A massive Maldives project to dump dredged material on top of reefs to create artificial islands has been stopped for the first time by a Maldives Court Injunction, due to lack of scientifically sound environmental assessment.

Dredging in the Maldives

The atoll reef in the foreground, Gulhi Falu, is being filled in with dredged sediment to build an artificial island. Behind it is Vilingili, a residential island, then Male, the capital island of the Maldives, and behind it Hulhule and Hulhumale, artificial islands made from dredged material. All are surrounded by rock walls because the coral reefs that used to protect them are no longer alive. The deep blue water at left, where the dredging is being done, receives Male’s sewage outfalls.

The suit was brought by Maldivian environmentalists concerned about large scale destruction of coral reefs resulting from this project, and by previous ones that have badly damaged coral reefs. To our knowledge this is the first time that a reef dredging project has been halted due to environmental concerns.

Prior to the project, dive shops in the atoll were asked to comment. Every single one said that previous dredging projects badly damaged corals, and that they were very worried about this one because there is so little left. Their concerns were ignored and the dredging project approved.

Maldives court halts dredge-dumping on coral reefs:

Timeline of the case:

Maldives reefs damaged by dredging:

February 2015

November 2023

The Maldives and all other atoll countries have gambled their future on dredging projects. These projects will severely damage the capacity of their reefs to keep up with accelerating global sea level rise unless their reef ecosystem services are restored with Biorock technology:

Maldives can grow its own future with Biorock technology

Biorock Maldives: Past results & future applications

Coral reef killed by dredging

What we are losing: A coral reef destroyed by dredging for landfill. Majuro, Marshall Islands, photograph by Dr. Dean Jacobson.

Dredging and dumping are the top human killers of coral reefs by direct physical destruction and by indirect damage from sedimentation in surrounding reefs. There has never been a good study of the historical impacts of dredging on coral reefs, so GCRA plans a White Paper on the subject.

At the request of local environmental groups, The Global Coral Reef Alliance has commented previously on more than a dozen cases in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and Pacific that would destroy coral reefs. In every case environmental issues were ignored by regulatory agencies and courts. because dredgers and developers succeeded in getting legal suits dismissed on technical or procedural grounds without addressing fundamental environmental and legal requirements of the precautionary principle, or seem to have bribed government officials to ignore injunctions and bypass scientifically-sound environmental management practices.