Photo: Ahmed Zahid
First, the facts: The average elevation of the Maldives is four feet. And even the slightest rise in sea levels–which is all but inevitable–could make the Maldives a modern-day Atlantis.
This weekend’s New York Times Magazine included a fascinating article by Nicholas Schmidle about the Maldives, that archipelagic collection of 1,190 islands in the Indian Ocean.
Last year, Schmidle explained, Maldivians elected the charismatic 41 year old Mohamed Nasheed, a journalist and former political prisoner, to the presidency. Nasheed’s victory displaced Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled the islands for 30 years.
Though Gayoom had warned the world that his country’s citizens were likely to become the first environmental refugees if climate change wasn’t arrested or reversed, Nasheed was more bold in his assertions… and even began to talk about a plan to deal with such a scenario.
Shortly before he was inaugurated in November, 2008, Nasheed declared:
“…that because of global warming, he would try to find a new homeland for Maldivians somewhere in the world, on higher ground… [and] proposed moving all 300,000 Maldivians to [either] India, Sri Lanka, [or] Australia…[using] tourism revenues from the present to establish a sovereign wealth fund with which he could buy a new country–or at least part of one–in the future.”
It was a dramatic proposal, to be sure, and one that has elicited mixed reactions from Maldivians. Some people applaud the plan; others think the threat of rising sea levels isn’t likely to come true in their own lifetime.
Though it’s not clear whether Nasheed has actually taken any tangible steps to scout out land abroad, he’s articulated another bold proposal in the meantime, which is intended to serve as a global warming stop-gap measure: the Maldives, he has declared, will become the first carbon-neutral country in the world.
Schmidle’s article is thin on the details about how either of these plans would be achieved, but the seemingly contradictory options of fight or flight proposed by the Maldivian president raise compelling questions about the future of the country. And for travelers, this news provides still more emphasis to visit–and to try to save–places that are literally vanishing.
The Maldives are just one of 9 sites to visit on our places to experience now before they literally vanish.