Gov’t Eases Restrictions on Sand Mining Near Protected Areas

The government has faced criticism after amending regulations to potentially allow sand mining near environmentally sensitive zones. The Ministry of Climate Change, Environment, and Energy has revised regulations that previously prohibited sand mining operations within or near protected areas.

The changes, gazetted on Saturday, modify the 2013 regulations on land reclamation and dredging. The updated rules introduce an exemption that allows the cabinet or a cabinet committee to approve sand mining projects near protected areas. However, these projects must adhere to strict conditions set by authorities.

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Contractors seeking approval must undertake extensive studies of endangered species in the area and submit detailed plans for relocation, rehabilitation, and monitoring. Additionally, the government must designate a replacement protected area of equal or greater environmental value.

The amendments also require contractors to evaluate the project’s potential impact on groundwater levels and flooding risks. They must implement mitigation measures and, if necessary, establish a drainage system. The Environment Protection Agency is tasked with regulatory oversight of these measures.

Loosening restrictions on sand mining could have significant consequences for the Maldives’ delicate ecosystems. Sand mining can disrupt marine habitats, erode coastlines, and exacerbate the impacts of climate change-induced sea level rise, posing a threat to the very existence of these low-lying islands.

The decision to revise these regulations is likely to heighten concerns about the government’s commitment to environmental protection. The government has yet to issue a statement explaining the rationale behind the regulatory changes.

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