The call for the creation of nature reserves comes as the government plans to create a further forty-one resorts over the next ten years, in addition to the 89 resorts already in operation.
Bluepeace has cautioned against the rush to build more resorts, however, and calls for wider public consultation before islands are chosen for development. They also want regulatory mechanisms to be set-up for the protection and preservation of coastal vegetation:
“There are instances where islands with rich biodiversity and ecological significance are selected for industrial activities such as tourism. The use of such islands for industrial purposes causes negative environmental impacts on the islands and loss of rich natural biodiversity for the country. Such a classic example is Hudhufushi island of Lhaviyani Atoll, selected for development as a tourist resort. Hudhufushi is one of the richest islands in marine biodiversity among atoll nations.
“During the selection process of islands for industrial purposes such as tourism, islands with ecosystems vital for the livelihood of the people in an atoll, such as bait breeding grounds, are also selected. This happens because there is limited consultation with people from the atoll during the selection process.
“At a time when increasing number of uninhabited islands are being selected for industrial purposes such as tourism, it is important that the islands are assessed for their significance on the environment of the Maldives. It is also essential that the people of atolls are more widely consulted in the selection process,” the NGO said.
Resort owners defend their environmental record. They claim their hotels improve environmental awareness in the atolls, by disseminating expertise in issues ranging from clean waste disposal to marine wildlife protection.
However, concerns remain about the impact of resort development on coral reefs and island vegetation. A recent study by the United Nations found that in areas where coastal vegetation and coral reefs were intact, the destruction caused by the tsunami was greatly reduced as coastal vegetation and coral reefs act as ‘protective shields’ against erosion and natural disasters.