What happens when the sea swallows a country?

What happens when the sea swallows a country?
The Maldives are ground zero in a warming world.
PHOTO: ST

As the seaplane lifts off the water's surface and begins to climb, paradise opens up beneath us. The deep blue ocean stretches in every direction, but it is punctuated here and there by aquamarine discs of shallow coral reef that give way to the slightest slivers of white sand. Lavish hotels clinging to those oases sprout tentacles of bungalows, extending their small stake of precious solid ground.

People come from all over the world to experience the impeccable luxury of the Maldives, a nation composed of around 1,200 islands, located 370 miles (595km) off the southernmost tip of India. Despite its remoteness, the resorts here - each located on its own private island - are unparalleled. Guests can sip $40 (S$53.60) glasses of Champagne at freshwater pools' swim-up bars, dine on Russian caviar and Wagyu steak, and stream the latest episode of Game of Thrones in their air-conditioned suite. Nothing is lacking, nothing is out of reach.

Yet amid all this, a sinking realisation constantly undermines the islands' carefully manicured perfection. It's the knowledge that all of this may soon be gone. The nation, with its low-lying islands, has been labelled the most at-risk country in South Asia from the impact of climate change. Even if the swooning honeymooners do not allow this thought to mar their vacation, for the ever-smiling staff members, it's harder to ignore. "Of course I'm concerned about climate change, about the reef, the environment and pollution," says Mansoor, a Maldivian who works at one of the resorts. "But what can I do? I don't know."

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