Maldives is a country of South Asia, situated in the Indian Ocean, south-southwest of India. It consists of approximately 1,190 coral islands grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls, spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometers, making this one of the most disparate countries in the world. Composed of live coral reefs and sand bars, the atolls are situated atop a submarine ridge 960 kilometers long that rises abruptly from the depths of the Indian Ocean and runs from north to south. Only near the southern end of this natural coral barricade do two open passages permit safe ship navigation from one side of the Indian Ocean to the other through the territorial waters of Maldives. For administrative purposes the Maldives government organized these atolls into nineteen administrative divisions.
The largest island of Maldives is Gan, which belongs to Laamu Atoll or
Hahdhummathi Maldives. In Addu Atoll the westernmost
islands are connected by roads over the reef and the total length of the road is
Most atolls of the Maldives consist of a
large, ring-shaped coral reef
supporting numerous small islands. Islands average only one to two square
kilometers in area, and lie between one and 1.5 meters above mean sea level.
Although some of the larger atolls are approximately 50 kilometers long from
north to south, and 30 kilometers wide from east to west, no individual island
is longer than eight kilometers.
The Maldives has no hills, but some islands have dunes which can reach 2.4
meters (8 feet) above sea level, like the NW coast of Hithadhoo
(Seenu Atoll) in Addu
Atoll. Islands are too small to have rivers, but small lakes and marshes can
be found in some of them.
On average, each atoll has approximately 5 to 10 inhabited islands; the
uninhabited islands of each atoll number approximately 20 to 60. Some atolls,
however, consist of one large, isolated island surrounded by a steep coral
beach. The most notable example of this type of atoll is the large island of
Fuvahmulah situated in the Equatorial Channel.
vegetation of Maldives differs in the inhabited and in the uninhabited
islands. Inhabited islands have small groves of banana, papaya,
drumstick and citrus trees by the homesteads, while breadfruit trees and coconut palms are grown in available
patches of land. On the other hand uninhabited islands have mostly different
kinds of bushes (magū, boshi) and mangroves (kuredi, kandū) along
the waterline as well as some coconut trees.
Some islands are marshy, while others
are higher owing to sand and gravel having been piled up by wave action. Often
the soil is highly alkaline, and a deficiency in nitrogen, potash, and
iron severely limits agricultural potential. Ten percent of the land, or about
26 km², is cultivated with taro, bananas, coconuts, and other fruit. Only the
lush island of Fuvammulah produces fruits such as oranges and pineapples -
partly because the terrain of Fuvammulah sits higher than most other islands,
leaving the groundwater less subject to seawater penetration. However, as
population grows, even in this island the cultivated areas are shrinking
Freshwater floats in a layer known as "Ghyben/Herzberg
lens" above the seawater that permeates the limestone and coral sands of the
islands. These lenses are shrinking rapidly on Male and on many islands where
there are resorts catering to foreign tourists. Mango trees already have been reported dying on Male
because of salt penetration. Most residents of the atolls depend on groundwater
or rainwater for drinking purposes.
The temperature of Maldives ranges between 24 and 33 °C (75.2 and 91.4 °F)
throughout the year. Although the humidity is relatively high, the constant sea
breezes help to keep the air moving. Two seasons dominate Maldives' weather: the
dry season associated with the winter northeast monsoon and the rainy season
brought by the summer southwest monsoon. The annual rainfall averages 2,540
millimeters (100 in) in the north and 3,810 millimeters (150 in) in the
The weather in Maldives is affected by the large landmass of the South Asia
to the north. The presence of this landmass causes differential heating of land
and water. Scientists also cite other factors in the formation of monsoons,
including the barrier of the Himalayas on the northern fringe of the South Asia
and the sun's northward tilt, which shifts the jet stream north. These factors
set off a rush of moisture-rich air from the Indian Ocean over the South Asia,
resulting in the southwest monsoon. The hot air that rises over the South Asia
during April and May creates low-pressure areas into which the cooler,
moisture-bearing winds from the Indian Ocean flow. In Maldives, the wet
southwest monsoon lasts from the end of April to the end of October and brings
the worst weather with strong winds and storms. In May 1991 violent monsoon
winds created tidal waves that damaged thousands of houses and piers, flooded
arable land with seawater, and uprooted thousands of fruit trees. The damage
caused was estimated at US$30 million.