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Maldives - Coral reefs
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The atolls of the Maldives
form a central part of a great underwater mountain range
stretching for over 2000 Km from the Laccadives Islands, in the
North, to the Chagos islands in the South.
The Maldives cover an area
of 90,000 sq. Km and lie between Latitude 7° 6' 30" N to 0°
42' 30" S, and Longitude 72° 32' 30" E to 73° 46'
15" E. Estimates of the number of islands differs, depending
on the definition of an island. Officially there are 1190 islands
having some "some from of vegetation on them, whether grass
or bushes or trees". Of this number 991 are uninhabited and
199 inhabited ( statistical year book of Maldives 1994 ).
Unofficially there are 1120 islands, but the actual number varies
from one year to the next as the islands are continually being
washed away and new ones being formed. The islands are divided
into 26 geographic atolls. Minicoy is the 27th atoll but it was
linked to India in 1753 during the time of Sultan al Mukarram
Mohamed Imadudeen the third. ( 1750 - 1757 AD ). For convenience
these atolls are divided into 19 administrative groups and named
according to the letter of the Maldivian alphabet.
Charles Darwin proposed that the
atolls of the Maldives developed as the mountain range gradually
subsided into the sea or the sea level rose. The fringing reefs
surrounding these mountains built up and became more distant from
the center of the range until there was nothing but a circle of
reefs enclosing a reef, called an atoll.
During the seismic survey by Esso in 1980, a well sunk near the Bandos
concluded that that a volcanic base lay beneath 2100 of limestone,
supporting the subsidence theory of Darwin.
Coral reefs are created by tiny animal, called a polyp, which
secretes a hard limestone skeleton and provides the reef frame
work. Fragile branching coral may grow between 20 to 30
centimeters per year, while massive boulder shaped coral may grow
only a few millimeters per year. Coral algae, which thrives in
areas exposed to wave action and places too deep and broken coral
together forming a solid limestone base.
During the ice ages, falls in sea levels forced reef building
coral away from the reefs to colonize new areas. At the same time
the reefs were left high out of the water. The limestone reefs
were readily eroded by fresh water and this led to the formation
of caves and canyons of all shapes and sizes. After they were
again flooded by the sea, marine life re-established itself and
layers of coral and coral algae continued to grow upon the eroded
gutters and valleys. These eroded substrata largely govern the
shapes of modern reefs. Today, many of these remain submerged
providing divers with spectacular natural attractions.
The names of atolls, island
and coral reefs of the Maldives have curious mixture of spelling,
resulting in many simplifications to make the names more readable.
In some cases original meanings of words have been changed. For
instance the word atoll in the only word in English language of
Dhivehi origin, coming from the word atholhu.
Island names can often be traced to a particular characteristic of
an island. For instance, Thundufushi is an island in Ari atoll. Thundu
means edge, or point, and the island lays on the eastern point
of the reef. Other island names refer to an incident that may have
occurred there. Reef names, too, can have interesting origins. Himmiyafushi in north west Male' atoll, can tell fisherman much
about the reef. Himmi means the gap between two objects and
in this case the reed is divided into two parts by water.
Many resort islands have now adopted new since the arrival of
tourism, but many locals still call them by thier traditional