A string of pearls scattered over the deep blue Indian Ocean - The first glimpse you get of this fascinating atoll- formation confirms two unique aspects of the Republic of Maldives.Not only does it consist of the most beautiful tropical islands, but 99% of its 90.000 km˛ is covered by the sea. 1190 islands are spread over 26 atolls, ringlike coral formations enclosing a lagoon, which gives the Maldives its unique paradise-like appearance. They stretch for about 820 km from North to South, 130 km at the widest point and do not exceed a length of 4.5 miles or an altitude of 6 feet above sea level. No more than 200 islands are inhabited, the rest includes the 87 tourist resorts and uninhabited islands, some of which are used for drying fish or other agricultural activities. The capital Malé, the seat of government and the centre of trade, commerce, business, health and education, is located in the middle of the atoll chain, a small island buzzing with the sounds and activities of about 75.000 people which is about one third of the population.
The atolls of the Maldives are formed from coral structures, separated by lagoons. The atolls are in fact part of a greater structure known as the Laccadives-Chagos Ridge, which stretches over 2000 kilometres. The islands are low lying with the highest point at approximately 8 feet above sea level. 'Faru' or ring-shaped reef structures form the atolls and these reefs provide natural defense against wind and wave action, on these delicate islands.