The Maldives may have over a 1100 islands, and we might think – oh we have so many islands that we can keep giving it away. There are plans for more than 10 islands a year for resorts to be build on to be given away. We keep reclaiming islands to suit our needs and think that only one reef will get damaged during any one reclamation. We keep giving away our sand banks to be owned privately and think that it causes no adverse environmental impacts.

But the truth is, a 1100 islands is not a lot of islands when you plan to give away more than 50 in a five years. Again, you think so what, resorts always have to do Environmental Impact Assessments and therefore things they do will have little negative impact on the environment. Wrong. Money & power talks. Let me tell you how.

The Environment Protection Agency is not an independent agency – they are part of the government. So if you have money, then you have power and can influence government. And if you have this, then no matter what an EIA report says, you will have your ways around it. More than 90% of our resorts are operated under a temporary operating license. What this means is that the conditions of the resort are not upto the industry standard set by our country. And who cares about this fact? No one. Even if you did care there’s hardly a thing you can do about it. When millions of dollars have been invested in a resort venture, not even the government can suspend their operations, even temporarily. Instead, every resort automatically just get a temporary operating license. And resorts keep renewing their temporary license for the duration of 20 years or so. So whats even the point in giving a license at all?

So this is just the resorts, what about the sand banks. There aren’t that many sand banks in any one atoll.  Sand banks were nesting sites for the birds of Maldives and other migratory birds. Now with tourism, sand banks are given to nearby resorts to be taken care of, not under contract or officially of course, but they take over these sand banks (free resources handed over by government) to make even more money. The resorts then charge ridiculous amounts of money for private retreats & dinners at these sand banks at the risk of birds loosing their nesting sites. Not just birds, access to some sandbanks for locals too have been denied as seen fit by care taker resorts.

Land reclamations are also done in a half hearted way. We are sure any EIA would recommend ways to minimise negative environment impact – but most reclamations just get done anyway at locations initially decided by officials sitting at their desks looking up google earth. And they don’t usually follow recommended protocol to minimise impact in order to cut back on ‘extra’ financial burden.

The same thing is now happening with surf points and dive sites. A rich investor or a government official sees a spot of natural amazement and sees how money can be made by closing off this place off to the public and offering it as an exclusive retreat. Much controversy surrounds the case of Thamburudhoo, an island previously under the army now given to private parties for purposes of building a resort. There has been much mediation between the public and the government regarding exclusivity at Thamburudhoo surf, and while the government has at one point assured that the public will have access to the surf spot, what good will that do if part of their plan is to dredge and reclaim part of the lagoon on the island. This dredging and reclamation will directly impact the flow of currents and hence the surf, possibly not just at Thamburudhoo but also at nearby surf sites. This won’t be the only damage, what about the dive sites ?

This is now happening on local islands itself. The island, L. Gan, 7 kms long is one of the biggest islands in all of Maldives. The beach on this island is one of the most spectacular and biggest beaches I have seen in  Maldives. But more than a kilometer of beach at the tip of the island where its most amazing, has been given to a private investor, and the plans are to close off the beach to locals so that some rich private investor can make millions of dollars.

While we’re busy working all day to feed ourselves and our families, we are slowly being robbed of our country. Our country’s doors are being closed and the natural beauty it offers us is being taken away from us. Male’ has been reclaimed as much as it can be, and Male’ residents are offered an artificial beach just a few meters long and the water there is filthy. We are not to have access to parts of our country because we are not tourists and we can’t pay in dollars. We don’t even have any islands left nearby to where we can go on picnics. If you are living in Male’, unless you were well off, the option for enjoying a naturally beautiful reef or beach are non existent.  Is this right? Why do we stand around and just accept this?

Please visit http://www.surfatoll.com/2013/06/18/the-republic-of-the-maldives-a-country-not-a-country-club/ to see what’s happening with Thamburudhoo.

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