Discovery

The Maldives, a paradise to preserve

The Maldives… Just hearing this name conjures up all sorts of idyllic images: white sands, turquoise lagoons, coral reefs, colourful fish and luxury resorts. But the archipelago is seriously threatened by rising water levels. Scientists are looking for solutions to save this paradise.

Dream destination

Located in the Indian Ocean, south west of India and Sri Lanka, the Maldives are comprised of 1,192 islands in all (only 200 of which are inhabited) spread out over a distance of 800 km. The archipelago is known for its 26 atolls, ring-shaped coral reefs encircling a lagoon, typically found in warm seas. It’s actually here that the word “Atoll” was invented… Tourists come from all over the globe to admire the sea bed, considered the most beautiful in the world. With the sea turtles, rays and dolphins, diving and snorkelling enthusiasts are in their element, as are pleasure boaters and those in search of deserted coves. The Maldives’ outstanding natural heritage attracts some 800,000 visitors yearly. Unsurprisingly, tourism is the country’s main economic resource, generating 40% of GDP and accounting for 16% of jobs.

Paradise in danger

But behind the idyllic postcard scenes, things are much less rosy. In fact, 80% of the Maldives’ territory is less than one metre above sea level, making it one of the states most exposed to global warming and directly threatened by rising water levels. According to the IPCC, even if we manage to contain the rise in temperatures at +1.5°C (the Paris Agreement target), the ocean level should increase by 26 to 77 cm by 2100.

The risk of submersion is also very real: several small islands in the Western Pacific have already been swallowed up in recent years. For the Maldives, as for many islands and coastal areas home to 40% of the world’s population, finding solutions to rising water levels is now a crucial issue.

For us, climate change is no distant or abstract threat but a clear and present danger.

Declaration by Mohamed Nasheed, former President of the Maldives at COP 24.

Sand against water

Since February 2019, scientists from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have been testinga scheme in the Maldives that uses the force of waves and currents to create natural sand barriers to protect the islands from rising water levels. This system, known as “Growing Islands”, involves installing underwater structures acting as obstacles in strategic places. When passing over these “artificial ramps”, the waves bring sand with them, which settles behind the ramp. Little by little, this sedimentation builds a sand dam that becomes increasingly taller.The first findings for this experiment are expected at the end of the year.

 

 

To go there

Maamigili Island Airport in the Maldives is one of the Top 20 airports served exclusively by ATR aircraft with 3,650 flights operated yearly.

 

Photo credit image header : ©Asad photography

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