Words: Alan Stokes
Cowry Shell Island
Beyond the mouth of the Gulf the Sea of Larwi begins. Beware the way is barred by sea monsters upon whose backs grass and seashells grow. Mariners have taken them for islands and to grief. They blow water into the air, high as a minaret, and when the sea is calm, sweep whole schools of unwary fish into their gaping mouths with their tails. Sailors beat wooden clappers at night to keep them at bay. Then there are the flying fish with human faces, called mij. When they fall back into the sea, they are devoured by the fish called ‘anqatus. for all fish eat each other. (Akhbar al-Sin wa ’l-Hind ) Excerpt manuscripts 810 AD.
We didn’t see any sea monsters on our trip to the Maldives, but we did score some great waves from the moment we came into land at Male airport. We could see from our plane windows the new swell arriving and beginning its refracting surge around the tiny blue and green atolls.
The Maldives are ranked the third most endangered nation due to flooding from climate change. President Mohamed Nasheed stated ”If carbon emissions continue at the rate they are climbing today, my country will be underwater in seven years.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report predicted the upper limit of sea level rises will be 59 centimetres by 2100, which means that most of the republic’s 200 inhabited islands may need to be abandoned.
Ten days later we all sat atop our make-shift floating hotel boat, sun kissed and sea shaken. As our one eyed captain sailed for port, we stared up at the amazement of stars and thought how lucky we were to have seen such beauty and wondered if there could be another place just like this one out there somewhere.
As the fasten seat belt light blinked above I opened my window for one last glimpse of the tiny blue and green islands below, and as our plane headed towards home I tried to watch a film and put that sinking feeling out of my mind.