The Maldives, known to the locals in their native language (Dhivehi) as Dhivehi Raajje, are an archipelago of 1,192 coral islands grouped into 26 natural coral atolls in the Indian Ocean. They lie south-southwest of India and west of Sri Lanka. None of the coral islands measures more than 1.8 metres above sea level.
Only 192 islands are inhabited by its 300,000 inhabitants. The rest of the islands remain virgin islands except for more than 100 islands that have been developed for the top end of the tourist market.
With its abundant sea life and sandy beaches, The Maldives is portrayed by travel companies as a tropical paradise. Maldives was for the most part unknown to tourists until the early 1970s.
The economy revolves around tourism, and fisheries.Tourism accounts for 28% of the GDP. Over 90% of the state government income comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes.
The 26 natural atolls or atholhu in Dhivehi — the source of the English word, of the Maldives are not single islands, but giant ringlike coral formations hundreds of kilometres wide that have fragmented into several islands, sand banks and lagoons.
As per the earliest written history of the Maldives, the exiled Magadha Prince Vijaya from the ancient city known as Sinhapura and his party of several hundred landed in Sri Lanka, and some in the Maldives circa 543 to 483 BC
Buddhism became the dominant religion of the people of the Maldives until the 12th century AD and is believed to have reached the Maldives at the time of Emperor Ashoka’s expansion. Architecture, sculptures and writing flourished during this period and until today several ruins of this period remains in several of the islands.
The famous Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta, who was in the Maldives in the 14th century has written that a Moroccan by the name of Abul Barakath the Berber introduced Islam to the islands. Since 1153 Maldives have had Islam as the official religion.
Except for three instances the Maldives remained an independent nation throughout its history. The longest rule by outside forces was in the mid 16th century when Maldives was under the Portuguese Empire for about fifteen years. For a brief four months, the Dutch Empire ruled Maldives during the mid 17th century and in late 19th century the Maldives became a British protectorate from 1887 to 1965. After gaining total independence from the British in 1965, in 1968 the Maldives became a Republic and remains as a Republic.
The republic was declared on 11th of November 1968 and Ibrahim Nasir became the first President. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who became the President in 1978 held office for 6 five year terms and finally in 2008 the constitution was changed to allow political parties, paving the way for the first democratic election which ended Gayoom’s presidency and elected Mohamed Nasheed from the Maldivian Democratic Party as the first democratically elected President. However the presidency did not last the full term as President Nasheed was forced to resign due to protests by the Police and the Military on February 7th 2012. Elections held in 2013 was won by the half brother of Gayoom, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.
GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE
The Maldives islands are grouped into large, ring-shaped coral reefs. The land area of an island average only one to two square kilometers, and is between one and 1.5 meters above sea level.
The islands of the Maldives has no hills as it is entirely made of coral sand. Islands are too small to have rivers, but small lakes and marshes can be found in some of them.
Some islands are marshy, while others are higher owing to sand and gravel having been piled up by wave action and tidal changes. The soil is highly alkaline, and a deficiency in nitrogen, potash, and iron limiting the potential for sustainable agricultural produce.
The Maldives are tropical, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures around 30°C 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 which is the northeast monsoon and the rainy season or southwest monsoon from April – October, with rainfall increasing particularly from June to August. The annual rainfall averages 2,540 millimeters (100 in) in the north and 3,810 millimeters (150 in) in the south.
FLORA AND FAUNA
The flora and fauna of the islands comprises of the reefs, the surrounding ocean and the coral islands.
Coconut trees symbolizes the tropical vegetation of Maldives. Some of the plant species differs in the inhabited to that of the uninhabited islands. Due to the influence of humans 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.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Maldives is the amazing diversity of sea life found in the archipelago, with wide range of corals and over 2,000 species of fish, ranging from colorful reef fish to reef sharks, moray eels, and a wide variety of rays: manta ray,stingray, and eagle ray. The Maldivian waters are also home for the whale shark. The Indian Ocean around the Maldives are abundant in rare species, of biological and commercial value. Tuna fisheries being traditionally the main commercial resources of the country, along with shells. In the few ponds and marshes there are some freshwater fish, like Chanos chanos and other smaller species.
Due to the oceanic location of the Maldives its birds are mainly restricted to pelagic birds. Most of the species are similar to Eurasian migratory birds, and very few can be associated with the Indian sub-continent. Some of the birds are seasonal, such as the frigatebirds. There are also birds that dwell in marshes and island bush, like the grey heron and the moorhen. White terns are found occasionally on the southern islands.
There are very few land mammals in the Maldives. The fruit bat or flying fox and a species of shrew could be said to be native. Cats, rats, and mice have been introduced by humans. In the ocean surrounding the islands there are whales and dolphins.