The Perils of Privatization

An update on the proposed privatization of lineups in the Maldives

The world-class waves at stake in the Maldives. Photo courtesy of Aba Asim/Save Thamburudhoo
The world-class waves at stake in the Maldives. Photo courtesy of Aba Asim/Save Thamburudhoo

Last year, we reported that an investment company based in Singapore was looking to purchase the Maldivian island of Thamburudhoo with plans to build a boutique surf resort and privatize two of the islands’ premiere waves. In the wake of the news, Maldivian surfers were understandably outraged and an online petition to ban exclusivity in the lineups began circulating. Recently, we spoke to Australian expat Dave Beasley, who works as an advocate to keep the islands’ lineups open to the public, for an update on the situation.

Can you describe the current state of affairs in the Maldives?

An investment company has offered $5 million for a 50-year lease of Thamburudhoo island, which hosts two world-class surf breaks, Sultans and Honkies. These are two of the Maldives’ most consistent breaks. The money is being paid to the Maldivian military, as they own the island. At this present point, no construction has taken place due to the fact that the investor is relying on foreign money to start construction. The majority of Maldivians that I have spoken to are opposed to this resort and the privatization of the surrounding reef.

And you’re currently working on a film project to spread awareness of the issue?

The film project was designed to create awareness of the problems facing Thamburudhoo. We’ve interviewed local surfers, business owners, foreign surfers, and the Maldivian Surfing Association (MSA) and have aimed to gather a broad range of opinions of the issue at hand and to present a non-biased view. 

I understand that you were recently held and questioned by the Maldivian government. What happened there?

We arrived in Male for an interview with Live Abroad Maldives (LAM) to organize an awareness rally with fellow charter boats and were arrested after leaving the meeting. It was assumed by the police that we were in the process of organizing a protest including locals and foreign supporters. We were detained for a period of eight hours at the Male police station where police interrogated us before being released without charge.

How are the locals reacting to the prospect of more privatized lineups?

The locals connected to surf tourism are extremely disappointed by the idea of privatization as it affects approximately 50 percent of their income, which is generated from souvenirs and photography. The local surfers are also disappointed as they will be required to obtain a permit to surf the breaks they have been surfing their whole lives.

How would privatized lineups change the lives of Maldivian surfers and workers who rely on open access to waves?

The local surfers would be affected by the requirements of obtaining permits to surf their own waves. The locals would also be affected by the discontinuation of the surf-charter boats in the North Male Atolls. There are currently seven accessible surf breaks in the North Male Atolls, of which two are already privatized. If two more surf breaks were privatized, the surf-charter industry would disappear, as there would only be three public surf-breaks.

Tell me about your experience living and working in the Maldives.

Every year I spend two to three months a year surfing, working, and traveling throughout the Maldives. I’ve developed many lifelong friendships with locals and am really familiar with their customs and ways of living. I have experienced the most memorable times of my life in the Maldives surfing, diving, fishing, and simply hanging out with the locals playing soccer or chatting in a hammock. I strongly believe that others should be able to have the experiences I have.

What’s the status of the government? I understand that there was some turmoil in the latest election.

The potential president, Mohamed Nasheed, has stated that it’s his intention to refund the $5 million for the 50-year lease of Thamburudhoo Island and wants to keep the island open to the public. However, there’s currently an election taking place that was scheduled to be completed on the 28th of September. As it stands right now, there is a recount being conducted with no set date assigned for finalization.

For those of us that want to help, what can we do?

We have created a Facebook page called Save Thamburudhoo that we suggest you visit and like the page. Here we keep you updated with the status of the government election and the progress of our campaign. The greatest help is building awareness.