Trouble in Paradise: Protecting the Maldives

Trouble in Paradise: Protecting the Maldives


is the stuff of dreams, picture-perfect with
palm-fringed sandy beaches, luxurious resorts and coral reefs
teeming with exotic fish. Or at least this is the perception most
of us share.

I am not a seeker of luxury, nor am I a good swimmer. Yet, since
learning that the archipelago – which rests just 1.5m above sea
level – may disappear within our lifetime, I have been captivated
by the islands.

Resorts here occupy their own, isolated island, rendering most
guests marooned; they never meet locals other than the hotel staff.
It makes it all too easy to forget that this famed tourist
destination is a place that people call home. Yet Maldivians are
fiercely attached to their island paradise – and who could blame

There are over 1,000 islands in the archipelago, grouped in 22
atolls composed of live coral reefs situated atop a submarine ridge
that stretches over 1,000km. Most islands remain uninhabited, while
30 per cent of the 400,000 inhabitants live in the capital,

Tourism aside, fishing is the Maldives’ main industry;
coconut-timbered dhoni boats populate the shores. Indeed, the
coconut tree is another keystone of survival here. Story has it
that, on a desert island, one person needs just two coconut trees
to survive. Its fruit provides food; leaves serve as shelter; the
fibre from the husk can make good rope; the timber can be used to
construct boats; empty shells make nice bowls.

The coconut tree echoes Maldivians’ resourcefulness. Yet today
their survival is facing new challenges. Global warming is causing
ocean levels to rise, threatening to swallow the islands. Rising
temperatures are accelerating coral bleaching and the death of the
reef. Islanders have been aware of the precarious condition of
their country for some time and its governments are making both
environmental assurances and preparations for possible evacuation.
Unfortunately, without worldwide cooperation, the future of the
islands looks bleak.

Plastic is among the main threats to Maldavian life. Of the
tonnes washed ashore each day, only a small portion originates
locally; most has travelled long distances across the ocean. It’s a
sinister reminder of the downfalls of the old adage “out of sight,
out of mind” – the plastic we produce doesn’t simply disappear.
This magical paradise needs protection and that remains the
responsibility of all of us, not just those who live there.

@monkrochmal |

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