The Maldives – A Nation at the Water’s Edge

Photography : Guillaume COLLANGES    

Crowded apartments, noise and pollution. With 90,000 people living on 1.9 sq. km., Mal’, the capital of the Maldives, is one of the mostly densely populated cities in the world. The hope: move 2 km away, to the artificial island of Hulhumalé
In the evenings, Maldivians go for walks along the ring road of the capital, Malé. Young couples ride their motorbikes – one of their rare moments of intimacy on this overpopulated island.
Built with aid from Japan in the beginning of the 1990's, a breakwater made of thousands of cement blocks almost completely encircles Malé. But while this technique may be effective against erosion, it can do little in the face of rising sea levels.
The Maldives are coral islands. The coral reefs, which have served as a natural defense against the erosion of the waves, have also served for centuries as a building material. However as erosion increases this practice has been banned.
Built with aid from Japan in the beginning of the 1990's, a breakwater made of thousands of cement blocks almost completely encircles Malé. But while this technique may be effective against erosion, it can do little in the face of rising sea levels.
Built with aid from Japan in the beginning of the 1990's, a breakwater made of thousands of cement blocks almost completely encircles Malé. But while this technique may be effective against erosion, it can do little in the face of rising sea levels.
Built to ease the overpopulation in the capital, Malé, the artificial island of Hulhumalé covers 465 acres. Millions of tons of dead coral were used to build the island.
On the flat sands of the artificial island of Hulhumalé, a new city is being built, with a mosque, schools and shops. In 2020 it will be home to 53,000 people and ultimately 100,000 people.
On the flat sands of the artificial island of Hulhumalé, a new city is being built, with a mosque, schools and shops. In 2020 it will be home to 53,000 people and ultimately 100,000 people.
On the flat sands of the artificial island of Hulhumalé, a new city is being built, with a mosque, schools and shops. In 2020 it will be home to 53,000 people and ultimately 100,000 people.
On the flat sands of the artificial island of Hulhumalé, a new city is being built, with a mosque, schools and shops. In 2020 it will be home to 53,000 people and ultimately 100,000 people.
On the flat sands of the artificial island of Hulhumalé, a new city is being built, with a mosque, schools and shops. In 2020 it will be home to 53,000 people and ultimately 100,000 people.
Since the arrival of the first inhabitants in May 2003, more than 2,000 people have been settled on the artificial island of Hulhumalé. They are 20 minutes by ferry from the overpopulated capital of Malé which they left.
Since the arrival of the first inhabitants in May 2003, more than 2,000 people have been settled on the artificial island of Hulhumalé. They are 20 minutes by ferry from the overpopulated capital of Malé which they left.
Since the arrival of the first inhabitants in May 2003, more than 2,000 people have been settled on the artificial island of Hulhumalé. They are 20 minutes by ferry from the overpopulated capital of Malé which they left.
To protect it from the rising sea levels, the artificial island of Hulhumalé had to be built 2 meters above sea level, whereas the rest of the Maldives is only one meter above sea level.
Nearly 60% of Maldivians are less than 15 years old. During their lifetime they will probably see the first exiles leave the island due to sea-level rise and erosion.
Nearly 60% of Maldivians are less than 15 years old. During their lifetime they will probably see the first exiles leave the island due to sea-level rise and erosion.
There are 2,000 islands in the Maldives archipelago, of which only 200 are inhabited. Far from the capital, Malé, and its protective sea walls, they are threatened by the rising sea levels and related erosion. The people from these islands will be the first climate refugees of the Maldives.
The wall of coral is the only traditional method of reducing the erosion eating away at the beaches of the Maldives.
The coral reef, which functions like a natural levee bank against the waves, is essential to the islands. For it to disappear would be fatal. Rising ocean temperatures can be deadly to coral as shown here during the record El Niño event of Spring 1998.
The coral reef, which functions like a natural levee bank against the waves, is essential to the islands. For it to disappear would be fatal. Rising ocean temperatures can be deadly to coral as shown here during the record El Niño event of Spring 1998.
The Maldives has always experienced erosion of its beaches depending the type of ocean currents, tides and seasons. However for a number of years now the erosion has been accelerating and some beaches are not recovering their sands.
Tourism provides some 80% of the Maldives’ economic resources. And erosion is also affecting the numerous resorts, where makeshift solutions are being tried to remedy the situation.
The coral reef, which functions like a natural levee bank against the waves, is essential to the islands. For it to disappear would be fatal. Rising ocean temperatures can be deadly to coral as shown here during the record El Niño event of Spring 1998.
The Maldives has always experienced erosion of its beaches depending the type of ocean currents, tides and seasons. However for a number of years now the erosion has been accelerating and some beaches are not recovering their sands.
There are 2,000 islands in the Maldives archipelago, of which only 200 are inhabited. Far from the capital, Malé, and its protective sea walls, they are threatened by the rising sea levels and related erosion. The people from these islands will be the first climate refugees of the Maldives.
It seems as if a gust of wind, a wave, are all it would take for the Maldive Islands, that appear to float on the sea in a precarious balance, to sink forever into the depths of the Indian Ocean.
Nearly 60% of Maldivians are less than 15 years old. During their lifetime they will probably see the first exiles leave the island due to sea-level rise and erosion.
On the island of Kalhaidhoo, as everywhere in the villages of the Maldives, most inhabitants live partly on a subsistence economy. A few fish, caught in the lagoon in the morning, vegetables from the garden, and coconuts, found everywhere. And also a little rice – but it must be bought, since it doesn’t grow in the Maldives.
On the island of Kalhaidhoo, as everywhere in the villages of the Maldives, most inhabitants live partly on a subsistence economy, in harmony with the environment. Traditionally, Maldivians brushed their teeth with fine sand from the lagoon.
To avoid endangering the stocks, tuna fishing is strictly regulated in the Maldives. Nets are not allowed. Only the traditional fishing rod is authorized. It’s a spectacular form of fishing that requires intense energy from the men in order to fill the hold of their dhoni and sell their catch on the market in Malé.
To avoid endangering the stocks, tuna fishing is strictly regulated in the Maldives. Nets are not allowed. Only the traditional fishing rod is authorized. It’s a spectacular form of fishing that requires intense energy from the men in order to fill the hold of their "dhoni" and sell their catch on the market in Malé.
To avoid endangering the stocks, tuna fishing is strictly regulated in the Maldives. Nets are not allowed. Only the traditional fishing rod is authorized. It’s a spectacular form of fishing that requires intense energy from the men in order to fill the hold of their "dhoni" and sell their catch on the market in Malé.
Fishing is the second largest industry in the Maldives. It is still practiced with traditional methods to protect the resources of the country. But the health of the fish depends on the coral which is threatened by global warming.
On the island of Kalhaidhoo, as everywhere in the villages of the Maldives, most inhabitants live partly on a subsistence economy. A few fish, caught in the lagoon in the morning, vegetables from the garden, and coconuts, found everywhere. And also a little rice – but it must be bought, since it doesn’t grow in the Maldives.
Erosion is a natural phenomenon in the Maldives, the result of the ocean currents that scour away at the islands. But it is compensated for by an equivalent phenomenon of accretion. When a beach disappears on one side, it reappears on the other... and conversely, when the current changes direction with the seasons. But that natural balance has now been upset, and erosion is winning out over accretion. The problem is the poor health of the coral.
Erosion is a natural phenomenon in the Maldives, the result of the ocean currents that scour away at the islands. But it is compensated for by an equivalent phenomenon of accretion. When a beach disappears on one side, it reappears on the other... and conversely, when the current changes direction with the seasons. But that natural balance has now been upset, and erosion is winning out over accretion. The problem is the poor health of the coral.
In January 2007, abnormal heavy rains fell on the Maldives, in the middle of the dry season. Dengue, which ordinarily appears in June and July, broke out. And for the first time, the Chikungunya virus also appeared. The already saturated ground was unable to absorb the rains. The resulting puddles were a breeding ground for the mosquitoes.
In January 2007, abnormal heavy rains fell on the Maldives, in the middle of the dry season. Dengue, which ordinarily appears in June and July, broke out. And for the first time, the Chikungunya virus also appeared. The already saturated ground was unable to absorb the rains. The resulting puddles were a breeding ground for the mosquitoes.
Preparing Havaadhu, the traditional curry paste, at Thudi in the Laamu atoll. It is used to season most of the dishes, and in particular fish, the staple of the Maldivians’ diet.
After twenty-four hours of fishing out at sea, Abdul has come home. He explains that until recently the Maldives’ weather cycles were as regular as a metronome. Now the rhythm has gone crazy. As proof, he points to the torrential rains in January 2007, in the middle of the dry season. It’s as if the Earth were getting old, he says.
Some of the Maldive Islands are covered in dense vegetation. Coconut palms, flourish and provide the Maldivians with a large part of their diet. But the gradually rising sea water may slowly salinize the groundwater, threatening the vegetation.
In January 2007, abnormal heavy rains fell on the Maldives, in the middle of the dry season. Dengue, which ordinarily appears in June and July, broke out. And for the first time, the Chikungunya virus also appeared. The already saturated ground was unable to absorb the rains. The resulting puddles were a breeding ground for the mosquitoes.
Erosion is a natural phenomenon in the Maldives, the result of the ocean currents that scour away at the islands. But it is compensated for by an equivalent phenomenon of accretion. When a beach disappears on one side, it reappears on the other... and conversely, when the current changes direction with the seasons. But that natural balance has now been upset, and erosion is winning out over accretion. The problem is the poor health of the coral.
In the Maldivian language, the beach is "godudhoh", or “the place for throwing garbage.” And in fact the beach does not occupy a large place in Maldivian culture. No particular activity is associated with it – except perhaps dumping rubbish. Through the 1970s, it was organic in origin and soon disappeared. But since then the country has changed rapidly and all manner of refuse is still being dumped on the beaches. No centralized collection system has ever been organized.
On the island of Kalhaidhoo, as everywhere in the villages of the Maldives, most inhabitants live partly on a subsistence economy. A few fish, caught in the lagoon in the morning, vegetables from the garden, and coconuts, found everywhere. And also a little rice – but it must be bought, since it doesn’t grow in the Maldives.
On the island of Kalhaidhoo, as everywhere in the villages of the Maldives, most inhabitants live partly on a subsistence economy. A few fish, caught in the lagoon in the morning, vegetables from the garden, and coconuts, found everywhere. And also a little rice – but it must be bought, since it doesn’t grow in the Maldives.
Afzan is 13. He lives in Thudi, on the island of Gan, in the southern Maldives. He lives with his mother and his seven brothers and sisters. His mother, Aminath, works as a cleaning attendant at the hospital in Thudi. In the afternoon, Afzan sometimes helps her gather cowries, the little shells that once served as money. It takes Aminath several hours to collect one kilogram, which she will sell for one euro to a middleman. In Malé, the capital of the Maldives, a kilo of cowries sells for 100 euros to tourists.
Erosion is a natural phenomenon in the Maldives, the result of the ocean currents that scour away at the islands. But it is compensated for by an equivalent phenomenon of accretion. When a beach disappears on one side, it reappears on the other... and conversely, when the current changes direction with the seasons. But that natural balance has now been upset, and erosion is winning out over accretion. The problem is the poor health of the coral.