9 January 2024: We are deeply concerned by the decision made by the new Visitor Economy Council, headed by President Mohamed Muizzu, to develop a floating resort in the ecologically significant island of HDh. Keylakunu. We call on the government to halt any impending development activities at Hdh. Keylakunu and declare it a nature reserve to protect the rare wild mangrove forest and limit human interaction.
The decision by the Ministry of Tourism to add HDh. Keylakunu to a list of islands selected for bidding for tourism development in 2017 was met with pushback from civil society organisations and environmental advocates, demanding the significant natural heritage of the island be protected and declared as a biosphere reserve. In December 2018, the Ministry of Environment declared the area as protected under the Law 4/93 – Environment Protection and Preservation Act.
We observe with grave concern that consecutive governments are consistently encroaching on environmentally protected areas, which is decimating the living natural heritage and community livelihood resources of the Maldives. The last mangrove in Kaafu Atoll, situated in Huraa, has been undermined and endangered by reclamation. Multiple marine protected and sensitive areas in Addu Atoll Biosphere Reserve were subjected to irreversible degradation by reclamation in 2023.
Keylakunu is one of the only islands in the Maldives that is home to forest-like features with an abundance of Avecennia Marina (Baru Gas) mangroves, and the sole island ecosystem in our archipelago that harbors such an abundance with comparable density. The International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems recommended that the Maldivian Government make the island a biosphere reserve in 2001, noting that “a big beautiful mangrove forest dominated with Avicennia marina are not so many in the world nowadays” and that “once destroy such a beautiful mangrove forest dominated with Aviccenia marina, you may never have it again”.
Mangrove forests are one of the most impactful carbon-trapping ecosystems. They are effective at locking away amounts of “blue carbon”, serving as an important ecosystem mechanism to address the climate crisis. Conservation and preservation of our finite ecosystems are tantamount to successful sustainable development, and we believe it is imperative that we stand firm against threats that devalue the ecological integrity of our resources.
Not only do we stand against the development of Keylakunu as an ecotourism destination, but we urge the government to carry the same sentiments; to recognize and to address the looming threats that the development of tourism and tourist activities continue to impose on our vital ecosystems; which include the recent impacts of sand mining, land reclamation and tree grabbing.
Association for Democracy Maldives
Zero Waste Maldives