The five hour flight from Kuala Lumpur went by quickly. As we descended into the small airport, we were treated to amazing aerial views of the atolls!
Customs was a drag. We waited in line for an hour as some people were shuffled to the front and other were turned away by customs to a closed room interrogation.
We made it through!
Outside the arrival bay there were hordes of hospitality workers with signs picking up people to their charted luxurious hotels on beautiful private paradise islands. We went to the information booth to ask for help on booking a speedboat ferry to Mahibadhoo island – The capital island of the Alifu Dhaalu Atoll. We took the cab from the airport to the port in front of the Bank of Cylon. (The third taxi was a charm, the first two wanted 100 MVD for a 2KM ride, while the third charged us what the published rule on taxis fare was 60 MVD).
A “helpful” person led us to a restaurant that was out of our price range, but we went anyway. On our way out of the restaurant, we saw him going back to the restaurant for his “cut” for bringing in business. Note to self: “helpful people are not always helpful, and sometimes they charge”
We dropped by the local market to get a sense of pricing and confirmed that Male was expensive. “We have 100,000 people residing on this island and there are not enough room for everyone. A single room will cost more than 1,000 a month. Everything is expensive here.”
On our way back we saw a dead body being carted off a sea ambulance. The body was covered in white sheets and the circumstances of the death were unknown. But it certainly gave me pause for thought that someone had lost their life.
Our ferry finally left for Mahibadhoo. Thankfully, the seas were calm for our two hour speed boat ride across open sea.
We were welcomed with open arms and a coconut drink.
Mahibadhoo is the Alifu Dhaalu Atoll’s central government seat. All atoll services are on the island, government center, hospital, and Atoll Education Center. It is a small island (0.82 square kilometers …. about 800m by 250m). Standing in the center we saw water in all directions.
Most of the streets were paved with brick and are wide enough for two lane traffic. However there was only a handful of cars on the island and probably under 100 scooters. (This amount of automated transportation confused me as this place was only the size of downtown Point Reyes or South Shore Shopping center). There were a few restaurants and cafes.
The Maldives was on the front line of climate change. At nine meters above sea level the island is very vulnerable to sea level rise. Is the sea level rising? According to NOAA the main contributors or sea level rise are added water (from melting ice) and thermal expansion. In this piece (Click here), they have been tracking both since 1993. Ocean levels have been tracked since the 1880s and have risen nearly 21–24 centimeters with just over a third of that happening since 1993.
I took a n early morning walk around the island which took about 40 minutes. It is clear this island was doing everything it could to stave the effects of a rising sea. They were planting more trees to help control erosion. They erected cement barriers to minimize erosion from wave action. They were dumping cement and demolished building materials to create more breaks and help keep the sand in place. They were doing everything in their power. Yet the sea continues to rise.
My observations collaborate reporting by the Asian Development Bank:
The atolls are not the only ones facing a crisis. In a recent NY Times piece reported that the Florida Keys can no longer continue to raise roads to to keep them passable during storm season. The cost is just to high.
I asked our taxi driver about climate change: “Our government is very worried about it. They bring more sand to the island. But what can we do. I think we will be OK as long as we take care of the corral. If the coral keeps growing, the island will stay above the sea.”
People can deny climate change, explain it away, cherry pick their data, or invent reasons why it won’t matter. The water does not care, it will continue to rise regardless of what we say or what we do. It will continue to swallow low lying communities whether we choose to pay attention and act, or not.