Heightened fears for lowering lands

Tuesday, 13 January 2009 18:37


The Maldives' idyllic, pristine beaches and tropical reefs attract more than half a million tourists to the small Indian Ocean nation every year.

But an unavoidable catastrophe awaits the Muslim nation and its natural beauty: the threat of global climate change and rising sea levels.

An increase in sea levels of 58cm (22.8in), as projected by the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), could see most of the country's 1,192 islands submerged by next century and leaving many of its 369,000 citizens without a homeland.

But locals say the effects of global warming have begun to show already, with the phenomenon likely to damage significantly the nation's key industries - fisheries and tourism - not far into the future.

Tidal surges

The atolls of the Maldives are protected by networks of coral reefs which act as a defence against natural phenomena including flooding, tidal surges and erosion.

But scientists say that many such reefs are facing extinction from fluctuating water levels and rising temperatures as the Earth warms up because of climate change.

According to Abdul Azeez Abdul Hakeem, head of conservation at the Banyan Tree Resort, a rise of sea temperatures of only 2C will wipe out many coral reefs if it is sustained for a period of two weeks.

"With climate change there will be more tidal surges, more swells, and more storms," he says. "Weather patterns are changing rapidly. From fishermen we know these are not normal. Before we knew what to expect; today those things are very unpredictable."

Tidal surges will not only increase the risk of houses and communities being flooded, but will also result in a higher level of salt water on local vegetation - which will impact on food production too, says Mr Azeez.

Erosion is already affecting many of the Maldives' 200 inhabited islands, with domestic activities such as pollution, reclamation and illegal coral and sand mining contributing to the damage.

Islanders are beginning to feel the impact. On one island in Raa atoll this month, residents held protests demanding government action after four houses collapsed into the sea due to the erosion of sand banks......read more


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