The Maldives Marine Research Institute (MMRI) has called for an immediate temporary halt to all land reclamation and dredging activities in response to escalating coral bleaching incidents across the nation. The announcement was made following reports from America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), confirming the global nature of the issue.

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

A photo showing signs of coral bleaching in the central atolls of the Maldives. | File/Photo:@zimswp/X

The MMRI stresses 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.

This situation underlines the ongoing global challenge of managing coral reef ecosystems in the face of climate change and human impact. The MMRI’s stance is a proactive measure to mitigate additional stressors and support the sustainability of marine resources in the region.

Experts, including marine biologist Nizam Ibrahim, have documented the alarming rate of coral bleaching, with recent temperatures recorded at 30 degrees Celsius at a depth of 10 metres during the night, up from the usual 28 degrees. Photos of whitening and dying corals have been shared widely, highlighting the severity of the situation.

Environmentalists criticise the continuous dredging and reclamation activities in the Maldives, noting that large areas of reclaimed land remain unused while new projects are initiated. They urge for a reevaluation of environmental policies to better protect these vital ecosystems.

Dredging and land reclamation work in progress at Giraavaru Falhu | Photo: X/@millzero

The MMRI’s comprehensive report covering the period from 1998 to 2021 indicates both resilience and variability in coral recovery across different regions and management practices. This data is crucial for understanding the impacts of both natural and anthropogenic factors on coral health and sustainability.

The call to halt environmentally harmful activities reflects an urgent need to address both immediate and long-term environmental challenges to safeguard the Maldives’ coral reefs for future generations.

Additional reporting by Ibrahim H. Shihab