Travel Guide

The Maldives

Aerial view of Islands of Maldives
Aerial view of Islands of Maldives

Maldives is a country of more than a thousand islands spread over 298 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean. Uniquely charming, endowed with a dreamlike beauty unknown elsewhere in the world; the Maldives welcomes you to enjoy its natural splendour and charm, and the hospitality of its people. 

This is home to just about 500,000 islanders, yet welcomes thrice as many to its shores every year. The Maldives has welcomed visitors with open arms for centuries. Some opted to stay, while some wrote about the mysteries and intricacies of life on these tiny islands. Unlike the adventurers and mariners of the past, today the Maldives is easily accessible from anywhere in the world.

For most holidaymakers, great sunny days with deep blue skies, clear lagoons with pleasing shades of blue, moonlit nights, the soothing sound of little waves lapping the soft white sands, the ruffle of palms and powdery white beaches are the basic ingredients for the perfect tropical holiday. Few places offer these ingredients in greater abundance than the Maldives. 

Although the Maldives is well known by travellers and holidaymakers today, its long history is not known to most. The Maldives has gone through immense changes and has been affected by geopolitical changes and upheavals that have swept through the world throughout the last two millennial.

Maldives Geography

Few countries have a landscape as remarkable as that of the Maldives. The Maldives is an archipelago of 1190 islands that straddle the equator, about 650 km southwest of Sri Lanka. The islands are scattered in a chain-like formation extending 820 km from north to south and 130 km at its widest point. 

The islands form ring-shaped formations or atolls, 26 in all some with a single island while others with over 200 islands in them. Huvadhoo Atoll in the south is the second largest atoll in the world. 

Atoll formation

In 1842 Charles Darwin presented the world with the first acceptable theory of atoll formation. Darwin proclaimed that atolls were created when a volcanic land mass subsided slowly into the ocean, while coral build up and out around the plateau. However Darwin also wrote that the formation of Maldives was somewhat different from the islands of the Pacific and Atlantic that he had examined. 

After a diving expedition in the Maldives in 1962, Hans Hass concluded that ‘the inner structure of certain coral reefs in not compact but porous and unstable, hence extended reef platforms invariably sag in the centre”. Reefs formed on the peaks of the submerged mountain range that extends through the centre of the Indian Ocean. The reefs eventually pierce the surface of the ocean beginning to form platforms. The centre of the platform collapses due to the to the scarcity of food and oxygen and due to the massaging effect of the tides.   

However around the rim of the atoll where the coral has been built the hardest and highest, sand and debris accumulate, vegetation takes hold and islands begin to form.

Formation of Maldives

The mysterious formation of the Maldives began more than 225 million years ago, when only the hydrosphere and lithosphere existed. At that time, more than half of the earth consisted of a continent called Pangaea. This continent was surrounded by an ocean called Panthalassa.

About 136 million years ago, Pangaea was divided into two continents. The northern continent was called Laurasia, and the southern one was called Gondwana, and between them was a sea called Tethys. Next, Gondwana broke apart and formed the Atlantic Ocean that separated the African continent from the American continent.

The continents were scattered because of plate movement. Then lava erupted from the Earth's core, forming an underwater landscape. The Laurasia also broke up and formed the northern hemisphere continents about 6,600 years ago.

The Indian Ocean began to take shape about 150 million years ago. At that time, India was part of the southern continent. Asia on the other hand was part of the northern continent "Laurasia".

During the above-mentioned period, the plate movement caused India to split off from Madagascar and Africa and gradually began to move northward. As this plate moved through the Indian Ocean, it passed through a hotspot. This hotspot, located near present day Reunion Island, is said to have played a special role in the formation of the Maldives.

Scientific studies have confirmed that the uplift that runs from the Chagos Archipelago through the Maldives to Lakshadweep Deep was formed by passing through the hotspot. The passage of the hotspot created a long volcanic belt that extended all the way to the Indian Plate.

After the long journey, the northern end of the Indian plate collided with the southern end of the Asian plate. The impact created the huge Himalayan Mountains. The Indian Ocean was then outlined.

The volcanoes that were the ancestors of the Maldives gradually began to sink into the Indian Ocean over a long period of time. The topography of the Maldives at that time was an island consisting of volcanoes and highlands. However, the mountains gradually sank into the Indian Ocean, leaving only the crater at the top. After millions of years, the tops of the remaining mountains started forming thousands of a beautiful coral reef islands. Today Maldives has no mountains and no volcanos, and the highest point to the sea level is about 2.4 metre.

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