Reclaimed land on the island of Huraa in the Maldives | GETTY IMAGES

Fari islands - The world’s fantasy destination has an answer to climate oblivion

Lanky palms dip over white beaches of powder-fine sand. Decadent villas hover above impossibly warm shallows. All around, sea and air merge into a uniform shade of blue.

These are the Fari Islands, the apex of tropical perfection situated near the northern end of the archipelago that makes up the Maldives, one of the ultimate vacation destinations for the world’s wealthiest. Made up of 1,200 specks of land sprinkled over hundreds of miles of Indian Ocean, the Maldives are in fact a series of 55 million-year-old limestone outcroppings perched atop a submerged volcanic plateau.

But these islands, and many others like them, are dying. They are on the front lines of a losing battle with global warming, one in which paradise has been transformed into a sun-drenched dystopia as whole nations face a watery obliteration. Indeed, the climate prognosis for the Maldives is bleak: According to NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, by 2050 some 80% of the country could be uninhabitable. Even if the world’s nations suddenly pivoted away from fossil fuels, this country’s fate seems unavoidable.

Except for the Fari islands, that is. These four delicately shaped piles of sand are where the Maldives is making its stand. They sit almost 2 meters higher than their sister islands to the south, boasting a distinct advantage over the rising waters.

That advantage, as it turns out, was by design.

The Fari Islands were made of sand dredged from the ocean floor. Artificial island building, or land reclamation, is seen by some as the best strategy to delay the death of island nations. In recent years, many such islands have risen from the waters around the Maldives.

“Most of our islands are just a meter above sea level,” said Shauna Aminath, the Maldives’ minister of environment, climate change and technology. “With the rate of increase in climate change and with the rate of increase in sea-level rise, we will need to build a higher ground.”

But the process is hugely expensive and environmentally destructive. The more than $1 billion price tag for the overall effort has been paid by developers and with government borrowing, some of it from state-owned banks in China and India. And most of that new land has been given over to resort brands with names like Waldorf Astoria and the Hard Rock Hotel. Three of the Fari Islands are also reserved for high-end resorts, while the fourth is for the staff.

The Maldives government says revenue from such projects and more tourism will fund more artificial islands — ones that will provide homes to a population threatened by rising seas. But Young Rae Choi, an assistant professor at Florida International University, contends hugely profitable reclamation projects are being falsely cloaked with climate altruism.

“They are actively adopting climate crisis as their rationale to justify such projects,” she said.

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