Accelerating Environmental Threats in Addu

As the Maldives Heritage Survey (MHS) team has been conducting its survey of heritage sites in Addu/Seenu over the past two months (July-August 2019), we have been struck by the dramatic evidence we are encountering in the field of accelerated erosion of several islands in this southernmost Atoll of the Maldives. On the uninhabited island of Kandiheragandu, a former wetland that was by local reports flourishing there less than a decade ago has now been completely destroyed.

Devastated area of a former wetland on Kandiheragandu (Seenu)

One section of the former wetland area is now simply an expanse of dry sand, while another is freshly inundated with seawater at each tide where only a few surviving mangrove trees remain to demarcate the edge of the island on the southeast.

Waves coursing through the last thin line of mangrove on the edge of Kandiheragandu

The shifting currents in the area that seem to have contributed to the destruction of the wetland on one part of the island may have also contributed to the accumulation of a ridge of coral rubble above the waterline that now forms a dry land bridge connecting Kandihergandu with the smaller, formerly separate island of Kodadiheragandu (also known locally as ‘Kudhukandihera’) to the southwest. These two islands were separate and distinct until quite recently, and appear as such in the Official Atlas of the Maldives published by the Ministry of Planning and National Development in 2008 (although it must be noted that on their maps the name of Kandiheragandu is mistakenly transposed with that of another nearby island, Fathikedeheragandu).

Emergent coral rubble ridge now connecting Kandihergandu and Kodadiheragandu

The MHS team traced the current contours of the coast of this new combined island with GPS tracking to establish a new baseline map that can be used to measure future changes to its shape and size.

Coastal erosion is also clearly now an imminent threat to the largest and most historically significant heritage site in Addu Atoll. The Koagannu Cemetery on Hulhumeedhoo. This remarkable site contains four mosques, a stand-alone minaret, several shrines and over 1,500 ornamented coral gravestones.

The Koagannu Cemetery on Hulhumeedhoo

On 29 August 2019, strong seasonal waves compounded with a storm surge scoured the north coast of that island, eroding the edge of a community beach park just across the road from this major national heritage site.

Newly eroded coastline nearby the Koagannu Cemetery site

Earlier measures taken there over recent years to protect against such erosion are proving to no longer be effective, as this recent storm washed away huge amounts of sand, exposing and destabilizing the jumbo sand bags that had been previously installed along the beachline.

Installation of earlier measures to impede erosion in Hulhumeedhoo

While the local community Hulhumeedhoo has been actively trying to monitor the situation and to mitigate the damage to some extent, the dire situation is clearly beyond the capacity of a single island’s population to satisfactorily address. As is the case in many places in the Maldives, these local crises both reflect symptoms of national and global crises, and require action at these higher levels in response. For all of us, they provide further evidence for the urgent situation that our environment and our heritage must confront in the face of accelerating climate change.

R. Michael Feener

Project Leader, Maldives Heritage Survey



Fieldwork Begins in Addu

The MHS team has begun work in Addu City, following a meeting with the Mayor and members of the City Council on Sunday, 23 June 2019. The survey in Addu starts at Koagannu in Meedhu – the largest historic cemetery in the Maldives with hundreds of ornamented and inscribed coral gravestones and multiple structures including small mosques and shrines.


The Coral Stone Mosques of Gaafaru

The Maldives Heritage Survey team has completed work on the island of Gaafaru, Kaafu Atoll. The island has been home to two coral-stone mosques. The larger of them (Bodu Miskiyy) was demolished more than thirty years ago. The team has, however, been able to sketch out a reconstruction of the floor plan of the now-lost building from its ruins and in conversation with members of the local community.

The sole remaining coral stone mosque on the island is Kuda Miskiyy – which currently serves as the island’s only mosque for women. While documenting this structure we discovered a date inscribed into one of its beams: 1269 AH (= 1853 CE). Parts of the earlier structure have, however, been renovated in 2002.


New Documentation at Kuruhinna Tharaagadu

Much of the team’s work on the island of Kaashidhoo has been focused on the site of a former Buddhist monastery at Kuruhinna Tharaagadu. This is one of only a very few sites in the Maldives to have been previously studied through a scientific archaeological investigation, led by Dr Egil Mikkelsen and a team from the National Centre for Linguistic and Historical Research in 1996-1998.  A full report on this is accessible through the MHS website – Archaeological Excavations of a Monastery at Kaashidhoo.
In our recent work there, we cleared the accumulated overgrowth on the site, and made a comprehensive new set of visual records using drone fly-overs, photogrammetry and 3D laser scanning. These new images will soon be made available through our online database.


MHS Recording Historic Sites on Kaashidhoo, Malé Atoll

The Maldives Heritage Survey team is currently working on the island of Kaashidhoo in Malé Atoll. There we are clearing and digitally documenting the ruins of a large pre-Islamic site, as well as the ruined fragments of an earlier coral stone mosque and ornamented gravestones in its surrounding cemetery.
The MHS will be working closely with Maldives Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage and the Kaashidhoo Island Council, as well as other government agencies and the broader community to digitally document these sites, and to help all stakeholders develop better heritage management plans for the future.



Fieldwork begins in Fuvahmulah (Gnaviyani Atoll)

The MHS team has now completed the survey of Laamu Atoll, covering 70 islands on which we have documented 92 sites including 255 structures, 969 old gravestones, 107 grave enclosures, and 48 small artefacts. Upon wrapping up that work, the team has now moved on to the island of Fuvahmulah (Gnaviyani Atoll).
Upon arrival there, work commenced at the site of the old Gen Mosque. On site we were visited by a television crew from Maldives Public Service Media (PSM), who recorded footage of the team at work and interviewed team members in Dhivehi. A segment featuring the Maldives Heritage Survey was subsequently broadcast nationally on 10 October, 2018.

Work completed on Hulhiyadhoo Island, Laamu Atoll

Historically, this island is known as the site of exile – and ultimate resting place – of Aiminaa Rani Kilegefaanu, who had held nominal authority at Malé during the turbulent mid-eighteenth century interregnum. The island was later deserted and the population relocated to Kalaidhoo on the island of Isdhoo in the 1950s. In September 2018, the Maldives Heritage Survey Team identified three sites on the island, including the ruins of two mosques and the remains of a large Muslim cemetery containing over 200 old coral stone grave markers.  This short video, taken and edited by the field survey team, presents an informal look at their daily work on Hulhiyadhoo.


Fieldwork Resumes in Laamu Atoll

The Maldives Heritage Survey has resumed fieldwork in Laamu from a new base camp on Maavah Island. From there we are conducting a systematic survey of the largely uninhabited islands of the western rim of the atoll.


Stakeholders Workshop in Male’

The Maldives Heritage Survey has resumed work after the Ramadan break, kicking off the new season with a workshop at the National Museum in Malé.
This event brought together a diverse range of local stakeholders including local historians and representatives of several government agencies to discuss areas of critical concern for heritage documentation and management in the Maldives, as well as potential areas for future collaboration with the project.