The annex to the 2024-25 Budget, made public on Friday, contains three measures that worry environmentalists: the resumption of sand extraction from the lagoon, the use of drift nets to catch fish and other marine animals by scraping the bottom mariners, and the abolition of Rs 2 tax on plastic bottles, provided they contain herbal materials.

Trawl fishing and drift nets

The Minister of Finance proposes to amend the Fisheries Act to allow fishing boats flying the Mauritian flag to use large scale driftnets and demersal trawl nets. These are large drift nets, which can be more than 2.5 km long and tens of meters deep, and demersal trawls which catch all forms of marine life indiscriminately and scrape the seabed, respectively. These highly controversial fishing methods are banned in many countries because they directly threaten hundreds of species. The Ministry of Finance specifies that these tools can be used “where authorized and in accordance with management and conservation measures”.

For Adi Teelock, member of Platform Moris Lanvironnman, this measure is worrying: “Even if it is specified that it will be where it is authorized and in compliance with conservation and management measures, the use of these methods of Fishing is known to have very detrimental effects on marine wildlife, as they collect everything, not just edible fish. Demersal trawl nets scrape the seabed, causing enormous damage to the marine flora and fauna that live on the seabed. »

Joanna Bérenger, MP and president of the MMM Sustainable Development Commission, emphasizes that “large scale driftnets catch not only fish, but also whales, dolphins and turtles. As for demersal nets, they collect everything that is on the seabed. Faced with the threat of collapse of our marine biodiversity with fewer and fewer fish, these methods are a regression.”
She specifies that at the international level, “there is a big movement to ban this type of fishing, but here, they want to authorize it”.

End of Rs 2 tax on certain plastic bottles

In the Budget annex, Renganaden Padayachy announces that plastic bottles made with plant-based materials will be exempt from the tax of Rs 2 per unit, introduced on May 2, 2019. Gregory Martin, coordinator of the NGO Mission Verte , says the measure is good, but must be taken with caution. “In Mauritius, these kinds of plant-based plastic bottles are made with imported bagasse. This is bio-sourced plastic supposed to be biodegradable, but for this, industrial composters are necessary, and we do not have any in Mauritius. This type of bottle does not degrade in nature without a specific process. In addition, importing bagasse, as is currently done to manufacture these bottles, has a carbon impact. »

Gregory Martin specifies that this tax of Rs 2 “revalues ​​PET waste”. “More than 200 families in Mauritius collect plastic bottles, because the MRA pays Rs 15 for each kilo sent abroad. By removing this tax, we remove the value of this waste,” he says.

Adi Teelock points out that a European directive puts all types of disposable plastic bottles in the same category, as they all require treatment for disposal, including plant-based ones. For her part, Joanna Berenger recalls that in February 2021, the Minister of the Environment Kavi Ramano announced that the importation, distribution and sale of plastic bottles would be banned in Mauritius. “He came with good intentions and now, three years later, he is removing the tax. Single-use bottles, even plant-based, remain an environmental problem. The government is diverting attention because it remains a source of pollution,” she says.

Resumption of sand extraction

Banned since October 2001, sand extraction was an activity that caused a lot of damage to the marine environment, especially in the south and southeast, where it took place. The Minister of Finance proposes to amend the Removal of Sand Act to “allow the extraction of sand solely for the purpose of replenishing beaches. This practice has been successfully carried out in the Maldives, which is also a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) like Mauritius.”

Adi Teelock emphasizes that sand extraction creates significant damage for the dynamics of marine currents and biodiversity. Numerous reports demonstrate that “sand mining promotes erosion and degrades the health of marine flora and fauna”. She criticizes the example of the Maldives, where this activity has caused ecological disasters.

Joanna Bérenger shares this opinion, specifying: “Sand extraction is a disaster for the marine ecosystem and biodiversity. Back then, when Rajesh Bhagwan was environment minister, he took the difficult but necessary decision to end this practice. Today, we go back 20 years. Is the government giving in to the hotel lobby? »

Carina Gounden, coordinator of the NGO mru2025, affirms that sand extraction to replenish beaches “is not the miracle solution”. “It is accompanied by risks of accelerated beach erosion. Sand mining on land has directly contributed to the erosion of our beaches and sand mining at sea has caused environmental damage, disrupting ecosystems and destroying marine habitats,” she says. And remember that sand extraction modifies marine currents, with unpredictable effects on coastal ecosystems, in particular the worsening of coastal erosion.

Internationally, many NGOs denounce sand extraction in the Maldives. An article from the newspaper Le Monde, published on September 20, 2022, highlights: “The archipelago has continued to dredge sand to enlarge its islands, build new ones and protect them from the waters. But, in the name of its development, the archipelago is destroying coral reefs and aggravating its vulnerability. »

Suttyhudeo Tengur very critical

Suttyhudeo Tengur, president of the Association for Environmental and Consumer Protection (Apec), notes that on certain aspects, the Minister of Finance has set the bar very high. “With already some 37 kilometers of our beaches, the main asset for our tourism industry, severely affected, will the [ministre de l’Environnement] will be in a position to respond to the challenge launched by Padayachy, when he declares in the presentation of the 24-25 Budget that 'during the next five years, we are restoring more than 26 km of shoreline and rehabilitating some 30 degraded sites across the island'? » he asks himself.

Environmental protection, emphasizes Suttyhudeo Tengur, “is not limited only to protecting and beautifying our beaches for the pleasure of tourists and also Mauritians”. He advocates for a program of reforestation of our native forests. For the success of such a project, he adds, it is necessary to bring together all the active forces of the country: “We need a dynamic and robust personality in his ideas and actions to put such initiatives into action. »

The Apec president hopes that after the next general elections, “a green and dynamic minister, who has the right stuff, will be able to put Mauritius back at the top of an ecological struggle and serve as an example to others country “.

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