Tourism minister Moosa Zameer on Sunday announced plans to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) at the protected island of Dhigulaabadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu atoll for the development of an airport in the delicate island.
The cabinet had considered leasing Dhigulaabadhoo in 2010 to privately owned Aqua Treasure Pvt Ltd for agricultural purposes which had sparked outcry from environmental protection groups forcing the then government to shelve the plan.
The current government has not yet assigned a contractor for the new airport project.
Stating he was aware of Dhigubaaladhoo’s status as a protected island, the tourism minister confirmed the ongoing research into the feasibility of developing an airport in Dhigubaaladhoo.
“We’re conducting the studies at the island after discussions with the environment minister. To my knowledge, it is a protected island, but should the EIA indicate that airport development is feasible there, we will go ahead with the project,” said the minister. “Only the survey will show if it is possible or not.”
According to Zameer, the objectives of establishing an airport in Dhigubaaladhoo is to expand tourism to Gaafu Dhaalu atoll and provide easy travels for its residents.
Meanwhile, environment ministry’s director general Mohamed Zahir stated on Sunday that he was unaware of a plan to develop an airport in Dhigubaaladhoo. He firmly voiced his concern of conducting such projects in a protected island.
“There is no other island like [Dhigubaaladhoo] in the Maldives, which is why we listed it as Sensitive. It is like a breeding grounds or nursery for rays and whale sharks. If we excavate and fill up the mangroves and rivers of that island, it will cause irreversible damage to the sensitive ecosystem of the island,” said Zahir.
He asserted that Dhigubaaladhoo, situated between the islands of Fares Maathodaa and Fiyori, is not at all ideal for airport development. He elaborated that the narrow stature of the island will require reclamation of its sizeable lagoon for an airport, which apart from causing major harm to the environment will also be costly.
Bluepeace, a local environmental non-governmental organisation, had previously urged against any actions that would deface the immense natural beauty of Dhigubaaladhoo, stating that any projects in the island will cause irreversible damage to its beauty and environment.