Par­adise in the Ocean

The atolls of the Mal­dives are a ge­ol­o­gist’s de­light and a tourism par­adise as their nat­u­ral for­ma­tion and beauty still re­mains a mys­tery.

Southasia - - Nature Geography - Byy Am­beerr An­waarr Am­ber An­war holds a B.A in Mar­ket­ing from the Univer­sity of Karachi. She writes on top­ics of rel­e­vant pro­fes­sional in­ter­est.

Ar­ranged in al­most a cir­cle of 26 atolls, the Repub­lic of Mal­dives is cov­ered with 99 per cent wa­ter, leav­ing only 1 per cent land for the 1192 coral is­lands. The live coral reefs, white sandy beaches, co­conut palms and crys­tal clear wa­ter is what makes the Mal­dives beau­ti­ful, at­tract­ing thou­sands of tourists to this par­adise on Earth.

The Mal­dives’ twenty-one ad­min­is­tra­tive di­vi­sions in­clude 20 atolls and the city of Male. Set­tlers have given unique names to each of th­ese atolls. For ex­am­ple, Iha­vand­hip­polhu Atoll gets its name from the is­land of Iha­vand­hoo in the south­east of the atoll; Mi­lad­um­madulu de­rives its name from Mi­land­hoo on the eastern fringes of the atoll, and Male Atolls are named af­ter the is­land of Male. A few of the atolls also get their names from com­man­ders and of­fi­cers of the Bri­tish Em­pire.

Live corals and coral de­bris mostly com­prise the Mal­di­vian is­lands. Coral reefs sep­a­rate the is­lands from the sea and of­fer pro­tec­tion from high tides and storms ris­ing in the In­dian Ocean. Be­sides other flora, co­conut palms, the national tree of the Mal­dives, are found in al­most ev­ery part of the is­land. How­ever, only a few flow­er­ing plants, shrubs and small hedges can grow in the is­lands as salt con­tent is higher near the sea. Other veg­e­ta­tion in­cludes man­groves, screw pine and banyan.

Be­neath the deep blue ocean lies a fas­ci­nat­ing world of sea crea­tures. The Mal­dives’ serves as a home to a unique and di­verse marine ecosys­tem. The sea is highly vis­i­ble through­out the year and clear enough to make a pass­ing fish vis­i­ble from as far as fifty me­tres. Ev­ery year, mon­soon tides from the In­dian Ocean ac­cu­mu­late small marine crea­tures, in­clud­ing mi­cro­scopic plant cells, on the sea sur­face. The wa­ters con­sist of col­or­ful coral reefs, some 1,100 fish species, 400 species of mol­luscs, 187 coral species, 21 species of whales, and 5 species of sea tur­tles. Smaller sealife such as sponges, crabs, shrimps and large un­der­wa­ter crea­tures in­clud­ing whale sharks also dwell in this re­gion. A va­ri­ety of small or­gan­isms lure big fish and sharks to in­habit the area for a rich va­ri­ety of food. Th­ese rare aquatic species found near and around the Mal­dives are of great bi­o­log­i­cal and com­mer­cial value.

Only oceanic birds are found in the Mal­dives as the is­lands are lo­cated well in­side the In­dian Ocean. Also found are birds be­long­ing to the fam­ily of fri­gate birds. More­over, Grey Heron and Moorhen dwell in marshes and bushes of the is­lands while com­monly seen in the sea are

whales and dol­phins. Other na­tive mam­mals in­clude the fly­ing fox and species of shrew.

The Mal­dives is a coun­try lo­cated at the low­est level in the world, at merely 1.5 me­tres above sea level. More than 80 per­cent of the land is com­posed of coral is­lands that rise less than one me­tre above sea level. The is­lands in the Mal­dives have un­der­gone fre­quent ero­sion and a nat­u­ral for­ma­tion process over time. The tides of the In­dian Ocean de­posit sand on the banks re­sult­ing in grad­ual ex­pan­sion of the is­lands, which makes the Mal­dives a dy­namic coun­try in terms of ge­ol­ogy and ge­og­ra­phy.

The for­ma­tion of the Mal­dives atolls re­mains an un­solved mys­tery. Ac­cord­ing to Charles Dar­win’s the­ory, a coral reef grew on the edge of the vol­ca­noes that rise from the sea. Coral reefs en­cir­cling the la­goon re­mained af­ter the vol­ca­noes sub­merged into the wa­ter. Con­se­quently, tides and cur­rents brought dead coral onto sand­bars that formed the is­lands on the reefs.

A the­ory put for­ward by Hans Hass gives an­other ex­pla­na­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Hass, lay­ers of coral reefs grew on top of sub­merged moun­tains un­til they rose to the sur­face of the wa­ter where only the hard­est of th­ese reefs re­mained. The corals which grew on the outer edges of the moun­tain formed rings, which to­day, are the outer rims of the atolls. This process re­sulted in the for­ma­tion of is­lands, as de­bris and sand ac­cu­mu­lated on the re­main­ing reefs.

Hatcher tells yet an­other story about the for­ma­tion of atolls in the Mal­dives. He ex­plains that a change in sea level re­sulted in the for­ma­tion of th­ese atolls. When the vol­canic moun­tains sub­merged into the sea, the coral reefs grew up­ward to keep with the sea level, since coral can­not grow at depths of more than 150 feet. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, the coral on the sur­face ex­panded lat­er­ally to stay abreast with the coast­line, re­sult­ing in its up­ward and out­ward push even af­ter the vol­canic is­lands sank un­der the ocean.

Dana, an­other re­searcher, ar­gues that the cur­rent shape of an atoll has more to do with pat­terns of wind and wave ac­tiv­ity. Other re­searchers, who ob­served a sim­i­lar pat­tern for atoll for­ma­tion, val­i­date this the­ory. Ge­ol­o­gists and re­searchers ac­cept the ba­sic truth about atoll for­ma­tion, struc­ture and shape. How­ever, the dis­cus­sion is still up for de­bate.

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