Recently the media has produced various articles regarding the actions of Male’ City Council (MCC), which included reports that were damaging to the reputation of Save the Beach (STB), as well as diminishing the importance of STB’s cause. Hence, we are issuing this press release in order to clarify the truth behind the media’s spin in their articles.
STB was set up to protect the beaches, reefs and environment of Villingili. It began as a youth movement in 2008 when the community of beach users became frustrated with the continuous accumulation of garbage on the beaches and in the sea.
STB initially organized several cleaning events, which led us to realize that cleaning is not the solution to the waste problem in Maldives. As a result, STB lobbied first the Municipality and later MCC to find a solution to the escalating problem.
It took close to a year of lobbying, petitions, letters and a stream of photos of garbage to convince MCC of the major problem facing Villingili. It is not just a problem for Villingili, but also for Male’ which does not have a natural beach and its waters are quite unsuitable for swimming. As Bandos is soon closing for local picknickers, Villingili’s beaches are the only option left for a third of all Maldivians to use for ourselves the natural beauty the country boasts. It is imperative these beaches be preserved for us now, and for future generations.
Since winning a contract with MCC, STB has achieved a lot. We have carried out waste audits, cleaned the beaches on a regular basis, hosted Saturday cleanups, going onto the daily cleaning of the beaches, placed dustbins and signboards on all the beaches of Villingili, cleaned the harbor, planted trees on the beach, hosted cleaning events with different organisations to raise awareness on the issue of waste and its impact on the marine environment. To further raise awareness, we have hosted events like Earth Hour, marked days like Biodiversity Day, Environment Day and Ozone Day. We have targeted and hosted events for children, school students, the orphanage, the scouts and even for offices and youth groups. During this time we have also worked very closely with the government. We have also opened a Look & Learn centre, which we are hoping to expand into an environmental learning centre. We have also planted trees for the Maritime School in Villingili, assisted the police with crime prevention activities in the community, and assisted any organisation requesting our help. Every year we assist with the relief work when high tides are washed onto the island, and sand bags need to be placed in places of impact.
We have addressed the issue of beach safety by placing safety ropes with bouys on the reef edge, and have started swimming lessons. A place on the South Beach has also been assigned and developed as a barbecue area to prevent and minimize damage to the shoreline vegetation from fires.
Everything we have done has been possible only because there is a need from the community for these activities to take place, and because of the support we receive from sponsors like BHM and We Care Maldives who make monthly payments to keep the beach and seas clean. Every single cent spent on the cause has been from the public, individuals and organisations sympathetic to the cause. The events and activities mentioned are just some of the activities that have been carried out by STB in the first year of our official contract with MCC, and some of these activities have been carried out ahead of the schedule proposed by us.
Our proposal to MCC was the only thorough proposal submitted in which the damages to Villingili’s environment were identified and addressed, and solutions proposed, at minimal cost to the government. To this day we have not run any businesses under our contract with MCC and we have focused solely on our environmental work. It was never our plan to make the project a commercial venture, and we will continue to fight for the right of us Maldivians to be able to have at least this one beach of our own, before potential venture capitalists turn it into a commercial hub, closing it for locals so that tourists can bathe in their bikinis.
Our place of work on the beach is a welcoming place for anyone in the community who wants to get involved in our activities, and our plans for the beach include opening a marine awareness and learning centre, a recycling centre and a community centre for all beach lovers where beach recreational activities are promoted. Anyone who has seen our volunteers work, will know just how hard we work, with just enough money for any one project or activity, sponsored by different members of community for specific activities, purely out of love for the environment.
It was during a meeting at the MCC when we learnt that the Anti Corruption Commission’s (ACC) investigation into our project was, according to the MCC, ‘heating up’, and it was at this same meeting where we were served a termination of contract without warning. We were baffled with the turn of events, and sought meetings with relevant persons in different institutions to find a way to continue the project.
The ACC agreed to meet with us, and indicated that it was because they had found no problem with STB that they were even meeting us. They had also mentioned at this meeting that they never asked for our contract to be terminated, and thought our contract was terminated unjustly and that MCC could have continued the project if both parties were willing to negotiate the contract. The ACC also said that the project carried out in Villingili was one of the best ongoing projects in the country at the moment. However, till today we have not been able to make any progress with MCC on finding a way to continue the project.
The projects carried out by STB are the result of a great deal of effort by many members of the community, and the reason why so many people have funded, aided, supported and worked for these projects, is because, as previously mentioned, Villingili’s beaches are the only natural beaches left for use by more than a third of our whole population, and they have to be protected and maintained. All those who have worked for this cause should not give up, because now is a time to fight for the cause. We have worked hard and for months to secure funding for the projects, and no matter what the cost, we are left with no choice, but to keep fighting for the only beach we have.
Our intention is not to make enemies with any government institution or agency, but to work together to find solutions to our environmental problems. However, we fear that the environment is to suffer from political battles between the different institutions, and we have become a pawn in this political game of chess. Regardless of the allegations against MCC, they are the official authority for managing waste in Male’ and we are again left with no choice but to plead with the same institutions to find a solution.
We need the support and backing of the whole community, young and old, individuals and organisations, public and private, to keep the beaches and seas of Villingili clean and protected, and to protect them from radical commercialization, where our organisation can continue to do the work we have been doing so successfully, without any monetary or private gain to any individual person or party.
Many activities are ongoing, even as we make this statement, including the daily cleaning of the beach despite the termination of contract and the Unity Day cleanup at which STB is playing a critical part. Work has also started on the reef rehabilitation and research component of the project in Villingili. Furthermore, there is a plan to replicate the STB Villingili projects in Aa. Ukulhas. This was the vision our founders were seeking, that the Villingili project would serve as a model example that other islands can replicate.
So it is with much saddened hearts that today we plead for the cause – we need everyone’s help. Let the efforts of everyone who has worked for this be not in vain.