This necklace of atolls that make up the island of the Maldives are characterized by beautiful blue oceans and amazing white sandy beaches and is situated in the Indian Ocean to the south of India and west of Sri Lanka. From north to south the chain of atolls extends a mere 648 kilometers and consists of a total of 1,200 islands, approximately 100 of these are holiday resorts and another 200 which are inhabited. Although considered as uninhabited, some of the other islands are used for crop cultivation and various activities that also include tourism. Today, the Maldives are known for their fragility in the face of global warming, where the rising sea levels could cause these low profile islands to completely disappear (The highest point in the Maldives lies in the Addu Atoll at 2.4 meters!). The tiny islands we see today are the remains of volcanoes that belongs to the Chagos-Maldives-Laccadive Ridge which, over millenia, have subsided leaving behind the coral-fringed flattened tops as the only evidence above water that they exist.
In its surrounding waters, over 2000 species of fish can be found that ranges from the tiny, colorful reef fish, moray eels and rays, to giant pelagic fish, such as tuna, sharks, dolphins and whale sharks. The Maldives is home to five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles, two of which are regularly seen, namely the critically endangered hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), and the endangered green turtle (Chelonia mydas). The islands provide critical nesting sites for the green turtle and many conservation programs are focusing on protecting these sites and the tiny hatchlings that emerge from them. Due to the small size of the island nation, there are very few land-based mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, most of which are widely distributed throughout the atolls. There two species of fruit bat, as well as Maldivian garden shrews. Cats, rats, and mice have been introduced by humans, often invading the uninhabited areas of islands and becoming pests, and it is strictly forbidden to bring domestic dogs to the Maldives.
Due to the oceanic location, the avifauna of the Maldives consists mainly of pelagic or seabirds. There are over 100 species of birds around the islands, 36 of which are seabirds, such as the seasonal frigate birds, and white terns. Other bird species that inhabit the marshes and island bushes include the grey heron, various species of plovers, sandpipers and gulls, as well as swifts, doves, pigeons, sparrows, swallows, and shrikes. The national bird of the Maldives is the white-breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus).
Vegetation and other ecological features vary between islands from the north and south of Maldives, moreover these features also vary between interior and exterior islands. Since the exterior island is subjected to greater oceanic currents, vegetation is continuously subjected to harsh environmental factors and the profuse growth of trees, some of which may attain even 30 m height, indicates the uniqueness of the Island’s terrestrial vegetation. Tall trees such as Ficus, Casuarina and Coconut are very common in most of the islands. Large mangrove trees are characteristic of some of the northern islands. In general, the diversity of terrestrial flora is low because of the uniform topography, soil and climate. However, the islands support extremely rich coastal vegetation.