The Maldives is comprised of rows of atolls in the Indian Ocean, with a total of 1,190 coral islands formed around 26 natural ring-like atolls, spread over 90,000 square kilometres. These atoll structures are formed upon a sharp ridge rising from the ocean.
Each atoll in the Maldives is made of a coral reef encircling a lagoon, with deep channels dividing the reef ring. A string of islands take their places among this atoll ring; each island has its own reef encircling the island lagoon. The reefs of the islands, alive with countless types of underwater creatures and vibrant corals, protect the islands from wind and wave action of the surrounding vast oceans. This unique structure of reefs and channels makes navigation almost impossible for the passer-by without sufficient information about these waters.
Ninety-nine percent of the Maldives is made up of sea. The people of the islands are widely dispersed across the atolls, with about 200 inhabited islands. About 100 islands are developed as tourist resorts and the rest are uninhabited or used for agriculture and other livelihood purposes.
The historical Maldivian cabinet meeting held underwater in 2009 provided new focus on climate change impacting the waters around the Maldives, bringing global attention to reducing climate change.
The environment has a direct affect on all facets of Maldivian life. The islands are protected by thousands of reefs that need to survive for this unique archipelago to be sustained for the future. Locals rely on fishing for their livelihood and they depend on the beauty of its reefs and islands to sustain their tourism industry. Most importantly, the Maldives needs its citizens and visitors to take care of their wonderful natural environment in order to survive as one of the most magical places on earth.
Several government regulations have been set up to enable a system to provide natural protection for the otherwise fragile 1,190 islands of Maldives. Since 1995, important marine areas have been selected as protected regions and a number of islands in the Maldives are Biosphere Reserves. Endangered marine species like the whale shark, turtles, dolphins, as well as corals, are protected by law. At the First Plenary Meeting of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (also known as Rio+20) held in June 2012, the Maldivian government announced a commitment to make the Maldives the first country in the world to become a marine reserve by 2017. Marine reserve status for all 1,192 islands is likely to attract international investment in pilot schemes to explore new approaches to conservation and sustainability and further protect this unique environment.