“The corals that are the foundation of the Maldives archipelago are dead or dying, following the Great Barrier Reef down a path of catastrophic decline, death and destruction,” is the hard-hitting conclusion of a report calculated to alarm the many fans of the popular diving destination.

Biosphere Expeditions, a member of IUCN and the UN’s Environment Programme, has been studying Maldives reefs since 2011, and says that coral cover has been declining year by year.

Last year’s bleaching event caused by global climate change and increasing sea temperatures killed off many corals, it says, and this year “most reefs were even more devastated, with signs of death and destruction everywhere”.

“Of course there are always opportunities for some recovery, but the problem is that impacts just keep increasing – sedimentation, pollution, ocean-warming, overfishing, ocean-acidification, you name it, it’s all here in the Maldives, which is why the reefs are in such bad shape, and many are unlikely to recover,” says expedition scientist Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, the Marine Conservation Society’s coral expert.

“Indeed, many of the resorts in central areas where we have surveyed are where we’ve recorded the most catastrophic declines, as the intensity of human impact is highest there.”

“Without this coral foundation, you do not have an economy, a country or a basis to live on,” says Dr Matthias Hammer, Biosphere Expeditions’ founder and Executive Director, “and the Maldives are in the process of destroying this foundation of their survival as a nation”.

Expedition leader Catherine Edsell reports that “this year we saw foreign investors, in conjunction with the Maldives Ministry of Tourism, reclaim 7km of land to build tourist islands akin to those in Dubai. The dredging and dumping of millions of tonnes of sand smothers the corals in silt and kills them for miles around.”

Affected coral cover can return to pre-bleaching abundance within 12 -15 years – but only if there are no other pressures on it.

Apart from sedimentation, ocean acidification and human impacts, Rafil Mohammed of local NGO Reef Check Maldives says that “rampant overfishing is another serious problem. Each year there are more visitors, more demand for fish and shrinking fish populations. This too is a very serious threat to our country’s future”.

Biosphere Expeditions research reports from 2011-2016 can be found here.

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