Life in the Maldives

An ordinary day in a country that is about to be submerged

By Ephemera documentary

Angelo Chiacchio

Maldivian water (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Many know the Maldives as a tropical tourist destination. Few know that none of its islands are more than 2 meters above sea level. This makes the Maldives the world’s lowest nation and the one most threatened by climate change. If melting ice caps continue to contribute to rising sea levels, the Maldives will be completely submerged within the next 25 years. 

Only those living on a few of its smaller islands and atolls have maintained their cultural heritage, free from the influences of mass tourism and the global economy. Their heritage too will disappear when the country is overtaken by the sea.

Aerial panorama of the Maldives (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

In February 2018, photographer Angelo Chiacchio - on his journey to the world's most fragile places - visited the small island of Baarah.

Malé from the sea (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The country’s capital, Malé, is its most modern and populous city.

A street in Malé (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Malé lives under the strain of its population density, which makes its streets and buildings look as though they are being squeezed together.

Longshoremen resting in the shadow (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The capital is the point of entry for all tourist flights and cargo ships. But you need to head north for an authentic Maldivian experience. 

Aerial view of Baarah (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

There, you will find smaller islands, like Baarah, sparse population, and few luxury resorts. 

Baarah from above (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

A street in Baarah (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Baarah’s sandy streets look nothing like the busy roads in Malé. Children can still safely ride their bikes to school.

Men chilling in Baarah (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Locals spend their days relaxing near the harbor. 

Portrait of Maldivian woman (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Jemila enjoys the company of her friends just before noon prayer. 

Shipyard in Baarah (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

On the other side of the island, a shipyard is busy. Baarah has a centuries-old shipbuilding industry. Apart from the use of metal sheets, traditional construction methods are still in use. 

Shipyard in Baarah (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

It was here, in 1570, that the vessel Kalhuohfummi was built to help Sultan Muhammad Thakurufaanu resist the Portuguese invasion.

Aerial view of Baarah reef (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The thick mangrove vegetation that enveloped large swaths of the island provided cover for the Sultan’s boat.  Today, this unique ecosystem is under threat.

Coastal erosion in the Maldives (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The coastal environment is suffering from severe erosion, resulting in loss of vegetation.

Bleached corals in the Maldives (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Changes in water temperature and salinity are permanently bleaching corals, which puts them at risk of dying off. 

Plastic pollution in the Maldives (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Ocean currents have changed as well and waves push discarded plastic bottles ashore. 

Portrait of young Maldivian boy (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Conclusion

The Maldives features special places that are overlooked by much of the world. Most tourists keep to themselves in luxury resorts, ignoring the islands’ special culture and place in history. Will young Maldivians find a way to preserve their history and way of life or will they find themselves displaced by the rising sea? 




Terra by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Partnership by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This story was created with the support of Art Works for Change, a nonprofit organization that creates contemporary art exhibitions and storytelling projects to address critical social and environmental issues.

Credits: Story

Written, shot and produced by Angelo Chiacchio
Copy editing: Al Grumet, Rajesh Fotedar

With the support of: Google Arts & Culture, Art Works for Change

Thanks to: Shahud Ahmed, Red King, Hassan

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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