The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered a temporary suspension of all major coastal development activities in the Maldives until June 10, aiming to mitigate the effects of the ongoing mass coral bleaching event. This decision aligns with the Maldives Marine Research Institute’s (MMRI) earlier recommendations to pause activities that further stress coral reefs.

The EPA announced this measure in response to projections indicating that the bleaching window in 2024 will persist from March to the end of June, peaking from early May until early June. The agency emphasised the need for action to minimise additional human-induced stress on coral reefs.

The measures ordered include:

  1. Suspension of Activities: Ceasing all coastal development activities that directly or indirectly affect coral reef ecosystems, as outlined in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Dredging and Reclamation permits.
  2. Avoidance of Heavy Machinery: Halting any major coastal development involving heavy machinery, including dredging, reclamation, beach nourishment, sand pumping, and the installation of pipelines and cables on the reef.
  3. Rescheduling Projects: Adjusting the work schedules of current coastal zone projects and delaying new EIA applications until after June 2024.

The EPA stated that reducing cumulative stressors and effective management actions could help the reefs recover and build resilience against future disturbances associated with climate change.

Earlier this month, the MMRI released a critical statement warning of escalating coral bleaching incidents and called for an immediate halt to land reclamation and dredging. The MMRI highlighted the reliance of the Maldivian tourism and fisheries industries on healthy coral reef ecosystems, noting the detrimental impact of coastal development activities on natural recovery processes.

The MMRI stressed that the recovery of coral reefs, while relatively faster in the Maldives compared to other regions, is jeopardised by human activities like dredging and beach nourishment, particularly during sensitive recovery periods. With ocean temperatures rising, further bleaching and resultant ecological damage are expected.

Despite signs of recovery in some areas, environmentalists have consistently criticised the government’s lack of attention to ecological concerns. With the EPA’s temporary suspension in place, experts are hopeful that the reefs will better withstand the ongoing bleaching event.

This marks the fourth significant coral bleaching event in the Maldives and the second global incident in the last decade.