Seven of the 20 islands in Baa atoll, including islands in the atoll’s protected Biosphere Reserve, which were to be leased to Varuva under the bidding policy will not be awarded, announced the fisheries ministry. The ministry stated that following the termination of the notice released last Wednesday putting up the 20 islands for bid via Varuva, seven of the islands have been removed from the list. The seven islands are Bathala Hura, Vinaneh Faru Hura, Dhorukandu Uthuru Hura, Dhorukandu Dhekunu Hura, Gaaga Faru Hura, Dhandhoo and Viyofushi. Bathala Hura, Vinaneh Faru Hura and Dhorukandu Uthuru Hura are islands located in the core areas of the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve. The three islands were protected in 2011 under the Environment Protection and Preservation Act of Maldives. Deputy fisheries minister Shazail Siyam told Haveeru that five of the seven islands were removed from the list as they were islands located within the nine regions of Baa atoll protected as the Biosphere Reserve. The other two islands were temporarily removed from the list due to various reasons. Shazail assured that the islands are not being leased to Varuva to carry out major projects, noting that ministry authorisation is required even for small ventures. The remaining 13 islands are still up for bid via Varuva, he confirmed. Environment minister Thoriq Ibrahim also reassured that the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Baa atoll will remain strictly protected and conserved. The ministry’s original decision to lease 20 islands had been followed by outcries, particularly against the leasing of protected islands. Baa atoll council had stated that, apart from protected habitats, the ministry’s list also include islands used for large-scale agriculture. The council declared they had been put up for lease without notifying the people in charge of the agricultural islands.

2015 Haveeru Media Group.