Maldives, in full Republic of Maldives, also called Maldive Islands, independent island country in the north-central Indian Ocean. It consists of a chain of about 1,200 small coral islands and sandbanks (some 200 of which are inhabited), grouped in clusters, or atolls.
The islands extend more than 510 miles (820 km) from north to south and 80 miles (130 km) from east to west. The northernmost atoll is about 370 miles (600 km) south-southwest of the Indian mainland, and the central area, including the capital island of Male (Male’), is about 400 miles (645 km) southwest of Sri Lanka.
Just north of the Equator in the Indian Ocean to the southwest of India lie the Maldives, a group of low-lying islands that consists of twenty-six atolls encompassing a territory of only about 115 square miles. Within the atolls are approximately 1,200 small islands, of which about 200 are inhabited. Portugal controlled the Maldives from 1558 during their colonial expansion into Asia. Holland took over from the Portuguese in 1654. The Maldives became a British protectorate in 1887, which lasted until 1965, when independence was achieved. Three years later the country became a republic. The Maldives is a country with many extremes. It is Asia’s smallest nation in both physical area and population. The island nation has the smallest physical area of any country with a majority Muslim population. The average elevation—four feet, eleven inches above sea level—is the lowest in the world for any country.
Fishing and tourism are the chief methods for Maldivians to earn a living. Tourism has increased in recent years. The many islands and atolls are attractive destinations for world travelers. The first tourist resort opened in 1972. Since that time, dozens of world-class resort facilities have opened for business across the archipelago. Tourism is the country’s number one means of gaining wealth. The coral reefs that make up the island chain are excellent for diving and water sports. The tropical climate and miles of sandy beaches provide for an attractive tourism agenda.