems with unknown losses and damage to communities and people in the Maldives. Van Oord is planning to dredge Addu Atoll Biosphere Reserve, endangering multiple MPAs, marine habitats of mega-fauna such as manta rays and undermining the climate resilience of the entire atoll. Royal Boskalis will be preparing to destroy Gulhifalhu reef and lagoon.

These are the untold stories of Maldives on the frontline of the global climate crisis. As we become increasingly conscious of our interconnectedness on earth, it is necessary to tell the story of how one nation’s business enterprise has become another’s destruction and demise.

If you have come this far, thank you for reading. And thank you for Urgenda.

That decision carries with it a spark of hope for many.


The Maldives, Indian Ocean

#savemaldives is a citizen-led environmental campaign by concerned individuals from diverse backgrounds who are extremely worried about irreversible environmental destruction in the Maldives.

This open letter was first published on Contested Ports. Re-posted here with author’s permission.