Environment Ministry team arrives Maafaru to investigate EIA issue

A team from Environment Ministry has travelled to Noonu Maafaru after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised against expanding the runway of the international airport on the island.

Based on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted by EPA on the project, the agency concluded that the reasons listed as justifications for expanding the airport to be able to land twin jets of Boeing-777s is not reasonable in comparison to the negative environment impacts that will be caused by pursuing the project. The frequency of Boeing 777 aircraft that would operate to Maafaru Airport is also unknown, noted EPA.

While a large percentage of the Maafaaru lagoon will be lost permanently if the project is pursued, it will have an impact on the surrounding eco-system of the lagoon, said the report. Maafaru is also a popular site at which turtles lay ieggs, therefore, the expansion of the airport will directly impact that aspect of the environment, said EPA. Additionally, over 22,000 trees currently existing on the island will be affected, noted the report.

The team, along with Environment Minister Dr. Hussain Rasheed Hassan arrived on the island Tuesday to investigate the issue. The ministry said the purpose of the visit is to closely research the issue before reaching a final decision on the matter. The team will be meeting with the island council and the residents of the islands, and a report will be prepared on the findings, after which the Environment Minister's decision on the matter will be informed to EPA.

The Environment Minister's decision will be implemented by EPA.

According to the regulations on the preparation of EIAs, if an appeal is filed on the recommendation made in an EIA, a decision taken on the appeal by the minister must be shared with the appellant within 15 working days. The issue was appealed by the Planning Ministry at the Environment Ministry on December 30.

An international airport was officially opened on Maafaru island earlier this year by the current administration. Although the development of the airport on the island with a population of 1257 people was initiated by the previous administration under former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom's tenure, attempts were made even prior to that to develop an airport on the island since 2007. The Maldives government entertained the idea of developing an airport at Maafaru for about 15 years.