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Geography of Maldives

The Maldives are a chain (the name "Maldives" means "island chain", see Mala) of 19 island groups in the Indian Ocean, southwest of India and Sri Lanka. They extend over 871 kilometers in a north-south direction until shortly south of the equator. The islands are spread over 26 atolls with coral reefs. They lie, like the Lakkadiven, on the Maldivian back. This is considered as dumped and sunken Randscholle the Indian land mass. The Maldives are not, such as Hawaii, of volcanic origin. In total, of the 1196 islands only 220 islands are inhabited, making this one of the world's most dispersed countries. The islands are all about 1 meter (m) above sea level, which makes them particularly vulnerable to the ever increasing sea level. The highest elevation of 2.4 m (7 ft 10 in) is located on the island Vilingilli in Addu Atoll.

The nearby reefs provide the only shelter from the sometimes violent monsoon towers. The islands are overgrown with palm trees and breadfruit trees and surrounded by sandy beaches and clear lagoons.

The Maldives can be distinguished in islands for local people and tourist islands (like Kuramathi, Bandos, Vabbinfaru or Meerufenfushi). Maldivians are admitted on the tourist islands only as personnel. Since 2009, it is possible for tourists to vacation on local islands.

One third of the Maldivian population lives on the main island of Malé, which is also the only true city of the Maldives. Malé is one of the most densely populated cities in the world: on only 5.7 square kilometers multi-storey houses are densely packed to accommodate over 134,000 people. For this reason, in 1997, the planning of an island to be built by land reclamation began about three kilometers from Malé. The new island of Hulhumalé will provide space for around 60,000 people to live and work after completion of a first construction phase.

Only near the southern end of this natural coral barricade do two open passages permit safe ship navigation from one side of the Indian Ocean to the other through the territorial waters of Maldives. For administrative purposes the Maldivian government organised these atolls into twenty one administrative divisions. The largest island of Maldives is Gan, which belongs to Laamu Atoll or Hahdhummathi Maldives. In Addu Atoll the westernmost islands are connected by roads over the reef (collectively called Link Road) and the total length of the road is 14 km (9 mi).

The Maldives are at high risk of being submerged due to rising sea levels. The UN's environmental panel has warned that, at current rates, sea level rise would be high enough to make the Maldives uninhabitable by 2100.
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