Geography Of Maldives
Maldives is a low lying island country in the Indian Ocean, it is 717 km from Sri Lanka and 430 km from India. There are 1192 islands which are dispersed over an area of 90000 square kilometers southwest of Sri Lanka. Every island is individual and separate from other islands, there is a lagoon or sea in between the islands.
Islands of Maldives are beautiful with white sandy beaches and clear water seas that fade away into the deep ocean blue. These are coral islands, in many islands the sand are soft and fine, in some other islands they are rocky and difficult to walk barefoot. Almost all islands have at least a part of the beach that has fine sand. Resorts are mainly developed in islands that have good quality beach and rich sea life.
atolls and islands The word atoll is believed to be derived from local Maldivian word atholhu which means group of islands. There are 26 natural atolls which are officially recognized as 20 for administrative purposes. Not all atolls are of same size or hold same number of islands, it is based on geographical grouping. Some atolls are huge with hundreds of islands and the atoll of Gnaviyani is based on only 1 island. See Maldives atolls map with list of all 20 atolls.
Maldives is an archipelago of islands. Archipelago means chain of atolls. The Maldives archipelago is made up of 26 natural atolls stretched over 90000 square kilometer in the sea which is filled with hundreds of tiny coral islands, reefs and marine lives.
Tiny coral islands of the Maldives are protected by two major types of reefs; house reef and outer reef. There are islands that have lagoon fading into the blue ocean without any barrier in between. Other islands have house reef where lagoon meets deep sea. The house reef protects lagoon and the beach of the island from waves and ocean current. In some parts this natural protection comes to the atoll as whole, providing a coral boundary that protects all islands within it. Such an example is Meemu Atoll.
Waves are an important part of geological formation of the islands. Bigger the waves the higher the ground level of the islands. That is the reason the atolls with outer reef many have islands just a feet or two above sea level. Atolls that have no such protection causes bigger waves to reach the shore and thus pushing the sand atop. In Maldives the ground level of islands vary from 0.5 meter to 1.4 meter.
Volcanoes and Earthquakes
It is believed that the atolls are actually super volcanoes. The circular pattern in formation of atoll is the rim of the volcano. Don’t worry, these volcanoes are inactive and that enables colourful corals to grow and flourish atop. Despite millions of years old volcanoes the Maldives is not prone to earthquakes. Meteorological Department at times reported some earthquakes in the Maldives region but it was too minor for people to feel anything.
A different view has been provided by Hans Hass. According to him, layers of coral reefs might have built up on top of the submerged mountains until they rose to the surface. The hardest and highest corals remained while the weaker corals in the center of the coral platforms broke down. The remaining corals at the outer edges formed rings that were to form the outer rims of atolls. Islands were formed as debris and sand accumulated on to the remaining reefs.
The reef is cut by deep channels, which the locals have mastered to navigate. Protective reefs safeguard the islands from the elements. However, the islands are susceptible to erosion. The islands are low-lying; emerging almost two meters above the sea level. It is frequent that one part of the island to erode while onto another part the currents and tides deposit sand expanding the island. Over the course of time, some islands may erode completely, while others may be formed gradually on a sandbank. There are still many islands and sandbanks at various stages of formation. Hence, the Maldives is a dynamic country in the making.
Six inches deep humus forms the initial layers of the soil. Sandstone of about 2 feet is found below and after it sand is accompanied with fresh water. The salinity of the soil along the beach restricts the growth to few plants. Normally, shrubs and small hedges occupy the area. More inwards, banyan, mangroves, screwpine and other lush vegetation are found. For the coconut palms there seems to be no restrictions. It is found almost everywhere and have contributed significantly to the local lifestyle, even earning the status of the national tree.
While vegetation in the islands is limited, it is supplemented by the riches of the sea; varieties of corals, abundant colourful fish and other organisms that makes the Maldives ‘the home of the children of the sea’.