The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has lifted its temporary ban on all major coastal development activities. Initially implemented on 9 May, this suspension was designed to alleviate the impact of an ongoing mass coral bleaching event.

The EPA’s decision follows recommendations from the Maldives Marine Research Institute (MMRI), which advocated for a cessation of activities that could exacerbate the stress on the nation’s coral reefs. The suspension was slated to last until 10 June, aligning with the projected peak of the 2024 bleaching window.

The EPA’s directive included a wide range of measures, including stopping all coastal development activities that could directly or indirectly impact coral reef ecosystems. It also called for a halt to major coastal developments involving heavy machinery, such as dredging, reclamation, beach nourishment, sand pumping, and installing reef cables. Furthermore, the EPA had proposed adjustments to the work schedules of current coastal zone projects and a postponement of new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) applications until after June 2024.

However, the EPA has now announced that the suspension order has now been lifted. Despite this, the agency highlighted that the threat of coral bleaching remains, and the bleaching alert level has been escalated from ‘Watch’ to ‘Alert Level 2’. In light of this change, the EPA has urged all contractors and relevant agencies to rigorously implement the mitigation measures outlined in the approved EIA reports to prevent coral bleaching and other harmful environmental impacts.

The EPA also encouraged relevant parties to suspend coastal developmental projects, including land reclamation and harbour dredging, that are in close proximity to coral reefs until after 31 August.

Reacting to the EPA’s announcement, Minister of Climate Change, Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim stated that the government is now prepared to recommence over 200 developmental projects suspended due to the EPA’s order.

Speaking to the public service broadcaster, Minister Ibrahim acknowledged the severe impact of coral bleaching on the Maldives’ coral reefs over the past month. However, he noted that ocean temperatures and coral bleaching were steadily declining.

Minister Ibrahim revealed that the EPA had given permission to resume the suspended coastal development projects, and some projects have since been restarted. “We are resuming a substantial number of projects that had been put on hold. President [Mohamed] Muizzu places exceptional emphasis on tackling environmental challenges. Most companies responded positively to our appeal to halt the projects. Shortly, we will disclose the full impact of the current coral bleaching event,” said Minister Ibrahim.

The Maldives has witnessed four coral bleaching events in recent history, with the first event recorded in 1998 and followed by 2016. Minister Ibrahim stated that if the projects are carried out in accordance with the EPA’s EIA reports, then the detrimental effects on the coral reefs can be mitigated.