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The Maldives
Price, A.R.G.; Clark, S. (2000). The Maldives, in: Sheppard, C.R.C. (Ed.) Seas at the millennium: an environmental evaluation: 2. Regional chapters: The Indian Ocean to The Pacific. pp. 199-219
In: Sheppard, C.R.C. (Ed.) (2000). Seas at the millennium: an environmental evaluation: 2. Regional chapters: The Indian Ocean to The Pacific. Pergamon: Amsterdam. ISBN 0-08-043207-7. XXI, 920 pp., more

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Document type: Review


Authors  Top 
  • Price, A.R.G.
  • Clark, S.

    The Maldives are a low-lying atoll nation comprising around 1120 islands within 26 geographic atolls. The country's continued physical and economic existence is dependent on the underlying coral reef platform. This provides a dynamic and unstable environment. Coral species richness is high, with 187 known species and, based on cluster analysis, the coral fauna of the Maldives shows greatest affinities with Chagos and Seychelles to the west. Both seagrasses and mangroves are uncommon, although mangrove diversity is remarkably high (10 species). Species of conservational significance include seabirds, which are used by Maldivian fishermen as a means of spotting tuna: 17 species are known to nest here. Endemic species include the fruit bat (Pteropys giganteus ariel); and there are several 'threatened' species listed in IUCN's Red Data Books, including five turtle species. Since the 1970s the population has risen dramatically, particularly in the capital Malé. The population of Maldives was around 250,000 in 1995, with about 25% in Malé. Total population is projected to rise to c. 321,957 by 2005. Coastal uses and consequential environmental pressures include instances of heavy exploitation or degradation of coastal fisheries and are of much concern. Other practical problems include unsustainable coral (and sand) mining. This has severely impaired the capacity of some reefs to act as natural sea defences, and undermined their biological role as areas for bait, other fish and as repositories of biodiversity. Problems of solid and liquid waste disposal can be acute, both in urban areas and on the tourist islands, eighty-seven of which are currently developed. Many aquifers are contaminated by faecal coliform bacteria, rendering the water unfit for direct consumption. Specific tourism-related concerns include impacts from infrastructures (i.e. resorts, jetties, vegetation clearance, turtle disturbance), and from diving and snorkelling. Other environmental concerns include occasional outbreaks of Crown-of-Thorns starfish, coral bleaching and global climate change. Threats posed by climatic changes and impending sea-level rise are taken very seriously, particularly since approximately 80% of Maldivian land area is less than 1 m above mean sea level. A reasonable body of national and international environmental legislation exists, but implementation remains problematic. Environmental habitat restoration has included attempts to restore reefs degraded from coral mining but coral transplantation has not been cost-effective. Given the large number of unoccupied Maldivian islands (nearly 1000), prospects for tourism and other forms of development seem quite favourable, though more attention should be focused on carrying capacity. A critical challenge for the Maldives will be economic development that does not limit important future coastal uses, which could happen unexpectedly following incremental use and unrecognised environmental deterioration. If incidences of coral bleaching (as witnessed in 1998) are linked to global trends in temperature increase, then more serious problems are likely to arise. These are outside the scope of national reef resource managers and planners. However, healthy reefs are likely to better withstand adverse effects of global events than reefs degraded by the effects of local human activities. This may well become an increasingly important factor influencing the sustainability of reef uses on low-lying islands such as the Maldives.

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