Maybe you've already heard: The Maldives is sinking. So what do you do when your tourist-dependent country is slowly disappearing into the sea? If you're the Maldivian government, you create a series of floating islands that include a hotel and convention center, private villas, yacht club and 18-hole golf course.
The Maldives is the epitome of paradise with its bone-white sand, towering palms and crystal-clear waters, but the low-lying chain of 1,190 islands in the Indian Ocean will not be around forever. Sitting at an average of just five feet above sea level (with 80 percent of the Maldives less than three feet above the encroaching waves), many scientists predict that rising water levels could submerge the chain by the turn of the century.
A concerned President Mohamed Nasheed conducted the world's first underwater cabinet meeting to highlight the issue ahead of a 2009 U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen. He warned world leaders that if something is not done to reduce greenhouse gasses that are warming the planet, the Maldives will soon disappear.
Now the new government has followed suit, taking the next step to combat the problem by laying out radical plans to replace the sinking islands of the lowest country in the world with a network of man-made floating ones.
Maldives officials see the manufactured islands as the best alternative in the face of options that include relocating population centers or building defense walls, as they have around the capital of Male.
The $500 million joint venture with architectural firm Dutch Docklands International will create the largest series of artificial floating islands in the world. The islands will be anchored to the seabed using cables or telescopic mooring piles to keep the structures stable throughout the worst of the Indian Ocean's storms, while simultaneously minimizing the environmental impact.
The design firm from the Netherlands -- a country that knows a thing or two about flood control -- chose a series of small islands rather than one larger one to reduce the shadow on the seabed, which could adversely affect aquatic life. It plans to construct the floating islands in India or the Middle East and tow them to the Maldives to reduce costs. The artificial archipelago's final resting place will be about a five-minute speedboat ride from the capital of Male and the nearby Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.
The whole scheme is the brainchild of Koen Olthuis of Dutch firm Waterstudio, which enlisted specialists Dutch Docklands to carry out the ambitious project. The "floating masterplan" includes around 185 "water H20mes" in the shape of a typical Maldivian flower, 72 "watervillas," 43 beach-rimmed private islands, a star-shaped hotel and convention center, and 18 holes of golf accessible from below by underwater tunnels.
For golfers that already struggle to avoid water hazards, the future floating golf course could prove doubly challenging. But its designers believe it will help diversify the Maldives' offerings.
"The scar-less development, which has zero footprint on the Maldives region, will include state-of-the-art golf courses that look set to bring a wealth of new tourism and investment to the country," Bruce Glasco, managing director of Troon Golf, the course's designer, said last year, announcing his company's participation in the project.
"In an ideal world, a development like this would be on land, but the world is changing," he said, adding "I just hope [the Maldives government] gets it right. If they do, this type of development could be a harbinger of things to come."
Development of the solar-powered course is expected to begin later this year ahead of the full launch of the artificial island chain in 2015.
If successful, the floating golf course and other attractions would vastly diversify the Maldives' tourism industry and boost the island nation's name recognition throughout the world.