United Airlines’ magazine does in depth study of dissappearing island – Maldives

From United’s Hemisphere Magazine

With sea levels rising, conservationists are working to prevent this trendy tropical getaway from becoming paradise lost.

Less than four decades ago, the Maldives, or Dhivehi Raajje (Dhivehi
for “Island Kingdom”), was a sleepy, all-but-untouched chain of 26
pristine coral atolls–natural breakwaters that protect some 1,200
shape-shifting sandy islands from the Indian Ocean–hundreds of miles
from anywhere. A conservative Sunni Muslim country, it boasted a
fishing fleet of traditional dhonis, graceful, sail-driven wooden
boats, without a single motor among them. The only way of contacting
the mainland was by ham radio or morse code. Until 1972, when an
Italian tour operator was persuaded to take a charter flight 400 miles
southwest from Sri Lanka to see the islands’ legendary beauty for
himself, the area “was the same as it had been since the 17th century,”
notes Adrian Neville, a photojournalist and the author of Dhivehi
Raajje: A Portrait of Maldives.

Today, it’s a rather different story.

The tiny country, whose populace once sustained itself fishing for
tuna in the rich local waters, now welcomes some 600,000 tourists a
year. In 2006, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes spent their honeymoon
yachting among the Maldives’ hundreds of uninhabited islands,
completely inaccessible to the paparazzi. At Huvafen Fushi, guests are
apt to spot Indian steel billionaire Lakshmi Mittal’s imposing
mega-yacht moored in the distance. Supermodel Kate Moss, tennis star
Roger Federer, and actors Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher have all been
guests, lured by the promise of the ultimate jet-set escape.

But while the rarefied resorts of the Maldives are regularly
lavished with praise in international travel magazines, last fall the
remote country made headlines for a different reason.

Shortly after Mohamed Nasheed, a charismatic 41-year-old, became the
Maldives’ first democratically elected president, he declared that the
country, which rises barely three feet above sea level in most places,
would soon disappear beneath the waves. His plan, Nasheed said, was to
divert profits from the billion-dollar-a-year tourism industry into a
“sovereign wealth fund” with which to purchase a new homeland–possibly
in Sri Lanka, India or farther afield, in Australia–for his 380,000
fellow citizens. “We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own
and so we have to buy land elsewhere,” he told The Guardian, dubbing
his scheme “an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome.”
Indeed, though the islands are responsible for an infinitesimal
fraction of the world’s carbon emissions, experts consider them among
the most vulnerable spots on earth to the effects of global warming. If
a September 2008 study published in the journal Science is to be
believed, sea levels could rise by anywhere from two point six to six
and a half feet by the year 2100– essentially erasing the Maldives from
the map altogether.”

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