The Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) has backed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) call for an immediate and temporary halt to all land reclamation and dredging activities to safeguard the nation’s coral reefs. The EPA’s move came in response to the increasing incidents of coral bleaching across the Maldives.

In a recent statement, MATI expressed its support for the EPA’s measures designed to mitigate the impact of the current mass coral bleaching event. The measures, which will remain in effect until 10 June, include the temporary suspension of all major coastal development projects and activities. The activities affected by this suspension include land reclamation, dredging, beach nourishment, sand pumping, the installation of pipelines and cables on reefs, and the construction of bund walls.

MATI, in a solid call to action, urged all stakeholders in the tourism sector to immediately and fully comply with the EPA’s urgent recommendations. In its statement, MATI quoted environmental experts who have warned that the current situation could potentially be the most severe mass coral bleaching incident to date. The effects of the mass coral bleaching incident can be minimised if the EPA’s recommendations are complied with, said MATI.

The Maldives Marine Research Institute (MMRI) was the first to advocate for a temporary halt to all coastal development initiatives that could potentially exacerbate coral bleaching. This call was made in light of reports from America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), which confirmed the global nature of the issue.

This is the fourth significant coral bleaching event in the Maldives and the second global incident in the last decade. Coral bleaching is detrimental to reef ecosystems worldwide, including those that underpin the Maldivian economy through tourism and fisheries.

While the Maldives’ oceans are currently at Alert Level 1, the MMRI stressed that coral reef recovery, although relatively faster in the Maldives compared to other regions, is threatened by human activities such as dredging and beach nourishment, particularly during sensitive recovery periods. With rising ocean temperatures, further bleaching and resultant ecological damage are anticipated.

Additional reporting by Andrew Richards