Maldives consists of approximately 1,200 coral islands
grouped in a double chain of twenty-seven atolls. Composed
live coral reefs and sand bars, these atolls are situated
submarine ridge 960 kilometers long that rises abruptly
depths of the Indian Ocean and runs from north to south.
near the southern end of this natural coral barricade do
passages permit safe ship navigation from one side of the
Ocean to the other through the territorial waters of
For administrative purposes the Maldives government
these atolls into nineteen administrative divisions
Government and Politics
, this ch.).
Most atolls consist of a large, ring-shaped coral reef
supporting numerous small islands. Islands average only
two square kilometers in area, and lie between one and 1.5
above mean sea level. The highest island is situated at
meters above sea level. Maldives has no hills or rivers.
some larger atolls are approximately fifty kilometers long
north to south, and thirty kilometers wide from east to
individual island is longer than eight kilometers.
Each atoll has approximately five to ten inhabited
the uninhabited islands of each atoll number approximately
to sixty. Several atolls, however, consist of one large,
island surrounded by a steep coral beach. The most notable
example of this type of atoll is the large island of Fua
situated in the middle of the Equatorial Channel.
The tropical vegetation of Maldives comprises groves of
breadfruit trees and coconut palms towering above dense
shrubs, and flowers. The soil is sandy and highly
alkaline, and a
deficiency in nitrogen, potash, and iron severely limits
agricultural potential. Ten percent of the land, or about
hectares, is cultivated with taro, bananas, coconuts, and
fruit. Only the lush island of Fua Mulaku produces fruits
oranges and pineapples partly because the terrain of Fua
is higher than most other islands, leaving the groundwater
subject to seawater penetration. Freshwater floats in a
"lens," above the seawater that permeates the limestone
sands of the islands. These lenses are shrinking rapidly
and on many islands where there are resorts catering to
tourists. Mango trees already have been reported dying on
because of salt penetration. Most residents of the atolls
on groundwater or rainwater for drinking purposes.
global warming and a possible long-term rise in sea level
result of the melting of polar ice are important issues to
fragile balance between the people and the environment of
Maldives in the 1990s.
Data as of August 1994