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Title: Environment impact assessment for the proposed international airport development project in Maafaru Island, Noonu Atoll
Authors: CDE Consulting
Keywords: Project description
Policy and legal framework
Existing environment
Impacts identification
Environmental management plan
Environmental monitoring plan
Stakeholder consultations
Issue Date: Nov-2017
Citation: CDE Consulting. (2017). Environment impact assessment for the proposed international airport development project in Maafaru Island, Noonu Atoll. Male': Maldives
Abstract: The purpose of this document is to fulfil the requirements to get necessary environmental clearance from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to carry out the proposed international airport development project on Maafaru Island, Noonu Atoll. The proponent of the project is Regional Airports, Ministry of Tourism, Maldives. Maafaru Island is one of the largest inhabited islands in Noonu Atoll and the airport is being built on the uninhabited southern half of the island. Main rationale of the proposed project is to facilitate the overall development of the region and to cater to the tourist resort transfers to Noonu Atoll. The aim of the airport project is to provide more convenient, safer and faster transportation to Noonu atoll region and boost the socioeconomic development of the region through enhancement of tourism, commerce and trade. Maafaru Island has been leased to separate developers on three occasions. Each of these developers had developed airport master plans and two of them had approved EIAs. The third EIA was being prepared, before developer changed again. Regional Airports have now decided to develop the airport themselves with assistance from Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD). The project has two main components: (i) site preparation and; (ii) airport construction. Site preparation involves land reclamation, channel dredging, sea grass removal in front of arrival areas, vegetation removal and backfilling. Airport construction involves building a 2200 m runway with all ancillary services, VIP facilities and a transit hotel. The proposed site has been modified due to human activities. The island and its reef system represents a typical inhabited island with modified vegetation for forestry, contaminated groundwater and moderately good reef system. The proposed site has been partially cleared under the original area but 80% of the vegetation is still intact. There is a sand bed on the western side created by the first developers during mobilization. Maafaru Island’s vegetation system is extensive. There are five marshland areas on the island, three of which will be backfilled under this project. One of the marshland areas contains limited mangrove vegetation. The central marshland area has recently connected to open lagoon, allowing juvenile marine life to thrive. The site may be considered a breeding site but no concrete evidence was found in this evaluation to classify the site as a permanent breeding site. The mangrove vegetation area is very small and contain about 10-15 medium to large trees, but 85% of these trees will have to be removed. The island topography is varied and will require extensive backfilling to level the site. The deep lagoon contains some good live coral colonies. The proposed dredging footprint does not contain any live coral colonies but contains an extensive seagrass bed. The island is undergoing erosion on the northern and eastern side but the proposed airport site is generally stable. Significant impacts are expected to arise mainly during the construction phase of the project. These impacts include significant loss of terrestrial biodiversity. Of particular concern is the removal of over 20,000 medium-to-large trees and about 50,000 small trees, removal of mangrove vegetation, and backfilling a recently active marshland with juvenile life. Impacts will also be felt on marine biodiversity due to dredging and reclamation due to associated direct removal, turbidity and sedimentation; potential contamination of marine and ground water and soil due to accidental spillage/leakage of construction materials and waste; increased turbidity and sedimentation of the water column due to coastal activities; changes to coastal hydrodynamics; salinization of ground water due to use of dredged sand for backfilling and risks to the health of construction workers. Major potential impacts from the operations phase include air, water and soil pollution due to emissions from island operations such as power generation, water production and flight operations; noise impacts on the settlement; bird collisions; potential fuel leaks into soil and ground water; impacts from waste accumulation and alteration of faunal species behaviour. Mitigation measures have been proposed to minimise anticipated impacts. These include transplanting trees to recently reclaimed lagoons in Male’ Atoll, bunding dredging and reclamation works to minimise sedimentation and turbidity in the lagoon, reducing salinization and preventing contamination of ground water, relocate or replant mangrove vegetation, reduce social discontent, control coastal erosion and focus on safety of workers and passengers. All mangrove plants need to be relocated to the southernmost wetland or to the nearest point where they can be grown. The trees may not survive and a mangrove planting programme needs to be conducted on the southernmost wetland. Alternative options have been evaluated for the most significant impacts. Among these alternative locations for the proposed airport were considered, including Manadhoo, Dhigurah and Medhufaru. Among these, only Medhufaru has the space to build a 1800 m runway but it has a number of pristine marshlands which may involve higher impacts than Maafaru. Alternative layouts for the airport were also considered but all other options involve significant reclamation, which subsequently will involve high marine environmental impacts. Alternative borrow areas were evaluated, including an option not to dredge the lagoon. It involved excavating the foot print of vegetation removal area and using the material to level the low lying areas. However, since dredging is required, the reuse of dredge waste for reclamation was preferred. Alternatives were also evaluated for shore protection design and material, and dredging technologies. Alternative designs have been recommended for reclaimed areas due to high coastal impacts from current design. Consultations were carried out with members of Noonu Maafaru Island Council. Island community of Maafaru, Noonu Atoll Council, Maldives Civil Aviation Authority, Regional Airports - Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure, and Ministry of Environment and Energy. There is overwhelming support from the community and the Island Council of Maafaru. Key concern raised by the Ministry of Environment and Energy was the loss of coconut forest, and recommended measures to take to mitigate this loss. Maldives Civil Aviation Authority officials pointed out potential aviation hazards resulting from the presence of the islands waste dump in the flight approach path, and advised to relocate this dumpsite. The Environmental Management Plan (EMP) for this project is designed to produce a framework for anticipated impacts, including practicable and achievable performance requirements and systems for monitoring, reporting and implementing corrective actions. In addition, it will also provide evidence of compliance to legislation, policies, guidelines and requirements of relevant authorities. Monitoring plan is designed to assess any changes to the physical environment as well as operational aspects of the airport. Environmental monitoring cost of pre-construction stage (if required) is approximately MVR 167,500. Monthly environmental monitoring cost during the construction phase ranges between MVR 100,500 to MVR 150,000. The estimated annual environmental monitoring cost during operation is MVR 127,000. All project designs are in conformance to most of the laws and regulations of the Maldives, and relevant international conventions that Maldives is party to. The key laws and regulations applicable to this project are: Environmental Protection and Preservation Act, Decentralization Act, Environmental Impact Assessment Regulation 2012, Waste Management Regulation, Regulation on Cutting Down and Uprooting Trees, Dredging and Reclamation Regulation, and Dewatering Regulation. There are a number of permits to be obtained for the operation of aerodrome. The project at present is non-compliant to some of the clauses in Regulation on Cutting Down and Uprooting Trees, and Dredging and Reclamation Regulation. The removal of mangrove and coastal vegetation poses a challenge to meet the requirements of the Regulation on Cutting Down and Uprooting Trees and, the requirement for seagrass removal within 50 m of the shoreline make it difficult to remove all seagrass areas identified. Project will require special consideration and approval from EPA on grounds of high socio-economic benefits. EPA has the authority to provide approval in exceptional circumstances. Public has raised questions about why the runway is being located on the island, when there is potential to reclaim land from the lagoon and build the airport, as has been done in other islands. The proponents view on the matter is, that, it is cheaper to build the airport on land and therefore is more likely that the project will get implemented. This issue is explored in the alternatives section. From an environmental perspective, reclamation itself has irreversible damage to the marine life but when compared with significant loss of vegetation, forestry resources, wetland environments and future land for Maafaru Island development, land reclamation with proper mitigation may involve lower long-term impacts than building on the island. Nonetheless, the project’s implementation is dependent on financial viability and the Government has taken the decision based on this aspect. The loss of wetland and large quantities of coconut palms is an irreversible damage from this project. Measures have been proposed soften this impact as described above but residual impacts will remain from the loss of trees. The developer will need to undertake replanting, with 2 trees for every tree permanently lost as a guideline. The scale of the impacts on the wetland is not irreversible at a regional or atoll level. The loss of the mangrove vegetation is insignificant compared to the mangrove vegetation that exists in Noonu Atoll. The number of wetlands in the near vicinity of Maafaru is also quite substantial and will allow for the migratory birds to relocate. The establishment of marshland on Maafaru as a habitat for juveniles is a very recent development and it does not appear that the marine species are using it as a permanent breeding site. The site is also not listed as a sensitive environment owing to the limited presence of sensitive ecosystems. The main conclusion of this report is to move forward with the proposed development on grounds of high socio-economic benefits. Environmental and socio-economic risks associated with the project are expected to be significantly reduced if the mitigation measures and monitoring programme presented in the report are properly implemented within the framework of the environmental management plan.
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