The Maldives, a popular tourist hotspot in the Indian Ocean composed of more than 1000 coral islands faces being swept under the sea. Based on the 2018 Maldives Visitor Survey (conducted by the Maldives Ministry of Tourism), 70% of tourists chose the Maldives because of their beaches. Perversely, due to the unsustainable lifestyle of the human race and rapidly evolving technology, polar ice caps are melting as the earth heats up at drastic rates. This is causing sea levels to rise and countries like Maldivan islands, Seychelles, and other Pacific islands to be left with severe survival challenges.
Similar to many low-lying islands, the Maldives is extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise. In actuality, the Maldives is reported to be the flattest country on Earth, with no ground higher than 3 meters and 80 percent of the land lying below 1 meter. On an island in the Maldives, you can climb a small palm tree and be higher than the highest point of land. The average global sea level in 2017 was 3 inches (77 mm) above the highest annual average recorded in 1993. The current “uncertainty margin,” or average sea level recorded by climate.nasa.gov is approximately 3.5 inches (90 mm).
As expected, people are more concerned about the current reality rather than what could happen in the future. This is a common issue across the world; when it comes to the environment — people are comfortable putting climate change on the side, and waiting until something really bad happens– and by that time the damage is irreversible. Environmental issues have been rather neglected, which is unfortunate for nations like the Maldives.
With the promise of white sandy beaches and blue ocean waters, the Maldives draws in more than 150,000 tourists every year. However, according to former president Mohammad Nasheed, the Maldives are ranked the third most endangered nation due to flooding from climate change. While tourism is very important for the national economy, increasing development on the islands can make it harder to ensure adequate supplies of freshwater and proper sewage treatment. Other environmental goals include preserving desert island ecology, marine life, coral reefs, and coconut tree rehabilitation. The hawksbill turtle, green turtle, and blue whale—native to the Maldivan islands—are on the endangered list as well.
Solid waste management is definitely one of the most prominent challenges for the islands. One common solution was to allocate space for solid waste management and its reuse in order to reduce the volume of final waste left behind. In the capital city Male, the pollution and waste issue has become overwhelmingly large. In fact, there was an entire island created, Thilafushi, that acts as a municipal landfill. The island is a health hazard to people who work on it as well as a reflection of the environmental disaster damaging the waters of the Maldivan islands.
The government, local authorities and environmental NGOs are working to carry out initiatives to tackle the problem. One initiative is the Waste Management Regulation Law (2013). It has made it mandatory for each island to have a waste management site that is approved by its Environment Protection Agency (EPA). In Ukulhas, located approximately 44 miles from Male, they use natural waste to make compost for plants. The city’s success is inspiring others to reconsider their existing waste management practices. Today, more islands are seeking to adopt the Ukulhas’ model of waste management setup, some going as far as traveling to Ukulhas to learn more about their system.
Recent findings indicate that the nation’s water supply may be exhausted in the near future, and as population increases, sanitation problem pose a larger threat to the waters surrounding the nation. But, this is a complicated problem to combat considering the unique structure of a nation consisting of 1,200 islands spread over 510 miles of the Indian Ocean.
The current administration, recently elected in November 2018, is headed by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. Fortunately, they present themselves as environmentally conscious and have included environment protection in the first 100 days’ goals. However, some are concerned about geoengineering projects underway in order to build more islands. More artificial land is not a proper solution to pollution issues. In a recent interview, Solih addresses India’s concerns about the nations’ stability: “The Maldives is a sovereign state and we are very mindful of our geostrategic position in the India Ocean. We are also extremely aware of the need to maintain peace and security in the Indian Ocean, especially at a time of increased trade, shipping, and geopolitical tensions.”