South Maldives: Sea of Atolls

A shoal of Shorthead anchovies, Encrasicholina heteroloba swims under the water surface in the sea of Maldives under morning light. Maldivian fishermen regularly catch these small baitfishes after attracting them with light during the night to be used as livebait to catch commercially important species such as tuna.

Aerial scenery of the Malé, the Capital of Republic of Maldives and the international airport on Hulhule island of the North Malé atoll. The countries comprise 26 atolls containing 1192 islets, which most of them are uninhabited remote islands. The unique geological feature of this country provides limited land, which suitable for inhabitance, while also making it highly susceptible to sea level rises.

A Maldivian anemonefish, Amphiprion negripes shelters itself among the stinging tentacles of Magnificent anemone, heteractis magnifica, which these two organisms form symbiotic relationships. This anemonefish species is endemic to the Maldivian waters with its own distinct evolutionary history from other anemonefish species caused by the biogeographical isolation from other landmass.

A Maldivian flying fox, Pteropus hypomelanus maris soars pass a tower of a mosque in Addu atoll, Republic of the Maldives. Fruitbats play a vital ecological role in dispersal of economical fruit seeds, including economical important crops among the Maldivian islands and can be commonly seen living in close proximity with human, however this subspecies is considered as Endangered due to its limited distribution range from the isolated biogeographical location of the Maldives, and targeted culling

A Reef manta ray, Manta alfredi hovers over a cleaning station, while a school of Bluestriped snappers, Lutjanus kasmira and other reef fishes swims in the current close to the reef, Republic of Maldives. With its remote location, comparable to an oasis in the middle of the Indian Ocean, countless species of marine life make the sea of Maldives their habitats, boasting incredible biological richness and diversity.

At the fishing port in Kooddoo Atoll, a fisherman takes a bath on the boat while his co-workers clean their fresh catches of tuna, prior transporting them to processing factory. Fish is the primary part of the Maldivian diet, while fishing industry has also been a biggest component of Maldivian economy until 1985, when it was overtaken by tourism industry, nowadays fisheries providing an important source of income to ~20% of the populations.

A group of Spinner sharks, Carcharhinus brevipinna swim among a school of Yellowfin surgeonfish, Acanthurus xanthopterus in the sea of Maldives, Kooddoo Atoll, Republic of Maldives. With the strict banning on shark fishing, the population of sharks of Maldives remain abundant, becoming an attraction, which generates ~38.6 million USD per year to the Maldivian economy.

At twilight, an expat visitor takes a photo of her son on one of over 900 remote islands of the Maldives, while a row of beach resort can be seen behind on another island. Since 1985, tourism industry has taken a rapid growth, becoming the largest economic sector, contributing 28% to the GDP and over 60% of the foreign exchange receipt.

At a construction site, piles of coral stones are seen littered the ground. Live corals on the reefs are widely mined to be use as building materials, which virtually all buildings in the Maldives are fully or partially constructed of these slow-growing animals.

Degraded coral reef with schooling reef fishes on the edge on the top of a lagoon in the sea of Maldives. In 2016, between 60 to 90% of the reefs of Maldives were affected by coral bleaching, a phenomenon associated with rising sea temperature, which accompany the climate change.

Waves wash over the sandy beach on a remote island in the sea of Maldives at twilight.

In the night under the water surface, a Whale shark, Rhincodon typus with old scars on its mouth feeds on plankton aggregations, which were attracted by the light from a dive boat, while a tourist dips her hand into the water, Kooddoo atoll, Republic of Maldives. In the past, whale sharks are nuisance to fishermen who tries to catch small fishes as baits and struck these giants to chase them away, however in these days whale sharks are one of the main tourist attractions of the Maldivian seas.

Since the formation of Maldives from submersion of ancient volcanoes into the charismatic atolls, the sea of Maldives have undergone continuous changes. Through million years of geographical isolation, this water has nourished endemism and become the oasis of biological abundance in the middle of the Indian Ocean. While the arrival of foreign investors has also turned a small fishing nation into a famous tourist paradise. The ongoing development has provided a rapid economic growth to Maldives, however it is also taking some toll on the rich marine resources in this water, which could be problematic with the ongoing impacts from both environmental and anthropogenic causes in the near future.