Residents of Vaavu Atoll announced to file a petition next week over concerns regarding the recent agreement to develop a billion dollar resort on the uninhabited island of Bodumohora with Kaashidhoo MP Abdulla Jabir.
Over 200 islanders from the least populated atoll in the country have already signed the petition against the agreement signed by the Ministry of Tourism. The petition will be filed at the Tourism Ministry, President's Office and Parliament.
Efforts to lead the movement were initiated by the council of Keyodhoo. Council President Ahmed Yoosuf assured that their concerns were not only limited to Keydhoo but were reflective of the whole atoll as well.
He explained that out of the 19 islands sparsely displaced across the atoll, Bodumohora is the only accessible uninhabited island left for its residents.
"Now Aarah is a resort. People can't visit Hulhidhoo. Anbara was also leased and Fohtheyo was given to MTCC. With the resort development in Bodumohoraa, people will have no (uninhabited) island to visit", said Yoosuf regarding Vaavu Atoll's uninhabited islands.
Emphasizing Bodumohora's economical significance, the council president noted that the growing guesthouse industry heavily relies on the island for excursions and other activities.
The island is also frequented by students on school-led educational visits and is mainly utilised for recreational purposes.
Speaking on Bodumohora after he departed to the island on Tuesday, MP Jabir revealed his vision to establish the world's first underwater casino at his self-titled 'integrated resort' - the 'Jabir Happy Club'.
Split into three phases of development, Jabir declared that the first phase would conclude within six months, while the entire resort will finish construction during a period of 36 months.
According to the ministry, Jabir has paid MVR 8.4 million from the MVR 42.3 million in acquisition fees. The businessman has a period of five-years after the resort is unveiled to settle the full payment.
In 2013, Bodumohora was initially leased to Jabir for a period of 50 years under an agreement with former president Dr Mohamed Waheed's administration.
Located on the southern edge of the atoll, the island's lagoon is the largest unbroken stretch of coral formation in the country. In 2008, the project proposal for the 'Consolidation of Vaavu Atoll – Development of Bodumohora' identified the island as the only lagoon in the atoll with potential for large scale reclamation. Additionally, the proposal underscored the potential to develop a regional airport in the future.
From 1999 to 2009, Bodumohora was used for various research purposes by the then-Marine Research Centre, currently Maldives Marine Research Institute.
In 2010, a tender to develop mariculture facilities on the island was opened, with the Marine Research Centre investing MVR 8 million into the project.
A year later, Bodumohora was listed by the state for resort development.
The agreement made during the Waheed administration in 2013 was overturned by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in 2014, during the tenure of former president, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.
Hotly contested during Yameen's rule, the Civil Court, presided by Judge Mariyam Waheed, moved in favour of Jabir, demanding the state to sign the agreement to lease Bodumohora to Jabir's majority-owned company 'Marine Technology'. On February 17, 2017, the Supreme Court, in unprecedented fashion, sacked Judge Mariyam and annulled the Civil Court decision.
Tourism industry experts, marine biologists and environmentalists noted the island as a breeding site for various species of sharks, rays and birds. However, since there is a lack of tangible scientific research on Bodumohora to support such claims, concerned individuals have expressed the need for a meticulous Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to further understand the island's ecology.