The beautiful archipelago of around 1,190 tiny islands in 26 naturally occurring atolls that is the Maldives straddles the equator to the South West of Sri Lanka. The 26 natural atolls are divided into 20 administrative ones, with the capital Male’ established as an entity of its own forming the twenty-first division.
Together with the Lakshadweep formerly called Laccadive Islands (formerly part of the Maldives, and now part of India) to the north and the Chagos Islands to the south, the Maldives form part of a vast submerged mountain range, on the crest of which coral reefs have grown. The perfection of the Maldivian atolls is attested to by the fact that that the word ‘atoll’ in the English Language – meaning ‘ring-shaped coral reef enclosing a lagoon’, is a borrowing from the Maldivian language – Dhivehi.
Only 202 of the islands that stretches 820 kilometres north to south and 120 kilometres east to west are inhabited; 990 uninhabited and 87 are exclusive resort islands. Of her total 298 km2 (34, 750 square miles) area, 99 percent of the Maldives is sea and only 0.331 percent, 298 km2 (115 square miles) is land.
.The exact number of islands in the archipelago remains an unsolved mystery to this day. The British Admiralty chart lists some 1,100 islands, while a recent government count records 1,196. If sand bars and coral outcrops were included the figure would be closer to 2,000. Obtaining an accurate figure is further impeded by the fact that islands form while others disappear. Some islands are known to have combined, as others have split in to two and occasionally new islets have been known to form over coral reefs.
These small, picturesque islands with dense tropical vegetation including shrubs, flowering plants and tall coconut palms surrounded by blindingly white beaches, crystalline lagoons that exhibit all shades of blue is the combination that has acclaimed Maldives as paradise on Earth.
Most of the islands can be walked across in no more than ten minutes; only a few are bigger than two square kilometres. Although most islands are less than a mile long, the merging of beaches, crystal waters, and crisp blue skies create a sense of infinite vastness – a natural openness that is rare; spelling a beckoning tranquillity.
The usual surface covering of the islands is a six inches deep layer of dark humus composed of a mixture of sand and organic matter accumulated from animal and vegetable matter through the millennia. Sand stone about 2 ft deep is found below, after which it changes to a layer of sand where fresh water can be obtained. Few islands where the natural water table is high, have fresh water lakes.