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New airport may endanger the future of Maldivian island

The construction of a new airport on Magoodhoo island, in the Faafu Atoll, is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2023.

The project was awarded to the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC), with a cost of MVR 264.9 million ($17.2 million). It was signed by the CEO of MTCC, Adam Azim, and the Director General at the Ministry of National Planning, Housing, and Infrastructure, Shaana Farooq, in October 2022.

The takeoff and landing airport runway will span 1,8 km on the reef flat, which is a flat and shallow environment characterised by sand mixed to fragments of dead corals and live coral colonies. The land reclaimed by the project encompasses 48 hectares, with 30.8 hectares designated for the airport and 17 for other purposes. 

Magoodhoo island is located in the Faafu Atoll, in the southwestern part of the Maldives archipelago- It is one of the few atolls without a local airport and consists of 23 islands, with only five are inhabited: Nilandhoo, Dharanboodhoo, Magoodhoo, Bilehdhoo and Feeali, with a population of nearly 6500.

The impact of the project on Magoodhoo island is being monitored by the MaRHE Center, an education and research centre run by the Italian Milan Bicocca University, in partnership with the Maldivian Ministry of Fisheries. Their objective is to observe and collect data from the local ecosystem, to compile reports which may be submitted to the Maldivian government, or the council of Magoodhoo island. 

Dr. Luca Fallati, 37-year-old marine geomorphology researcher at the MaRHE Center from Milan Bicocca University, stated in an interview: “Obviously, the airport project is having considerable impacts on the ecosystem of the coral reef, both direct and indirect. 

“They are pumping sand to fill the reclamation area and part of it goes into the water, where it is carried by the currents and deposited on the corals, suffocating them. Corals need to have their surface free of any sediment, since inside of their tissues live unicellular algae, called zooxanthellae, which perform photosynthesis and allow it to survive.


“If the coral gets buried by the sediment, then it won’t be able to do photosynthesis and to actively predate anymore, therefore it dies. If corals die, there is a loss in the biodiversity associated with the healthy coral reef. The corals create these tridimensional structures which are the most important part of the reef, and when they die they break apart. The calcium carbonate they are made of loses compactness and the coral breaks apart, flattening the coral reef. By flattening the reef, there is no shelter for fish or other organisms.”

Edoardo Domenicone, a 24-year-old physics major at Milan Bicocca University who participated in the MaRHE research on the island, mentioned: When corals start disappearing, it creates an enormous loss of balance in the food chain, as well for human beings, since we can see entire forests of marine plants, such as mangroves, disappear. These plants prevent an excessive overflowing of seas or rivers. The same thing happens for the Maldivian beaches, where corals and mangroves are disappearing: this means that the island itself is not protected from erosion, and Maldivians can be in danger too, in case of a bit more intense natural event.”

The development of Magoodhoo’s airport is expected to have a significant positive economic impact on the region, with increased civil infrastructure throughout the archipelago aimed at boosting tourism in the coming years. However, the same positive impact cannot be claimed for the local environment, which may face ecological destruction and increased pollution..

“In the end, MaRHE has no decision power,” concluded Dr. Fallati. “Therefore when we see these interventions happening, the only thing we can do is to monitor the final impact of the work and hope it’s not too high.”




Cover image: Coralglass Market

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