The Sinking Maldives
Having worked in the Maldives for the last 4 years, it has been impossible to avoid the growing apprehension about rising sea levels. According to Presidential-candidate-turned-environmental-warrior Al Gore we are in a ‘genuine planetary emergency’.
As the lowest country in the world, with a highest point of just over 2.4m, the Maldives is Earths’s canary for climate change. Consisting of idyllic islands, 5 star resorts and remarkable marine life it’s no surprise that the current Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed is intent on increasing awareness of their plight. Recently Maldives government Ministers held a cabinet meeting underwater – a stunt that made headlines around the world. “We are trying to send a message to the world about what is happening and what would happen to the Maldives if climate change isn’t checked,” Mr Nasheed said after the meeting, bobbing around in the water with his team of ministers “If the Maldives is not saved, today we do not feel there is much chance for the rest of the world.”
With sea levels supposedly rising 0.9cm a year, it is hard for a diver like me to notice much of a change in the relatively short time I’ve been working in the Maldives. I do however, on a daily basis, witness man’s struggle with nature. The luxury resorts wage a perpetual war with sand pumps to replace their beaches which are eroded by the tides and currents. While our ingenuity and tenacity may stave off the rising tide in the short term there is unlikely to be a local long term solution for the 1,192 islands of the Maldives. This is a bigger battle which must rather be fought in the halls of policy makers around the world.
But is there a clear and present danger?
Recently, Nils-Axel Mörner sent an open letter to the Maldives explaining that his estimation of sea level rise by the ed of the century could be as low as 5cm and not 50cm as some scientists estimate. A sea-level specialist for 40 years, Mörner has undertaken 6 separate research expeditions to the Maldives. Interestingly he noted that ‘the people of the Maldives had no problems surviving the 17th century, which was 50cm higher than now.’ In addition, he mentions ‘if you inhabit a tiny island and can convince the world that its very existence is under threat because of the polluting policies of the West, the industrialised nations will certainly respond. The money is likely to flow in more quickly than the ocean will rise’. Harsh words for a country facing possible extinction? There are other sceptics out there but associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois Peter Doran says, “The debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes,”. This apparently does not include petroleum geologists, with only 47% of a recent survey believing that human activity played a role in climate change… perhaps unsurprising.
If the Maldives is to go under, they are at least aware of the problem and have plans in motion to buy land elsewhere and slowly evacuate. Although daunting, it is a fairly painless experience compared to the sudden trauma of a tsunami. I have no doubt the Maldives will survive in someway, perhaps with a reduced population living on islands adapted with sea walls to protect them. A hub for an armada of liveaboards and floating eco-resorts that can navigate through the sunken islands and enjoy the incredible marine life that will inevitably remain.
It is going to be an extremely interesting couple of decades. Awareness has been created. Climate change is the buzz topic of politicians, newspapers and dinner parties. My personal opinion however is that we will only adapt under extreme pressure or a shock and by then it could be too late. Could the title of our forthcoming book prove to be prophetic? Will the Maldives become a true ‘Underwater Kingdom’ in our lifetime?
What do you think?