Monday, November 28, 2011

The Maldives

The Maldives (Dhivehi Raa'je), officially Republic of Maldives (Dhivehi Raa'jeyge Jumhooriyya), also referred to as the Maldive Islands, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean formed by a double chain of twenty-six atolls oriented north-south off India's Lakshadweep islands, between Minicoy Island and Chagos Archipelago. It stands in the Laccadive Sea, about 700 kilometers (430 mi) south-west of Sri Lanka and 400 kilometers (250 mi) south-west of India. During the colonial era, the Dutch referred to the country as "Maldivische Eilanden" in their documentation, while "Maldive Islands" is the anglicised version of the local name used by the British, which later came to be written "Maldives".

The archipelago is located on top of the Chagos-Maldives-Laccadive Ridge a vast submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives also form a terrestrial ecoregion together with the Chagos and the Lakshadweep. The atolls of the Maldives encompass a territory spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 sq mi), making it one of the world's most dispersed countries in geographic terms. Its population of 313,920 (2010) inhabits 200 of its 1,192 islands. Maldives capital and largest city Malé has a population of 103,693 (2006). It is located at the southern edge of North Malé Atoll, in the Kaafu Atoll. It is also one of the Administrative divisions of the Maldives. Traditionally it was the King's Island where the ancient Maldive Royal dynasties were enthroned.

The Maldives is the smallest Asian country in both population and land area. With an average ground level of 1.5 meters (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, it is the planet's lowest country. It is also the country with the lowest highest point in the world, at 2.3 meters (7 ft 7 in); the Maldives' forecast inundation is a great concern for the Maldivian people.

The name Maldives may derive from Mahal'deeb, and the people were called Maldivian 'Dhivehin'. The word Dheeb/Deeb (archaic Dhivehi, related to Sanskrit dvīp (द्वीप)) means "island", and Dhives (Dhivehin) means "islanders" (in other words, the Maldivians). During the colonial era, the Dutch referred to the country as Maldivische Eilanden in their documentation, while Maldive Islands is the anglicised version of the local name used by the British, which later came to be written as "Maldives".

The ancient Sri Lankan chronicle, The Mahawamsa, refers to an island called Mahiladiva ("Island of Women", महिलादिभ) in Pali, which is probably a mistranslation of the same Sanskrit word meaning "garland". The Mahawamsa is derived from an even older Sinhala work dating back to the 2nd century BC.

Some theorize that the name Maldives derives from the Sanskrit mālādvīpa (मालाद्वीप), meaning "garland of islands". In Malayalam "Garland of Islands" can be translated into "Maladhweepu" (മാലിദ്വീപ്). In Tamil "Garland of Islands" can be translated into "MalaiTheevu" (மாலைத்தீவு). None of the names are mentioned in any literature, but classical Sanskrit texts dating back to the Vedic times mention the "Hundred Thousand Islands" (Lakshadweepa), a generic name which would include not only the Maldives, but also the Laccadives, Amindivi Islands, Minicoy and the Chagos island groups.

Some medieval travelers such as Ibn Batuta called the islands "Mahal Dibiyat" (محل دبيأت) from the Arabic word Mahal ("palace"), which must be what the Berber traveler interpreted of the local name having been through Muslim North India, where Perso-Arabic words were introduced into the local vocabulary. This is the name currently inscribed in the scroll of the Maldive state emblem. The classical Persian/Arabic name for Maldives is Dibajat.

The name Maldives also might have come from the Sinhalese word Maala Divaina ("Necklace Islands"), perhaps referring to the shape of the archipelago.

The Maldives consists of approximately 1,190 coral islands grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls, along the north-south direction, spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 sq mi), making this one of the world's most dispersed countries. It lies between latitudes 1°S and 8°N, and longitudes 72° and 74°E. The atolls are composed of live coral reefs and sand bars, situated atop a submarine ridge 960 kilometers (600 mi) long that rises abruptly from the depths of the Indian Ocean and runs 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 Maldivian government organized these atolls into twenty one 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 (collectively called Link Road) and the total length of the road is 14 km (9 mi).

The Maldives is the lowest country in the world, with a maximum natural ground level of only 2.3 meters (7 ft 7 in), with the average being only 1.5 meters (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, although in areas where construction exists, this has been increased to several meters. More than 80 percent of the country's land, composed of coral islands are less than one meter above sea level.

The reef is composed of coral debris and living coral. This acts as a natural barrier against the sea, forming lagoons. Other islands, set at a distance and parallel to the reef, have their own protective fringe of reef. An opening in the surrounding coral barrier allows access to the calmer lagoon waters. The barrier reefs of the islands protect them from the storms and high waves of the Indian Ocean.

A 15 centimeters (6 in) thick layer of humus forms the top layer of soil. Below the humus layer are 60 centimeters (2 ft) of sandstone, followed by sand and then fresh water. Due to high levels of salt in the soil near the beach, vegetation is limited there to a few plants such as shrubs, flowering plants, and small hedges. In the interior of the islands, more vegetation such as mangrove and banyan grow. Coconut palms, the national tree, are able to grow almost everywhere on the islands and are integral to the lifestyle of the population.

The limited vegetation and land wildlife is supplemented by the abundance of marine life. The waters around the Maldives are abundant in rare species of biological and commercial value. Tuna fisheries are one of the main commercial resources. The Maldives have an amazing diversity of sea life, with corals and over 2,000 species of fish, ranging from reef fish to reef sharks, moray eels, and a wide variety of rays: Manta rays, Stingray and Eagle ray. The Maldivian waters also host whale sharks and hawksbill and green turtles.

Maldives was largely terra incognita for tourists until the early 1970s. Only 185 islands are home to its 300,000 population, while the other islands are used entirely for economic purposes of which tourism and agriculture are the most dominant. Tourism accounts for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives' foreign exchange receipts. Over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. The development of tourism fostered the overall growth of the country's economy. It created direct and indirect employment and income generation opportunities in other related industries. The first tourist resorts were opened in 1972 with Bandos island resort and Kurumba Village.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, the emergence of tourism in 1972 transformed the economy, moving rapidly from dependence on fisheries to tourism. In just three and a half decades, the industry became the main source of income. Tourism was also the country's biggest foreign currency earner and the single largest contributor to the GDP. As of 2008, 89 resorts in the Maldives offered over 17,000 beds and hosted over 600,000 tourists annually.

Maldives' Firsts
·     Set a record in 2006 for the largest number of scuba divers participating in one dive, with a grand total of 958 divers descending into the water at the same time. This record was broken by Indonesia in 2009.
·     Opened the first virtual embassy, in the online world Second Life, on 22 May 2007.
·  Held the first cabinet meeting underwater. The meeting was chaired by President Mohamed Nasheed. In the meeting, the President, Vice President, and the cabinet signed a declaration calling for concerted global action on climate change, ahead of the UN climate conference in Copenhagen. The underwater meeting was part of a wider campaign by international environmental NGO

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Weather in the Maldives

The Indian Ocean acts as a heat buffer, absorbing, storing, and slowly releasing the tropical heat. The temperature of Maldives ranges between 24 °C (75 °F) and 33 °C (91 °F) throughout the year. Although the humidity is relatively high, the constant cool sea breezes keep the air moving and the heat mitigated.

The weather in the Maldives is affected by the large landmass of South Asia to the north. The presence of this landmass causes differential heating of land and water. These factors set off a rush of moisture-rich air from the Indian Ocean over South Asia, resulting in the southwest monsoon. Two seasons dominate Maldives' weather: the dry season associated with the winter northeastern monsoon and the rainy season which brings strong winds and storms. The shift from the moist southwest monsoon to the dry northeast monsoon occurs during April and May. During this period, the northeast winds contribute to the formation of the northeast monsoon, which reaches Maldives in the beginning of June and lasts until the end of August. However, the weather patterns of Maldives do not always conform to the monsoon patterns of South Asia. The annual rainfall averages 254 centimeters (100 in) in the north and 381 centimeters (150 in) in the south.

Marine ecosystem
Maldives waters are home to several ecosystems, but are most noted for their variety of colorful coral reefs, home to 300 species of fish. Seven marine species have been described as new to science, while several more await description. Over 400 have been identified and catalogued and many are now held in the reference collection, including 5 species of sea turtles, 51 species of echinoderms, 5 species of sea grasses and 285 species of alga & sponges, crustaceans, and tunicates. About 200 coral species have been recorded to date, representing over 60 genera.

Among the many marine families represented are Pufferfish, Fusiliers, Jackfish, Lionfish, Oriental Sweetlips, reef sharks, Groupers, Eels and Snappers. Bannerfish, Batfish, Humphead Wrasse, Spotted Eagle Rays, Scorpionfish, Lobsters, Nudibranches, Angelfish, Butterflyfish, Squirrelfish, Soldierfish, Glassfish, Surgeonfish, Unicornfish, Triggerfish, Napoleon wrasses and Barracudas.

These coral reefs are home to a variety of marine ecosystems that vary from planktonic organisms to whale sharks. Sponges have gained importance as five species have displayed anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties.

1998 El Niño
In 1998, warming due to the El Niño phenomenon killed 2/3 of the nation's coral reefs due to bleaching. Coral reef bleaching is a "term suggested in place of "coral bleaching" because this condition is seldom limited to corals and most affected photo symbiotic hosts reside on coral reefs". Bleaching is the loss of photo symbiotic microorganisms (dinoflagellates, red and green algae, or cyanobacteria), or the pigments of these photosymbionts, or some of both, from tissues of host cnidarians, sponges, molluscs or other photosymbiotic host animals. The name comes from the whitening of many hosts which possess few pigments of their own.

The water temperature had been raised as much as 5 °C (41 °F) degrees. Several scientists placed electrified cones anywhere from 20–60 feet (6.1–18 m) below the surface. The cones created an attraction for coral larva to attach itself. In 2004, scientists witnessed corals regenerating. Corals began to eject pink-orange eggs and sperm. The growth of these electrified corals was five times faster than ordinary corals. Scientist Azeez Hakim stated, "before 1998, we never thought that this reef would die. We had always taken for granted that these animals would be there, that this reef would be there forever. El Niño gave us a wake-up call that these things are not going to be there forever. They help by removing and recycling the carbon-dioxide which in excess amounts can lead to global warming. Not only this, they also act as a natural barrier against the tropical storms, floods and tsunamis”. Seaweeds grow on the skeletons of dead coral. The corals reefs are like the rainforest for marine life.

2004 Tsunami
On 26 December 2004, following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, the Maldives were devastated by a tsunami. Only nine islands were reported to have escaped any flooding, while fifty-seven islands faced serious damage to critical infrastructure, fourteen islands had to be totally evacuated, and six islands were destroyed. A further twenty-one resort islands were forced to close because of serious damage. The total damage was estimated at more than US$400 million, or some 62 percent of the GDP. A total of 108 people, including six foreigners, reportedly died in the tsunami. The destructive impact of the waves on the low-lying islands was mitigated by the fact there was no continental shelf or land mass upon which the waves could gain height. The tallest waves were reported to be 14 feet (4.3 m) high.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tourism in the Maldives

Tourism is the largest economic industry in the Maldives, as it plays an important role in earning foreign exchange revenues and generating employment in the tertiary sector of the country. The archipelago of the Maldives is the main source of attraction to many tourists visiting the country worldwide.

Tourism began in the Maldives in the late 1900's. A United Nations mission on development which visited the Maldives Islands in the 1960s did not recommend tourism, claiming that the islands were not suitable. Ever since the launch of the first resort in Maldives in 1972, however, tourism in Maldives has flourished. The arrival of the first tourist group is estimated to have occurred in February 1972. The group landed at Malé, the capital island of the Maldives, and spent 12 days in the country. Tourism in Maldives started with just two resorts with a capacity of about 280 beds in Kurumba Village and Bandos. At present, there are over 80 resorts located in the different atolls constituting the Republic of Maldives. Over the past few decades, the number of tourists in Maldives has risen continuously. Today, more than 500,000 tourists visit the Maldives each year.

The number of resorts increased from 2 to 92 between 1972 and 2007. As of 2007, over 8,380,000 tourists had visited Maldives. Most visitors arrived at Malé International Airport, on Hulhulé Island, adjacent to the capital Malé. The airport is served by flights to India, Sri Lanka, Doha, Dubai, Singapore and major airports in South-East Asia, as well as of charters from Europe. Gan Airport, on the southern atoll of Addu, also serves an international flight to Milan several times a week.

Outside the service industry, Male is the only location where the foreign and domestic populations are likely to interact. The tourist resorts are not on islands where the natives live, and casual contacts between the two groups are discouraged.

Natural beauty
Maldives is very famous for its natural beauty which includes the blue ocean and white beaches, accompanied by clean air and pleasant temperatures. The climate of the Maldives is ideal for visitors to get engaged in water sports such as swimming, fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, water-skiing and windsurfing.

Due to its extraordinary underwater scenery and clean water, Maldives is ranked among the best recreational diving destinations of the world. A tourist resort in the Maldives consists of an exclusive hotel on its own island, with its population entirely based on tourists and work force, with no local people or houses.

These islands developed for tourism are approximately 800 by 200 meters in size and are composed of sand and coral to a maximum height of about 2 meters above the sea. In addition to its beach encircling the island, each island has its own "house reef" which serves as a coral garden and natural aquarium for scuba divers and snorkelers. The shallow water enclosed by the house reef also serves as a large natural swimming pool and protects swimmers from the ocean waves and strong tidal currents outside the house reef.

The buildings on a typical resort includes rooms and suites reserved for use by its guests, restaurants, coffee shops, shops, lounges, bars, discos and diving schools. A portion of the island also contains staff lodgings and support services such as catering, power generators, laundry, and a sewage plant. On-island shops offer a wide range of products, such as souvenirs and artifacts. Most resorts offer a wide variety of activities such as aerobics, volleyball and table tennis.

Ecotourism in Maldives
Some promotion of ecotourism is practiced in the Maldives, with resorts emphasizing recycling of heat that is wasted in producing electricity and stricter policies of waste disposal. Furthermore, the government aims to conserve the natural beauty of the islands before they are being altered into resorts by enforcing laws such as prohibition of catching turtles and reduction in the damages caused to the coral reefs.

Nevertheless, the Maldives have frequently come under criticism for their lack of protection of the local shark populations, which have sharply decreased after being hunted extensively for decades. In some areas of the island, sharks have entirely disappeared. Sharks are hunted primarily for their fins. Shark fins are exported from the Maldives to other countries in Asia, where they are regarded as a delicacy. The fins are amputated from the live animals, which are then thrown back alive into the sea.

Although laws exist that prohibit this practice in the Maldives, these laws are not respected or enforced by the local authorities.

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