36. String of Pearls Scattered Over the Deep Blue Indian Ocean . The first glimpse you get of this fascinating atoll formation confirms two unique aspects of the Republic of Maldives. Not only does it consist of the most beautiful tropical islands, but 99% of its 909,000 km is covered by the sea. 1190 islands are spread over 26 atolls, ring like coral formations enclosing a lagoon, which gives the Maldives its unique paradise like appearance. They stretch about 820 km from North to South, 130 km at the widest point and do not exceed a length of 4.5 miles or an altitude of 6 feet above sea level. No more than 200 islands are inhabited, the rest include 87 tourist resorts and uninhabited islands, some of which are used for drying fish or other agricultural activities. The capital Male, the seat of government and the centre of trade, commerce, business, health and education, is located in the middle of the atoll chain, a small island buzzing with the sounds and activities of about 75,000 people which is about one third of the population.
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37. Atoll Formation. The atolls of the Maldives are formed from coral structures, separated by lagoons. The atolls are in fact part of a greater structure known as the Lacadives-Chargos Ridge, which stretches over 2000 km. The islands are low lying with the highest point at approximately 8 feet above sea level. ‘Faru’ or ring-shaped reef structures form the atolls and these reefs provide natural defense against wind and wave action, on these delicate islands.1
38. The Geographical Structure of Maldives. Maldives geography based upon a group of 26 coral islands which are formed by approximately 1190 coral reef islands, and there are 20 administrative atolls along with Male which is the capital island of them all. It is a neighbour of Sri Lanka and is situated southwest of it. The view of Maldives from the air is splendid because of the beautiful patterns it makes in the clear blue sea. Maldives has numerous islands among which only 200 of them have people living there. The north-south stretch of this country is approximately 824 km and from east to west it is about 129 km. Maldives is more blue water than the land because more than 99% of it is sea.
39. There have been many devastating encounter of gale storms in the year 1812 and 1955, and the scientists have also said that the islands of Maldives are in danger due to the rise in the sea level caused by global warming. To safeguard the country from such natural calamities, the government has build up artificial breakwaters and other safety measures with the help of Japan, and has started purchasing land in India, in the event of excessive population displacement.2
Present Environmental Issues.
40. Introduction. Maldives is actively involved in bringing environmental issues to the forefront of the global political agenda, the role played by Maldives in the international arena. The environment of Maldives comprises a delicate and complex series of ecosystems that are unique to the tropical world and many have found it a pleasure of gaze upon. The Maldives has rich biodiversity and the coral reef ecosystem is one of the most productive ecosystems with linkages ranging from microscopic plankton to the giant sperm whale. However, the rapid socio-economic development and fast growing population have greatly contributed to the degradation of the environment.
41. Beach Erosion. Beach erosion is a very widespread problem. Either due to natural causes or man made changes, such as construction of coastal infrastructure; changes in the natural sediment balance; and up drift impoundment of sand behind coastal structures built without pre-filling. The process of coastal erosion and accretion is extremely complex with interrelations to climatic, geological, oceanographic, biological and terrestrial processes affecting the growth and stability of the reefs and island structures. As the beach systems are highly dynamic in nature, the prevailing seasonal conditions may gradually shift the shape as well as the position of the island by strong beach erosion and accretion on either side of the island.
42. Coral Mining. Over a six year period the volumes of coral landed in Male rose from 7,000 to 400,000 cubic feet. Brown & Dunne 1988 carried out biological surveys on mined reefs and evaluated the impacts of coral mining in the Maldives.
43. Dredging. Dredging is normally associated with harbor deepening, land reclamation, and mining for construction material.
44. Land Reclamation. Reclamation which in the Maldives usually means the creation of new land. Such activities occur on both large and small scales and are usually associated with human population centres and as a byproduct of harbor dredging.
45. Population Growth. The annual population growth rate between 1977 and 1985 was 3.2% per annum. Between 1985 and 1990 was 3.4% from 1990 and 1995 has dropped to 2.75% per annum. At present 25.7% (62,793) of the population live in Male.3
46. Biodiversity. Biological diversity; the relative number of species, diverse in from and function, at the genetic, organism, community, and ecosystem level; loss of biodiversity reduces an ecosystem’s ability to recover from natural or man-induced disruption.
47. Deforestation. The destruction of vast areas of forest (eg., unsustainable forestry practices, agricultural and range land clearing, and the over exploitation of wood products for use as fuel) without planting new growth.
48. Greenhouse Gas. A gas that “traps” infrared radiation in the lower atmosphere causing surface warming; water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, hydro fluorocarbons, and ozone are the primary greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.
49. Groundwater. Water sources found below the surface of the earth often in naturally occurring reservoirs in permeable rock strata; the source for wells and natural springs.
50. Pollution. The contamination of healthy environment by man-made waste.
51. Salination. The process through which fresh (drinkable) water becomes salt (undrinkable) water; hence, desalination is the reverse process; also involves the accumulation of salts in topsoil caused by evaporation of excessive irrigation water, a process that can eventually render soil incapable of supporting crops.
52. Soil Degradation. Damage to the land’s productive capacity because of poor agricultural practices such as the excessive use of pesticides of fertilizers, soil compaction from heavy equipment, or erosion of topsoil, eventually resulting in reduced ability to produce agricultural products.
53. Soil Erosion. The removal of soil by the action of water or wind, compounded by poor agricultural practices, deforestation, overgrazing and desertification.4
54. Background. The environment is characterized by numerous fringing coral reefs and lagoons, which contain rich biodiversity. The atolls vary significantly in shape and size. The 26 geographical atolls are grouped into 20 administrative regions, also referred to as atolls. The Maldives coral reefs are globally significant being the 7th largest in world and covering an area of 8920 km. Protecting the environment and natural resources is critical to sustainable livelihoods and the Maldives economy. Fishing directly employs and 11% of the work force, while 20% of the population is dependent on fisheries for the majority of its income. High quality eco-friendly tourism inn the Maldives accounts for around 33% of GDP and is based on the Maldives natural assets including unique geography and coral reefs.
55. Climate Change and Coral Reefs. Coral reefs play a key role in the lifestyles of Maldivians through natural protection of the islands and serve as a major resource for the Maldives economy from tourism and fishing industries.
56. Waste Management. Solid and hazardous waste management is recognized as a critical environmental issues. There are no provisions for collection, treatment and disposal of hazardous wastes.
57. Freshwater Availability and Quality. Rainwater harvesting is the primary source of drinking water. Groundwater accumulates in rainwater recharged aquifers which lie at a depth of 1-1.5 meters below the surface where they are highly vulnerable to:-
Contamination from inadequate sanitation facilities and other human activities.
Solid waste run-off.
Saline intrusion through soil erosion and flooding (storms, tsunami etc).
58. Biodiversity Loss. The main threats to biological diversity in the Maldives are habitat destruction and overexploitation. Habitat destruction arises from coastal development activities such as harbour development and land reclamation. Run-off from pesticides and fertilizers used in agricultural activities is becoming an increasing problem and threatens the eutrophication of coral reefs.
59. Air Pollution. Ambient air quality is currently not monitored in Male and the available indicators of air pollution include:-
An increase in vehicle numbers.
The rising quantity of imported fuel.
A positive trend in recorded respiratory disease.
The number of buildings constructed over the years.
Impacts of Sea Level Rise in Male.
60. As sea level rises, the thickness of the freshwater lens decreases, and the volume of freshwater decreases. Also sea level rise would increase the likelihood of storm over wash of the islands, causing increased incidence of saltwater contamination of the freshwater lenses.
61. Tourism industry relying heavily on the marine ecosystems is also under threat from the impacts of climate change.
62. The islands of Maldives are reef-based and coral reefs serve as natural breakwaters. With damage to the coral reefs comes the bigger danger of loosing the natural protection of the islands from the waves and currents.
63. Fishery is also expected to suffer from the impacts of climate change.
64. There is also an urgent need for the development of resources to adapt to possible impacts of climate change.
Major Policy Responses and Initiatives.
65. In order to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, the Maldives has started pilot projects on alternate sources of energy: Solar power has been used to power telecommunication sets, navigational aids and government office buildings and mosques in the islands. The main constraint to the widespread use of solar energy is the lack of technical backup and high installation costs. While wind is a regular feature of the Maldives, existing wind speeds are considered marginal for electricity generation, unless high towers are erected at high capital costs. Supplementing conventional energy supply by alternate energy sources, wherever viable, has been included in the energy sector objective and strategy in the National Development Plan.
66. Various programs have been designed and implemented in areas such as coastal protection, freshwater management and coral reef protection.
67. A United Nations Environment Program mission visited the Maldives and recommended training of local personnel to monitor and evaluate impacts of expected environmental changes and the development of strategies that would permit sustainable development.
68. Maldives is a party to the UNFCCC. The Maldives signed he Convention on 12th Jun 1992 and ratified the same on 9th November 1992. The Maldives played a very important role with AOSIS in the negotiation process that started in Berlin and culminated in Kyoto. The Maldives, though disappointed with the low targets agreed for in the Kyoto Protocol, looks for early implementation of the Protocol. The Maldives was the first country to sign the Kyoto Protocol on 30th December 1998. The first National Communication of the Maldives to UNFCCC was submitted at the 7th Session of the Conference of the Parties to UNFCCC held in Marrakesh in 2001. The National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, National Mitigation Plan, Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Options are included in the national communication of Maldives.6
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69. President Nasheed had said that the climate change has reached a critical phase and would soon become not just an environmental threat but a security concern too. The UN inter governmental panel on climate change said that within the next century, the sea level will go up by 59 CMS and this would merge most of the islands of Maldives.7
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