President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, on Tuesday, confirmed a decision to designate five eco-rich sites in Lhaviyani Atoll as protected areas, upon the recommendation of the cabinet.
The areas to be granted protected status is Maagadhu (Anemone) Thila, Dhiffushi-Maadhoo, the northernmost island of the Atoll, Sellhifuhshi Island wetlands area, Maakoa Island, Vavvaru Island and Dhandifalhu Island reef and lagoon, Dhandifalhu Island sandbank and Dhashugiri Island sandbank.
During Tuesday’s online meeting, the Ministry of Environment shared a paper outlining their reasons for recommending protected status to the aforementioned areas.
The ministry's document cited several justifications, including scientific research, first-hand reports from local fishermen and farmers and traditional knowledge from our ancestors passed down through the generations. It also revealed similar endorsements for the move, expressed across civil society, various associations and experts from the environmental field.
Whilst submitting the paper, Environment Minister Hussain Rasheed Hassan noted that, under the law of environmental protection and prevention, two other areas in the Atoll was also previously granted protective status.
Fushithila area was protected on September 27, 1995, while Kuredhoo reef and lagoon (Kureddhoo express) area, was declared as a protected site on October 21, 1999.
He also noted that areas for protection were recommended following consultations with the ministries, authorities and other relevant parties.
Further, he noted that progress of infrastructure at Lhaviyani Atoll was set to continue and that the development would not affect the soon to be protected zones, adding that the preservation of these areas would benefit future generations through eco-tourism as well as integrated tourism.
The Solih administrarion earlier declared 14 areas from Haa Alif, Haa Dhaalu, Shaviyani and Noonu Atoll in addition to ‘Farikede Faru,’ a marine site in Fuvahmulah City, and 4 sites from Addu city as protected sites, under Section 4 of the Environmental Protection and Preservation Act. The Solih administration pledged to designate at least one island, one reef and one mangrove, in each atoll as protected areas.
Despite the state’s efforts to declare eco-rich areas as protected sites in an attempt at environment conservation, local environmental collective ‘Save Maldives’ recently slammed President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and the government for continuing unsustainable development projects such as the reclamation of Gulhifalhu, Kaafu Atoll, reportedly funded by foreign loans of USD 300 million.
Save Maldives had criticised President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's administration earlier in February as well, for disregarding sustainable development in a time of national and global crisis. At the time, the Ministry of Planning and Infrastructure had overturned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s rejection for the proposed development of Maafaru International Airport.
Then on May 6, the government revealed its decision to move ahead with the reclamation of 30 hectares of land in Gulhifalhu for the development of facilities for the purpose of providing accommodation for 40,000 expatriates.
Over the last two years, numerous advocates took to social media echoing similar sentiments as that which was expressed by Save Maldives, accusing the government of failing to 'walk the talk' and live up to electoral pledges made with respect to sustainable development and halting environmental degradation.
Moreover, although Maldives has been at the forefront of climate advocacy since 1987, with Former President and incumbent Parliament Speaker Nasheed appealing to the international community as recently as during 2019's COP24 summit, several Maldivians have continued expressed opinions that across administrations, government attitudes on the matter remain slack.