The land reclamation project that the government has planned for Addu City had been ostensibly intended to alleviate the difficulties of housing faced by residents and to promote tourism.
The project, funded by a MVR 1 billion loan granted by India's EXIM bank, would oversee the reclamation of a total 236.5 hectares of land in Addu City. This would include 198.3 hectares from Addu's inhabited islands of Hithadhoo, Maradhoo, Maradhoo-Feydhoo, and Hulhumeedhoo, and would also include 3 islands of 8.3 hectares each and 2 islands of 5 hectares each to be reclaimed from within Addu City's lagoon. The islands would be developed further as tourist resorts.
Although the Environment Impact Assessment report for the project has been made public, the report states that the impact of the reclamation project would cause more than MVR 1 billion in damages. The report includes the direct impact on the local environment and also the estimated losses that would be incurred due to the impact that the damage to the environment would have on the tourism industry.
Harms to Marine Life
The reclamation of 236.5 hectares of land would see the destruction of 21 hectares of coral reefs and 120 hectares rich in seagrass.
The EIA report calculates that 120 hectares of seagrass results in 674 tonnes of carbon absorption per year; they calculate its monetary benefit to the atmospheric system at USD 4.5 million per year.
The estimated destruction of 21 hectares of coral reefs was evaluated at a minimum USD 343 million (assuming that only 10% of the destroyed coral reef was alive) and a maximum USD 858 million (assuming that more than 50% of the destroyed coral reef had been alive), as per the fines imposed for causing harm to the environment as prescribed by Maldivian law. This amounts to MVR 13.2 billion.
The EIA report had also mentioned that the lagoons of Addu City was a habitat for many species of marine life; the project could permanently reduce the numbers of marine life inhabiting the lagoon.
A fisherman who had been interviewed for the report had mentioned that the catch of reef fish from Addu City's waters was already low. Many families in Addu City make their living from reef fishing. The EIA report states that the project would adversely affect reef fishing in Addu City.
Huge Economic Losses
The EIA report highlights several economic disadvantages, in addition to the harms to marine life, that would be faced by Addu City.
Addu City currently hosts 1,144 beds to be used for tourism; which makes up a huge component of Addu City's economy. Most tourists who visit Addu City come to view Addu City's underwater natural beauty. While Addu City has 11 dive sites, some of them are famous world over; some of them include the Manta Point and the British Loyalty wreck.
The EIA report states that the reclamation project would adversely affect the clarity of the water, making the underwater attractions and marine life harder to see for visiting divers. This would have a severe impact on Addu City's tourism.
Addu City's Manta Point is one of the few areas in the world where high numbers of different species of rays gather in one place. The EIA report noted that the number of rays observed at the Manta Point declined after the reclamation project conducted in Feydhoo. The current project is several orders of magnitude larger than the Feydhoo reclamation project, and would therefore have massive adverse effects on underwater tourism in the area.
The EIA report evaluates the benefit of underwater tourism for Addu City at USD 232 million. As a result of the land reclamation project, the report says that the numbers of rays and sharks visible in Addu City's waters would decline significantly, and this would cause a loss of USD67 million per year for Addu City.
The Objectives of the Project Aren't Met
The government had claimed that the objectives of the land reclamation project had been to developing housing, and for the land to be used for tourism and for other commercial activity.
The Addu City Council has attempted to gain support for the project by emphasising that Addu City would be getting 5 resorts from the land reclamation.
However, the real question is whether the land reclamation would truly expand tourism in Addu City. More than 50% of all tourists who visit the Maldives come to see the Maldives' underwater attractions, and 11% of all tourists come specifically to dive and snorkel. According to the EIA report, the reclamation project would irreversibly damage Addu City's marine ecosystem.
The project would negatively affect the 11 dive sites that are currently operational in Addu City.
It would therefore seem unlikely that reclaiming 5 islands for resort development would truly cause tourism to thrive in the area; the uninhabited islands in Addu City's vicinity is evidence that an island alone is not enough to develop a successful resort. The project would effectively destroy Addu City's tourist economy.