Scattered across the equator in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the gemlike islands of the Maldives depict the rare vision of a tropical paradise. Palm fringed islands with sparkling white beaches, turquoise lagoons, clear warm waters and coral reefs teeming with abundant varieties of marine flora and fauna, continue to fascinate visitors, as it has fascinated others in the past, for thousands of years. Marco Polo referred to the Maldives as the '...flower of the Indies', and Ibn Batuta called her in his chronicles ' One of the wonders of the world '
Truly a natural wonder, the height of the islands rarely reach above two metres. The 1,190 islands, consisting of 26 atoll formations, are spread over an area of 90,000 square kilometres. The Maldivian atolls are a classic discovery in its own right. The word atoll has been derived from Dhivehi, the Maldivian language, from the word atholhu.
Measuring 820 Kilometres north to south and 120 kilometres east to west at its greatest width, the closest neighbours are India and Shri Lanka. With a population off 244,644 ( 1995 official estimate), only 199 islands are inhabited. Another 74 islands are set aside exclusively for tourist resort development.
The Maldives is the smallest Asian country in both population and land area. With an average ground level of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, it is the planet's lowest country. It is also the country with the lowest natural highest point in the world, at 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in). Forecasts of Maldives' inundation is a great concern for the Maldivian people.
The Maldives has pledged to become a carbon-neutral country by 2019.