Are the Rapidly Sinking Maldives the Key to Saving Coastal Cities Being Swallowed by Climate Change?

The Maldives are some of the most breathtaking locales in the world, a chain of islands that bring the concept

Maldives climate change

The Maldives are some of the most breathtaking locales in the world, a chain of islands that bring the concept of “paradise” to life.

But that paradise has been threatened by the inexorable march of climate change.

However, even as the islands begin to sink into the ocean, they may provide hope for tomorrow for coastal cities facing the same fate.

The key to saving the Maldives, while a band-aid approach, could lay out a path for how coastal communities can survive the rising sea levels to come.

In 2022, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) released a report which read in part, “Sea level along the U.S. coastline is projected to rise, on average, 10 – 12 inches (0.25 – 0.30 meters) in the next 30 years (2020 – 2050), which will be as much as the rise measured over the last 100 years (1920 – 2020). Sea level rise will vary regionally along U.S. coasts because of changes in both land and ocean height.”

The report adds, “Rise in the next three decades is anticipated to be, on average: 10 – 14 inches (0.25 – 0.35 meters) for the East coast; 14 – 18 inches (0.35 – 0.45 meters) for the Gulf coast; 4 – 8 inches (0.1 – 0.2 meters) for the West coast; 8 – 10 inches (0.2 – 0.25 meters) for the Caribbean; 6 – 8 inches (0.15 – 0.2 meters) for the Hawaiian Islands; and 8 – 10 inches (0.2 – 0.25 meters) for northern Alaska.”

While it doesn’t sound particularly significant, consider that many coastal cities in the US are at or barely above sea level – and sea level rises of even a few inches could swamp a significant portion of US coastal properties.

And when you look at island nations like the Maldives, the prediction is even grimmer.

Because while coastal residents in the US can potentially move inward, nowhere is safe for long when most of your island nation averages 4 feet above sea level. The highest point on any of the islands is just under 8 feet.

When you take that into account, it’s clear why experts are worried about the future of the Maldives.

But they’ve come up with an enterprising solution: build manmade islands, or manmade portions of the islands, high enough to withstand the sea level creep.

Mirror reports, “Ali Shareef, a former climate change official in the government, said: ‘Sea level rise is inevitable.’

‘Even if Paris Agreement 1.5°C goals are met, the committed sea level rise over the multi-century period is higher than 1.5 metres – the average elevation of Maldives. Therefore, we need to find a solution to adapt to that rising sea level.’

He has worked with experts in the UK to explore the possibility of engineering islands to cope with the climate change crisis.

Construction is already under way – with sand being pumped from the sea floor. An analysis found the entire population – more than half a million people – could live on just two heavily built-up artificial islands raised in this way.

One is already taking shape in the form of Hulhumale, planned to be two metres (6ft 6in) above sea level. It is home to more than 90,000 people so far. The study in the journal Environmental Research: Climate proposes a second island would need to be up to 6 metres (20ft) above current sea level.”

And what they’re doing to save the Maldives could be replicated across other vulnerable communities around the world.

In Miami where streets have flooded multiple times recently during severe weather like tropical systems, dredged sand could spell the difference between catastrophic flooding and not.

But using sand to shore up islands is not without risk.

While the islands are being built, for instance, they are exceptionally vulnerable to storm erosion, wind and water.

And it’s not inexpensive.

Like so many tactics to combat the effects of climate change, it’s also just a band-aid temporary fix. It won’t stop the march of climate change and it won’t stop effects in other areas, such as more damaging storms which also threaten coastal communities.

But it could be one solution in the arsenal to combat change.