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Maldives, exploring for oil


by Ula Ahmed

The Maldives, once the poster child for Climate Change is exploring for oil. Taking into consideration the fact that these islands are barely a meter above sea level and one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change, this is perhaps the last thing anyone would have expected from the Maldives.

During the September 2013 Presidential Elections, PPM candidate and now the current President, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, pledged to drill for oil and gas in the Maldives. An unfathomable decision as Fossil Fuels has proved to be the main cause of Anthropogenic Climate Change.

The primary sources of income for the country are via Tourism and Fisheries, which make up 90% of the GDP and employ more than 3/4th of the population. Both industries are heavily dependent on the natural beauty and biodiversity of the island nation.

It is worth noting that the only defenses these islands have from being washed away are the natural coral reefs, which are extremely sensitive and delicate organisms. They require specific temperatures and environmental conditions to survive. Climate Change is warming oceans as well as leading to ocean acidification, which is endangering reefs, and prompting coral bleaching events.

Furthermore, decades of oil drilling have made it clear what a severely negative impact it has on the environment. Levels of accidents and corroding pipes are high, increasing the chances of leaking chemicals into the surrounding land and water. Oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon cause extensive damage to the biosphere, which last for decades.

Even a perfectly functioning oilrig is dangerous due to “Produced Water”, a by-product of oil, lethal to marine life at high doses; causing birth defects and impaired growth at lower doses.

In addition, simply the act of exploring for oil has detrimental effects. In order to find hints of potential oil reserves, researchers use seismic waves and drill into multiple locations causing damage and sound pollution. The latter of which has proved to have a negative effect on at-least 55 species of marine life.

According to the government, the German research vessel ‘Sonne‘ which came to the Maldives, towards the end of 2014, in order to research the changes in Maldivian seas owing to global warming, has agreed to do the oil exploration research for free.

In a meeting with ECOCARE, the Director General of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Mr. Ibrahim Naeem confirmed that the EPA was unaware of any oil exploration research that was conducted recently.

He stated that a German research vessel “Sonnee” was allowed to carry out some oceanography related research in Maldivian waters and that the vessel will be required to share its findings with EPA once it is done. He stated further that it is a difficult and long process for oil extraction in Maldivian waters, which may in fact take years to happen.

Any such research can only take place with approval from the EPA, as the agency must first determine whether the methods used pose any conceivable threat to the environment. In some cases, the EPA requires researchers to produce an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). No such report has been required of the aforementioned German vessel.

To quote, Aisha Niyaz, one of the leading climate change activists in Maldives, “To me Maldives attempting for oil exploration is like a person attempting suicide”

— This article was 1st published on Turkey Agenda

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