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Geological Facts of the Maldives You Might Not Know

February 07 2018

Close your eyes for a second and imagine this: idyllic islands surrounded by tropical Indian Ocean waters in every hue of blue imaginable, picture-perfect beaches bordered by coconut palm trees and teeming with an unparalleled amount of vibrant sea life—this is the Maldives at its finest. It’s a land of out-of-this-world luxury resorts (many of which are sprawled across their very own private islands), incredible local culture, mouthwatering cuisine (and a haven for seafood fanatics) and outdoor wonders and scenery the likes of which you would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. In fact, one of the most fascinating things about the Maldives is its unusual geography which gave rise to one of the world’s best holiday destinations. Here are a few of the geological facts about the Maldives that you might not know about:

It’s actually part of South Asia

Officially named the Republic of Maldives, the Maldives is situated south-southwest of India and southwest of Sri Lanka and is considered part of South Asia, but at approximately 300 square kilometres, it’s also one of the smallest Asian countries in terms of size and population (which sits at approximately 427,756 people). Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean and on the equator, this country enjoys the warm tropical waters of the Arabian Sea. 

It’s made up of thousands of islands

Sprawled throughout the Indian Ocean like the jewels of a broken necklace, the Maldives is actually made up of around 1190 coral islands that are grouped in a double chain that makes up 26 atolls. Because of its unique geographical spacing and the fact that it spans a huge distance (the atolls and islands are scattered over 90 000km2), it’s been classified as one of the most disparate countries in the world. Interestingly, of the almost 1200 islands, only 200 of them are inhabited by locals and 80 of them belong to the luxury resorts which have been built upon them. 

male capital of maldives islands aerial view

Each of the islands in the Maldives is relatively small, with the average size being 1km2 to 2km2 many of which are on average 1.5m above sea level. A few of the atolls themselves are quite big (the biggest being approximately 50km long and 30km wide), yet, no one island is bigger than 8km in length. While there are 26 obvious atolls, for administrative purposes the Maldivian government has classified them into 19 administrative divisions. 

The Maldives has one of the most unique geographies in the world

One of the reasons why the Maldives boasts one of the most unique geographies in the world is because it is spread over a vast area in the Indian Ocean from north to south and sits atop a 960km long submarine ridge. This ridge rises up from deep within the ocean. The atolls were said to have been made from prehistoric volcanoes in the ocean itself that are now extinct. As the ocean floor around the volcanoes sank, corals began to appear and grow around them which lead to the formation of a fringed reef. Over time, this reef grew into a barrier reef, protecting the newly formed lagoon inside. As the volcanoes become extinct and eventually disappeared, the reef continued to thrive. When the reefs started to erode, parts of them collected in the shallower waters and reefs and overtime the sandbanks became tiny islands. From this arose the perfect environments for wonderful underwater ecosystems. 

The coral chain of islands that was formed crosses the territorial waters of the Maldives and the famous trade route that passes through it. Towards the southern end of the country, there are two open channels to the sea which allow ships to enter and travel from one side of the Indian Ocean to the other. 

The vegetation differs on the inhabited and uninhabited islands

While logical, the fact that the inhabited islands may have very different tropical vegetation to the uninhabited islands in the Maldives is not something many people would ever have thought about. Coconut trees, an array of amazing endemic shrubbery and mangroves are found largely on the uninhabited islands, while useful fruit-bearing vegetation has been planted on the inhabited islands, close to homesteads. On the inhabited islands you can expect to see a range of citrus, banana and papaya trees and breadfruit trees, as well as coconut palms, have been planted where possible.

Some islands don’t do too well with certain vegetation because of their marshy nature while others struggle to produce decent agricultural goods because of the alkaline soil so prolific in the Maldives that lack nitrogen, iron and potash. In fact, only 10% of the land in the Maldives is arable. Taro, bananas and coconuts have been planted on a good portion of land in the Maldives, with the only place fruit such as oranges and pineapples have been able to thrive being on the fertile island of Fuvahmulah. This is believed to be because Fuvahmulah sits higher than many of the other islands in the Maldives which means that the fruit trees are less susceptible to seawater penetration, something that tends to happen on Male and some of the resort islands (it’s one of the reasons the mango trees in Male are starting to suffer).

These days, Maldivians depend largely on imported foods as well as the local fruits and vegetables which can be found in abundance at the local market in Male. 

The Maldives has two seasons

While the Maldives has clearly defined peak and off-peak seasons, it boasts stunning weather practically year-round, with temperatures that fluctuate between 24ºC to 33ºC. The weather patterns and temperatures are affected by the proximity to the equator as well as the large landmass of South Asia to the north. Because of the monsoonal climate, the two seasons are broken into the dry season and the wet season. The dry season is marked by the winter northeast monsoon and the wet, or rainy season, occurs because of the summer southwest monsoon. The wet season lasts from the end of April to the end of October and can bring strong winds and storms. The shift in seasons happens in October and November, bringing the northeast monsoon to the Maldives in the beginning of December which tends to last until the end of March. 

The Maldives may cease to exist in the not-too-distant future 

The scary truth about the Maldives is that because of its low lying islands, rising sea levels due to global warming could seriously impact its existence, with some scientists believing that by as early as 2050 or 2100, it may no longer exist. The same has been said of Venice and many other cities and countries which are threatened by rising waters—so you really want to make sure you have been able to experience these phenomenal destinations before it's too late.

If you are looking to head to the Maldives for a once-in-a-lifetime experience in absolute paradise, then look no further than a stay at Kanuhura. This outstanding five-star resort has everything you could need to make your gypset, island fantasies come true. From authentic Maldivian experiences, deserted island hideaways and water villas over the ocean to stellar five-star service, exceptional culinary offerings and pristine beaches (among many other incredible features), you are sure to have an unparalleled holiday in paradise.

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