Across the Maldives’ 26 natural atolls, islands come and islands go. It is for this this reason that even the government’s official statistics often give 1,192 as only an ‘estimated’ figure.
With so many islets, finolhus and falhus fighting with the creative currents to make this list, it’s hard to keep up with what’s rah and what’s reef.
For (international) legal purposes, an island has to be above water at all times, and must be able to ‘sustain human habitation or economic life of their own’. This definition further muddies Maldivian waters as reclamation technology means that even submerged rocks can now sustain significant economic life in the form of luxury resorts.
But what if an island had saved lives (and a human habitation)? And what if it had a few inhabitants still above water? Could it be considered an island then?
Just to the north of Gaafu Dhaalu Kanduhulhudhoo lies, officially, nothing. But, if you look very closely, and squint a bit, you can just make out the trees.
Trees where there shouldn’t be trees; poking out of the turquoise.
Perhaps Indian Laurel, or Screw Pine doing their best impression of Mangrove, the trees put one in mind of the black coral from Dhivehi mythology. These are in fact the last stubborn inhabitants of an ‘island’ locals called Beyrufushi. The bare branches stand resolute, just a few dozen metres from the shore, and a couple of feet beneath the warm waters.
Not to be found on any official records, the island was used for picnics by the islanders, but also as a source of sand. So, while a lot of islands have been joined together – Hulhu-meedhooo, Fares-maathodaa, Kolaa-maafushi – Beyrufushi seems to have been consumed entirely by Kanduhulhudhoo.
Perhaps the lonely trees might be relocated to Beyru-kanduhulhudhoo?
And they’d surely receive a hero’s welcome, for it’s firmly believed that the village on Kanduhulhudhoo was spared the wrath of the 2004 tsunami by its northern neighbour. How much they’ll miss its protection, only time will tell.
Beyrufushi isn’t the only island in the south to have been taken before its time. Some historians say that Addu atoll had an islet named ‘Addu’ just south of Gan which was mined to extinction for the British landing strip in WWII. Others say Huvadhu also had an eponymous island within living memory, somewhere in Gaafu Dhaalu. (Showboating fandithamen claimed credit for Huvadhu island’s disappearance).
As for the humbly named Beyrufushi (‘Outside island’), whether it was ever considered its own ‘island’ by either domestic or international standards is irrelevant now – and probably unlikely.
But perhaps the statisticians could widen their definition, and make it 1,193 anyway.