Ministry of Environment and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faced stark criticism during the public forum for comments regarding the proposed 'uprooting palms and trees regulation', on Tuesday.
The public forum was joined by Minister of Environment Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan, EPA's Director General Ibrahim Naeem and other experts.
Following the introductory remarks by Director General of the Ministry Mohamed Zahir, and an overview of the regulation by Assistant Director Ahmed Anwar, the floor was opened to the public for comment.
Environmental experts state that due to such destructive actions, the delicate nature of the Maldivian environment faces severe repercussions such as erosion and loss of habitat, that which developmental projects either fail to resolve or significantly worsen.
In light of these sentiments, forum participants conveyed that the regulation should aim to halt the uprooting and transportation of trees, instead of providing further means to do so.
At the discussion, multiple members of the public alleged that the new regulation was proposed as a method to legitimize uprooting palms and trees for lagoons and islands leased during the graft scandal of Maldives Marketing And Public Relation Corporation (MMPRC), for the purpose of landscaping the resorts built on these locations.
Moreover, majority of the participants expressed disapproval of the regulation and demanded reforms within the regulation.
In addition to policy wide reforms, the public called for an independent EPA capable of regulating, monitoring and protecting the sustainability of the Maldivian ecosystem.
Overall, public representatives expressed their views against the current state of affairs within the EPA and the ministry itself.
Prior to the forum, the ministry had exhausted the initial period for public comments via email.
According to EPA, it is permissible to remove and transfer vegetation from sites where major projects are ongoing.
"Land clearance is necessary for agriculture and major development projects such as airports. In most cases, there is no space for uprooted palms and trees to be replanted on the same island", highlighted EPA.
However, numerous environmentalists are standing against vegetation removal, drawing attention to the environmental issues and disadvantages of disrupting large areas of island ecosystems for development purposes.
Several cases of vegetation being uprooted from inhabited islands to be replanted in developing resorts have surfaced, including the recent sanctioning to clear several coconut palms from Addu City Square in Hithadhoo. Permission was granted on the condition that the trees are replanted elsewhere in Addu Atoll.
Moreover, 819 palms are to be uprooted and planted in different locations to clear land for three major development projects in Mulah, Meemu Atoll.
The regulation falls under the Environment Protection and Preservation Act of Maldives (4/93).
A recent movement started by local environment advocates under the hashtag #MVTreeGrab has been widely credited as having brought the issue of uprooting palm trees and "tropical deforestation" to a phase of action.