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With postcard-ready beaches, unblemished coral reefs, and some of the world's most luxurious resorts, the Maldives are for many a once-in-a-lifetime destination. But the island nation's own lifetime may itself be cut drastically short: Rising sea levels all but doom this string of 26 low-lying atolls in the Indian Ocean, unless the rest of the world acts—quickly—to curb global warming.
With an average elevation of just four feet, the Maldives may, according to some scientists' models, be submerged before the end of the century. Other coastal geologists believe that the islands, which are composed principally of coral, can regenerate more quickly than the water level rises, and that wave action can build up the islands. But rising ocean temperatures—another symptom of global warming—inhibit coral growth, and few Maldivians seem prepared to sit back and take that chance. President Mohamed Nasheed has committed the Maldives to becoming the world's first carbon-neutral nation by 2020, by building a wind farm to meet 40 percent of the electricity demand; installing 5 million square feet of solar panels; recycling agricultural waste as fertilizer; and asking foreign visitors to buy carbon credits. Valiant as these efforts may be, they are unlikely to stem the (literal) tide, so Nasheed is also searching for a new homeland in case the entire population is forced to relocate.
If you go: The Marine Lab at the Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru resort does serious scientific research on marine ecology, coral recovery, and endangered species. Guests can visit the lab and join biologists on dives.