The Republic of the Maldives is a chain of around 1200 islands stretching
750km across the Indian Ocean with the northernmost island at 7° 06"
N and the southernmost island just crossing the Equator at 04° 42"
S. The exact number of islands varies according to the season and method of
classification - islands come and go with the wind, waves and currents!
The tiny islands are geographically grouped into ring shaped reefs called "atolls"
and there are 26 of these atoll formations. An atoll encloses a central
lagoon with a flat, sandy bottom at a relatively shallow depth of 40-100m.
The outer reef, which forms many of the islands, is often broken by deep
channels that allow oceanic water to flow into and out of the central
lagoon. Inside the atoll there are numerous smaller ring shaped reefs and
Of the 1200 islands only 200 are inhabited by local Maldivian people, 88
islands have been developed as tourist resorts and the remaining islands are
uninhabited. Inhabited islands are either tourist resorts or inhabited by
locals and it is a Government ruling that there can be no combination of the
While there are 26 geographical atolls, tourists are most likely to see
just 11 of these as the Maldivian Government has taken steps to restrict the
impact of tourism on the local community. Tourists can only be accommodated
on registered tourist islands with quite strict regulations governing
tourist visits to uninhabited and fishing islands. The tourist development
area has been restricted to the seven atolls of North Male, South Male, Ari,
Felidhu, Baa, Lhaviyani and Addu Atoll. In 1997 the Government announced the
proposed development of 14 new islands opening the atolls of Meemu, Faafu,
Dhaalu and Raa to tourism.
The Maldives has been a crossroads for sea traders for many centuries and
the origin of the people of the country is mixed. Not much is known of the
early history of the island people but the language and some archaeological
finds of Buddhist relics indicate that the early settlers were from the
southern Indian continent and the Buddhist Singalese from Sri Lanka. Now, of
course, the Maldives population of 240,000 is entirely Muslim.
Today, the Maldives is a democratic republic with President Maumoon Abdul
Gayoom at the helm. There is no party political system in the Maldives: the
citizens Majlis (parliament) comprises 48 members, two elected from each
atoll and eight nominated by the President. The president himself is
nominated by the citizens' Majlis and elected by public referendum for a
renewable five year period; the president then appoints his own cabinet.