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Will Climate Change Force the Maldives Islands to Become the Second Atlantis?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 2099 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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 Over the past few years, worldwide news and international meetings have been dealing with the topic of climate change. Discussing not if climate change is occurring, but rather why it is occurring. Will the nations of world need to spend money on infrastructure or reduce their carbon footprint to slow it down? Yes! But, because climate change has been a reoccurring past phenomenon, many feel it is just a passing phase and have chosen wait-and-see attitude toward dealing with topic and any consequences. However, many areas of the world will not be able to tolerate rising sea levels or other resulting phenomenon while the world wait and watches. Consideration of aid for low lying areas such as islands and coastal areas may be necessary this time around. One such island nation facing the devastating effects of climate change and taking a proactive attitude toward reducing climatic impacts is the Maldives Islands.

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Climate change is not a new phenomenon to the planet. During the last 650,000 years the planet has experienced seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat (National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA], 2019). As NASA (2019) points out, these events probably occurred because of minor variations in the Earth’s orbit which affect the amount of solar energy the earth receives. In addition, NASA (2019) reports that ice core analysis and other evidence from ocean and sedimentary rocks suggest that the current warming trend is most likely due to human activity beginning during the industrial revolution.  To make matters worse, the current warming trend resulting from human activity releasing greenhouse gases is now occurring at a rate approximately ten time faster than the average rate of the previous seven glacial cycles (NASA 2019).  Figure 1 below shows this climatic trend.

Figure 1. Table of Greenhouse Gas Levels. Adapted from “Comparison of Atmospheric Samples Contained in Ice Cores and More Recent Direct Measurements”, by NASA, 2019, retrieved from https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

  As a result of increasing amounts of greenhouse gases, the global average surface temperature has risen approximately 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit, the oceans have warmed more than 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit, the ice sheets of Greenland, the Arctic and Antarctica have decreased, glaciers have retreated around the world, spring snow cover has decreased and is melting earlier, acidity of ocean has increased about 30%, and the sea level has rose globally about eight inches (NASA, 2019). While eight inches of sea level rise may seem insignificant, one must remember that many of the coastlines and islands are less than a few meters above sea level. One such island state is the Maldives Islands which is now facing the very real possibility of physical destruction and even legal extinction due to rising sea levels.

The Maldives Islands can best be described as a tropical paradise with beautiful white sand beaches greeting thousands of tourists a year. However, “Will the same ocean which defines this island state and promotes its tourist industry, actually force the Islands to become the next Atlantis?” Located about 750 kilometers southwest from both India and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives Islands consist of approximately 1,190 small islands and atolls (Reis de Freitas, 2013).  Roughly 200 of these islands are inhabited and support a total population of around 330,000 people (Reis de Freitas, 2013).

   The geography of the Islands and rising ocean levels are the main cause for concern.  Abdullahi Majeed, the Maldives’ Minister of State for Environment & Energy, was reported by Cécile Barbière of EurActiv (2015) that he “fears that many island states will be wiped off the map, even if an ambitious agreement is reached at COP21” (para. 1).  Majeed further was quoted as saying, “Our main problem is that we are very small countries at very low altitudes. The average height of the Maldives is only 1.2 metres above sea level, so of course we are seriously threatened by rising sea levels!” (Barbière, 2015, para. 8).  In December 2015, the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) addressed and passed a legally binding agreement on cooperating nations to keep any increase of global warming to below 2°C (Figueres, 2015).  COP21 was one of the largest international conferences ever held (Figueres, 2015). According to Figueres (2015), “the conference included about 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organizations, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and civil societies” (para. 4).

The Maldives have had to consider options to adapt to the rising ocean levels through infrastructure construction and modifications to even formulating plans for a climatic migration of their population to other countries.  So, while acknowledgement, cooperation and agreements among the nations of the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to be applauded, the problem remains that even if it were possible to get 100% cooperation and compliance of all the nations of the world, the reality is that the Maldives may not survive the effects of rising sea levels in meantime.

So how will the Maldives Islands with elevations only one or two meters above sea level cope and survive with changing climate events? Minister Majeed worries that if extreme events such as cyclones and tsunamis become more common that they may destroy in a few moments what generations have taken to build (Barbière, 2015).  Even more subtle events such as changing precipitation patterns may also affect life on the Islands.  Majeed commented on the changes in precipitation patterns that have already occurred:

What is more, ten years ago the dry season lasted three months in the Maldives. Now it lasts for five months and causes water shortages, because drinking water on many of the small islands comes from rain water and wells. Right now, 53 islands are asking for water to be delivered from the capital. We have had to rent a cargo ship, fill it with water and send it out to supply the islands, some of which take two days to reach by boat. This is a costly exercise that we have been doing for almost ten years. (Barbière, 2015, para.11)

Even if rising ocean levels are held at bay, storms which are increasing in number and intensity may also allow saltwater to contaminate the groundwater supplies and further erode shorelines (Maumoon, 2015).

To combat the concerns of rising ocean levels, the Maldives’ government has implemented several infrastructure projects and policies. Three main projects: The “Wetlands Conservation and Coral Reef Monitoring for Adaptation to Climate Change” Project, the “Ari Atoll Solid Waste Management” Project, and the “Clean energy for climate mitigation” (Global Campaign for Climate Action [GCCA], 2015). These projects are underway to beef up coastal infrastructure, such as seawall construction, flood-proofing waste management systems, and protecting critical seaside vegetation (GCCA, 2015). Lastly, one of the world’s most impressive adaptive projects is the construction of their artificial island, named Hulhumale or the City of Hope (Gagain, 2011). This island is their “Noah’s Ark” attempt to preserve their statehood and maritime zones (Gagain, 2011).  Dauenhauer (2019) reports that the City of Hope when finished in 2023, will be able to accommodate approximately 130,000 people. He further states that eight man-made islands have already been completed with three more planned. A photo of the City of Hope is show in Figure 2.

Figure 2. The City of Hope is growing out of the sea [Getty Image]. Adapted from “On Front Line of Climate Change as Maldives Fights Rising Seas”, by Nenad Jaric Dauenhauer, retrieved from https://www.newscientist.com/article/2125198-on-front-line-of-climate-change-as-maldives-fights-rising-seas/

A further complication is that their legal existence as an island state is also in jeopardy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects the ocean may rise 28 to 98 centimeters (11.0 to 35.6 inches) during this century (Reuters, 2015).  If sea levels continue to rise the Maldives Islands may indeed be submerged and thus physically and possible legally cease to exist (Gagain, 2011).  Without suitable island area to inhabit, the Maldives Islands will sink into the ocean just as the fabled Atlantis.  Thus, the crucial importance of the new man-made island areas.  Further if current strategies do fail, hopefully the world would accept the Maldives’ refugees into their countries.

 Currently there are countless arguments of whether or not long-term climatic change is really occurring at an increased rate or whether is it just another normal climatic cycle.  Evidence has been reviewed with the scientific community on one side and the politicians of the world holding the finances on the other.  Regardless of the reason why there is global warming or any climatic change, it is very possible that during this century the world may witness, as a result of its complacency and denial, the first Atlantis type disappearance of an island nation – The Maldives Islands.


Barbière, C. (2015, March 26). Maldives: Many islands will disappear, despite COP 21 agreement. Retrieved April 24, 2019, from http://www.euractiv.com/sections/development-policy/maldives-many-islands-will-disappear-despite-cop-21-agreement-313289

Dauenhauer, N.J. (2017, March 20). The City of Hope is growing out of the sea [Getty Image]. Retrieved April 27, 2019, from https://www.newscientist.com/article/2125198-on-front-line-of-climate-change-as-maldives-fights-rising-seas/

Dauenhauer, N. J. (2017, March 20). On front line of climate change as Maldives fights rising seas. Retrieved April 24, 2019, from https://www.newscientist.com/article/2125198-on-front-line-of-climate-change-as-maldives-fights-rising-seas/

Figueres, C. (2015). Find out more about COP21. Retrieved April 20, 2019, from http://www.cop21paris.org/about/cop21

Gagain, M. (2011, November 15). Climate Change, Sea Level Rise, and Artificial Islands: Saving the Maldives’ Statehood and Maritime Claims Through the ‘Constitution of the Oceans’. Retrieved April 26, 2019, from https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=5&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CDAQFjAEahUKEwi8j5X4zcrIAhUX42MKHdyoAtY&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.colorado.edu%2Flaw%2Fnode%2F1117%2Fattachment&usg=AFQjCNF69nRK76gsHXU2rYp-QdqF886fJg&sig2=zpm9EhTTh4YpbyvPnHLhkg

Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA). (2015, March 26). Support to climate change adaptation and mitigation in Maldives. Retrieved April 26, 2019, from http://www.gcca.eu/national-programmes/asia/gcca-maldives



Maumoon, D. (2015, January 27). We should not surrender to climate change. Retrieved April 23, 2019, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/27/should-not-surrender-climate-change-sea-level-rise-maldives

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2019, April 23). Climate Change Evidence: How Do We Know? Retrieved April 28, 2019, from https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2019, April 23). Table of Greenhouse [Online Image]. Retrieved April 28, 2019, from https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

Reis de Freitas, L. (2016, August 30). The Maldives Islands’ Case: Climate Change and Climate Refugees. Retrieved April 23, 2019, from https://edspace.american.edu/jlee/ice-case-studies/

Reuters. (2015, January 15). Sea levels rising faster than previously thought says new study. Retrieved April 24, 2019, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/15/sea-levels-rising-faster-than-previously-thought-says-new-study


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