Concerned about the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
On 14th December 2015, a team from ECOCARE Maldives met with Ibrahim Naeem, Director General at the Ministry of Environment and Energy, who heads the management of Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Following is a summary of the meeting.
ECOCARE highlighted that oil exploration remains a key campaign pledge and is among the 5-mega projects declared by current government. Fisheries Minister, earlier this year shared with the press that new studies confirm presence of oil and gas in Maldives, but is unclear if fossil fuel extraction is economically viable. It was also on the news cycle that a UK firm Zebra Data Service Ltd had offered Government of Maldives its assistance in exploring for oil and gas in Maldives.
Late November, Ministry of Fisheries and agriculture reveled that they have come across possible locations with layers housing oil and gas reserves near Baa Atoll Goidhoo. In a special statement the Ministry further explained that this discovery was made by a drilling ship of the JOIDES Resolution Ocean Drilling Research team, after its exploration team drilled eight boreholes south-east of Baa Goidhoo. It was said the team had noticed large pockmarks in the inner seas of Maldives, when boreholes were drilled. The Ministry also confirms that some sort of liquid like substance or gas erupted from boreholes, and though it is unclear what the substance was it is believed that methane and ethane gas are trapped under the seabed.
ECOCARE raised concern that any seismic activity or drilling in the area will result noise pollution and vibrations that will disrupt migratory patterns of marine species that the Biosphere is famous for, and reiterated that further research, drilling or any possible extraction must be stopped.
When asked if the Biosphere Reserve office had been officially informed of any such research or drilling activity in the biosphere, transitional zone and or close by Goidhoo, the Director General confirmed that he had not received any such information. He went on to explain that no such communication had happened between the Biosphere Office and any concerned Ministry or Authority.
ECOCARE raised concerns about lack of proper and adequate management of the Biosphere Reserve, noting that there have been continuous reports of turtle killings in the Reserve. It was stressed that the perpetrators need to be brought to justice, followed by proper legal action.
While appreciating the commitment of the seven-member staff team who currently manage the Reserve, it was also highlighting that the 11 protected sites are dispersed in within the Reserve, and two Biosphere Rangers, who use one vessel to monitor and supervise the Reserve is not enough to carryout the operations of the Biosphere office especially monitoring.
While noting that the Biosphere receives tremendous support and assistance from the local government; Atoll Council and Island Councils in Baa, as well as the tourism industry in the atoll, it was also understood that the Biosphere lacks adequate finances and resources to ensure proper functioning.
It was also highlighted that there is currently only one management plan for one of the protected sites and the remaining plans need to be prepared soon, which is an urgent priority. It was identified that there are serious institutional mistrust and mandate clashes between different agencies and Ministries within the government that hinders the proper and independent functioning of the Biosphere office.
ECOCARE Maldives was represented in the meeting by Maeed M. Zahir (Director, Advocacy ) and Moosa Athfal (Director, Technical)